Debt Settlement and the Road Back to FICO® Score Recovery
- Debt settlement impacts credit scores in two ways.
- In the short term, debt settlement tends to make credit scores worse.
- After debt settlement, credit scores tend to go up.
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What happens to your credit score during debt settlement
I remember seeing this cartoon that shows a man on his knee asking a woman to marry him. The cartoon bubble has her replying that it depends on his credit score. References like this in our pop culture highlight consumers’ awareness of credit scores and how important credit scores have become in our lives. At Freedom Debt Relief, this shows up when our prospects want to better understand what could happen to their credit score as they go through debt settlement.
This was a central objective for our study – quantifying what happens to our clients’ FICO® Scores as they move through the debt settlement journey. A picture is worth a thousand words, and the graph below illustrates what happens to FICO® Scores of our FDR Graduates as they go through debt settlement.
Short-term impact of debt settlement on a credit score
The short-term impact of debt settlement to a consumer’s FICO® Score is substantial. The median FICO® Score drops by approximately 150 points within the first six months. This reduction is associated with FICO® Score inputs focused on recency of delinquency, frequency of delinquency, and severity of delinquency. Large drops can occur when enrolled accounts become more delinquent. Additionally, as the debt charges off, the severity of the delinquency influences the magnitude of the score drop. Lastly, the number of accounts included in the settlement program can influence the score drop, as the FICO® Score measures the frequency of delinquencies on the credit profile.
The Long-term impact of debt settlement on a credit score
One of the most commonly cited misconceptions about debt settlement is that it has a long-lasting and negative impact on a consumer’s FICO® Score. After bottoming out at six months, our study showed a steady rehabilitation in the FICO® Score. Initially, the improvement is primarily driven by the aging of the delinquencies. Delinquency information will stay on the credit report for seven years, so the charged-off debt will still be present and factored into the score. But over time, the historical delinquencies age and gradually have less influence on the FICO® Score. Over a longer period of time, the rehabilitation will be influenced by reduced debt loads. On average, 45 months after enrollment, the median FICO® Score for FDR Graduates has fully recovered to its initial starting point.
Figure 1 above illustrates what happens after enrollment. What is even more powerful is what happens after graduation. Figure 2 below shows that after graduation, FICO® Score recovery continues in the months and years immediately after the program. About two and a half years after the program, the median FICO® Score for FDR Graduates in our study essentially 680. This marks a return to the financial mainstream, a significant milestone in the credit rehabilitation for the consumer.
The findings on how debt settlement impacts credit scores are powerful, but they remain the tip of the iceberg. Though credit scores are powerful, debt loads are more fundamental. In my next post, we’ll do a deeper dive into how settlements and FICO® Scores are correlated in the settlement journey.