How Debt Settlements Affect Credit History

A debt settlement is an agreement between a borrower and a lender which allows borrowers to repay a lender less than the amount they owe, and the creditor considers the debt paid off.  This might sound like a good way to pay off all your debts and quickly improve your financial situation, but it can…
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A debt settlement is an agreement between a borrower and a lender which allows borrowers to repay a lender less than the amount they owe, and the creditor considers the debt paid off.  This might sound like a good way to pay off all your debts and quickly improve your financial situation, but it can actually do more harm than good. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of debt settlements.

How Debt Settlements Affect Credit History & Score

The argument for a debt settlement

Late payments or non-payment will decrease your credit score. Consumers considering a debt settlement often argue that their credit scores and credit history are already taking a beating, since they’re struggling to pay their debts on time.  This is true!  If you are looking to do a debt settlement because you can’t keep up with your monthly payments, then you are already experiencing notations on your credit report that say you pay your accounts late, and your FICO score will already be decreasing as a result.

If a debt settlement will free up enough cash flow to enable you to make the rest of your payments in full and on time, then you may be able to start working toward a better credit score right away, as your new credit history will reflect on time payments instead of late payments. Keep in mind, it will still take several years for your credit score to recover.

Dangers of debt settlements

Consumers may be able to get out of debt more quickly if they use a debt settlement, but they have very bad consequences. For example:  a debt settlement is reported to the credit bureaus, appears on your credit report, results in a huge drop of your FICO credit score, and can affect your tax situation.

A debt settlement can hurt your credit score. A debt settlement can reduce your credit score by as much as 125 points.  This is a big hit to absorb all at once, and may be difficult to recover from quickly in the event you need a high credit score.

Taxes. A debt settlement can result in a large tax bill when you file your income taxes, because in many situations, the IRS treats the amount of the forgiven debt as income and you will be required to pay income tax on the amount settled.  So, if you owed $10,000 to a creditor but they agreed to settle the debt for $5,000  – you could be looking at an increase of your taxable income of $5,000.  If you meet certain criteria, you do not have to pay taxes on the debt settlement amounts as income, but it’s something you should consider before agreeing to settle any of your debts.

Credit history. On your credit report, a debt settlement will appear for 7 years from the original delinquency date of the debt.  Other lenders will look at that notation negatively, and it may prevent them from lending money to you in the future.  A lower credit score can make it difficult or impossible to borrow money, result in an inability to rent an apartment, higher car insurance premiums, and even cause denial for job opportunities.

Final notes on debt settlements

Get it in writing. If you agree to settle a debt, make sure you get the arrangements spelled out in writing before you send money. The agreement should tell you how much the original debt is, how much the creditor is willing to accept to settle the account, and how it will be reported to the credit bureaus.

Other options. If you decide a debt settlement isn’t your best option for getting out of debt, you have about four other choices:

  • You can remain delinquent on your accounts, paying when you can, and hope your situation improves so you can pay off the debts at some point.
  • Find a way to earn extra money in order to pay debts off faster.
  • Get credit or debt counseling
  • File bankruptcy

None of these actions should be taken without fully considering the potential results of your actions. Your credit score is important and you don’t want to ruin it.

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About Ryan Guina

Ryan Guina is The Military Wallet's founder. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over six years on active duty in the USAF and is a current member of the Illinois Air National Guard.

Ryan started The Military Wallet in 2007 after separating from active duty military service and has been writing about financial, small business, and military benefits topics since then. He also writes about personal finance and investing at Cash Money Life.

Ryan uses Personal Capital to track and manage his finances. Personal Capital is a free software program that allows him to track his net worth, balance his investment portfolio, track his income and expenses, and much more. You can open a free Personal Capital account here.

Featured In: Ryan's writing has been featured in the following publications: Forbes,, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, Reserve & National Guard Magazine (print and online editions), Military Influencer Magazine, Cash Money Life, The Military Guide, USAA, Go Banking Rates, and many other publications.

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