Credit Card Debt Forgiveness: What It Is and How It Works

By Ashley Kilroy · April 26, 2022 · 7 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

Credit Card Debt Forgiveness: What It Is and How It Works

If you’re drowning in credit card debt, you may feel like there’s no life raft in sight. But in reality, you do have options to help you get out of debt — including credit card debt forgiveness. When your credit card debt is forgiven, your debt isn’t totally erased, but you can end up paying less than you owe. This type of credit forgiveness is rare, however, and it usually comes with some financial consequences.

Still, if you’re unable to repay your credit card balance, it may be an option worth exploring. Read on to learn how to get credit card debt forgiven and what alternatives there are to credit card forgiveness.

What Is Credit Card Debt Forgiveness?

Credit card debt forgiveness is when a portion of your credit card debt is effectively washed away. However, this rarely happens. And when it does, it usually comes at a high cost.

As part of the terms and conditions you agreed to when signing up for a credit card, you likely committed to repaying your credit card debt accrued from swiping your card at places that accept credit card payments. For this reason, it’s unlikely the credit card company will forgive your debt unless you have a compelling reason for why you don’t have to repay it. If your identity was stolen and a fraudster ran up your credit card bill, for instance, you’re probably not responsible for repaying the outstanding balance. (In this case, you may consider disputing a credit card charge.)

When you don’t pay your credit card bill for an extended time, the credit card company may sell your debt to a debt collector. At this point, the debt collector will reach out to try to get you to repay all or a portion of the debt you owe. However, if you agree to repay a portion of your debt, they may forgive the rest, resulting in credit debt forgiveness.

Recommended: Charge Card Advantages and Disadvantages

How Does Debt Forgiveness Work for Credit Cards?

If a debt collector forgives your debt, you’ll generally still have to pay off a portion of the amount you racked up. Here’s a look at how credit card debt forgiveness works:

Let’s say that you owe $10,000 in outstanding credit card debt. If you haven’t paid your bill for the last six months — not even your credit card minimum payment — your credit card company may have sold the debt to a debt collector.

At this point, you’ll no longer communicate with your credit card company about debt negotiations since the debt collector is now responsible for recuperating the loss.

Let’s say you agree to repay $5,000 of the debt. In this case, your debt collector will require you to make a lump sum payment or installment payments over a set period of time. This means that the other $5,000 of your outstanding credit card balance is now forgiven.

While this may seem like a relief, you’re still responsible for paying taxes on the amount of credit card forgiveness you receive in most cases. Essentially, you will claim the forgiven debt as taxable income and report it on your tax return.

When Does Credit Card Debt Forgiveness Work Best?

When you’ve fallen behind on your credit card payments and your creditor sells your debt to a debt collector for a fraction of the total balance, this is usually the best time to request credit forgiveness. Typically, debt collectors are more willing to settle some of your debt since they purchased your debt for a portion of what you owe. In other words, any debt you agree to pay back will help the debt collector make a profit from the transaction.

However, if your debt has not yet gone to a debt collector and the creditor is about to charge-off your account, you could still consider credit card forgiveness. A charge-off means that the creditor is accepting your debt as a loss. Therefore, they can recuperate the funds by selling your debt to a debt collector. So, before they sell the debt, they might be willing to negotiate credit card debt forgiveness with you.

Generally, you’ll want to wait to consider negotiations with your credit card company until you’ve fallen at least three months behind on your payments. At this point, there’s less likelihood that you can reasonably catch up on repaying your debt.

How Credit Card Debt Forgiveness May Affect Your Credit

The most significant financial implication of credit card debt forgiveness is the negative impact it can have on your credit. When you don’t pay your credit card bill for an extended amount of time, the creditor may report this as a charge-off to the three major credit bureaus (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian). A charge-off indicates that you didn’t follow through with your financial commitments to a lender, and it can stay on your credit report for up to seven years.

Because credit bureaus use this information to calculate your credit score, a charge-off could lower your score for a while. A lower credit score may make it challenging to qualify for future loans or credit cards. And if you do qualify, you may have to pay a higher than average credit card interest rate, which can make borrowing more expensive.

To avoid this situation, it’s best to contact your credit card company as soon as you get behind on payments. Credit card companies may be willing to help you if you’ve fallen on hard times. They may offer a hardship plan, which can lower your monthly payments or reduce your interest for a set amount of time, and ultimately help you get back on your feet. This is only a temporary solution though, so if your financial issues are more significant, you may need to explore another solution.

Pros and Cons of Credit Card Debt Forgiveness

If you can’t make your credit card payments, credit card forgiveness might be a viable option. But, while getting your debt forgiven can help alleviate the financial burden, it also can harm your credit and cost you financially.

Here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons of pursuing credit card debt forgiveness.

Pros

Cons

Potentially avoid bankruptcy Can harm your credit score
Repay only a portion of the debt you owe Will remain on your credit report for up to seven years
Pay off debt in a shorter time frame Must pay income tax on forgiven debt

Alternatives to Credit Card Debt Forgiveness

An alternative to credit card debt forgiveness may make more sense for your financial situation. Exploring all of your options in advance can help ensure that you make the best decision for your needs.

Debt Management

Third-party credit counseling agencies offer debt management plans that help you establish a plan for debt repayment. Working with one of these agencies may help you lower the fees you owe as well as your interest rate. However, you usually must agree to repay the total amount of outstanding debt before moving forward.

With a debt management plan, you’ll make one monthly payment to the credit counselor, who will then distribute the funds among the creditors you owe. Most plans help you repay your debt within three to five years. During this time, your account will still accrue interest, though your creditor might be willing to offer a lower rate.

To use one of these plans, you usually have to close your credit card account. This can negatively impact your credit score since it lowers your total credit card limit, thus increasing your credit utilization rate. Your credit utilization ratio is one of the most significant factors credit bureaus use when calculating your credit score.

Also, you will likely have to pay a monthly fee to your credit counselor.

Debt Settlement

Working with a debt settlement company can help you to lower the amount of debt you owe. For example, if you owe $10,000 in credit card debt, the credit debt settlement company may settle your debt for $5,000 instead. But, of course, this strategy will only work if the creditor would rather have some of your debt repaid instead of having you default on the account.

While debt settlement may sound good in theory, you should use it as a last resort option before filing bankruptcy. This solution is risky since it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll settle your debt. In addition, because creditors are not required to settle your debt, you may find that this strategy leads to a dead end.

Debt settlement also can harm your credit. Usually, debt settlement companies require you to stop making credit card payments while they negotiate with your creditor. At this time, your payments will go toward the debt settlement company so they can offer your creditor a lump sum payment as an incentive to settle your debt. However, pausing payments can negatively impact your debt since payment history is another factor used to calculate your credit score.

Debt Consolidation

If your credit isn’t damaged too much, you might be able to qualify for a debt consolidation loan. While this isn’t technically a debt relief option, it can help you to consolidate your debt and potentially lower your interest rate, allowing you to save money.

To consolidate your debt, you’ll apply for another loan, ideally one with better terms than your existing debt. You’ll then use the loan to pay off your outstanding credit card debts. Then, you will make installment payments to the lender instead of paying the creditors.

Before you apply for a debt consolidation loan, compare your options to identify the loans with the most competitive terms and interest rates.

Declaring a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

Depending on your situation, declaring Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy may make the most sense. For instance, if you can’t make the payments with a debt management or debt settlement plan, bankruptcy could be an option to avoid going deeper into debt. But before you declare bankruptcy, consider speaking with a bankruptcy attorney to weigh out the pros and cons of this solution.

Bankruptcy should be one of your last resorts since it can drastically harm your credit. Also, it will stay on your credit report for up to 10 years after the filing date. To settle your debts with bankruptcy, you may also be forced to sell some of your assets or other valuable possessions.

The Takeaway

While credit card debt forgiveness may sound great in theory, the reality is that it can harm your credit and end up costing you financially. If you find yourself starting to struggle with debt repayment, contact your credit card company to see if they will offer a hardship plan. If they’re unwilling to help or your financial troubles require a more long-term solution, you can explore credit debt forgiveness and other alternatives.

While credit cards can land you in a heap of debt, they can also be a great financial tool when used responsibly. With the credit card offer with SoFi, for instance, SoFi cardholders earn 2% unlimited cash back when redeemed to save, invest, or pay down eligible SoFi debt. Cardholders earn 1% cash back when redeemed for a statement credit.1

FAQ

How long does it typically take before a debt is forgiven?

Depending on the route you go, the time frame for debt forgiveness may vary. For example, bankruptcy can take six months, while debt settlement can take 36 months or more.

Does debt forgiveness hurt your credit score?

Yes, once you become delinquent on payments, your credit score can be negatively impacted. Then, when your credit card company sells your debt to a debt collector, they may report your balance as a charge-off or a complete loss, which can also impact your credit drastically.

How do you get your credit card balance forgiven?

Usually, once a creditor sells your outstanding debt to a debt collector, the debt collector may agree to forgive some of your credit card debt. But, you must agree to repay a portion of the debt for this to happen.


1See Rewards Details at SoFi.com/card/rewards.
Checking Your Rates: To check the rates and terms you may qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. A hard credit pull, which may impact your credit score, is required if you apply for a SoFi product after being pre-qualified.
Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s
website
.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
The SoFi Credit Card is issued by The Bank of Missouri (TBOM) (“Issuer”) pursuant to license by Mastercard® International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.

Photo credit: iStock/damircudic
SOCC0322010

All your finances.
All in one app.

SoFi QR code, Download now, scan this with your phone’s camera

All your finances.
All in one app.

App Store rating

SoFi iOS App, Download on the App Store
SoFi Android App, Get it on Google Play

TLS 1.2 Encrypted
Equal Housing Lender