I lost my home to foreclosure about a year ago. I stopped making payments on the second mortgage around the same time, and I just got a notice that the second loan was "charged off." What does this mean? Is the debt forgiven? What should I do, if anything?
Your second-mortgage debt hasn't been canceled or forgiven. A "charge off" is an accounting term that means the creditor no longer considers the money you owe as a source of profit but instead counts it as a loss. A charged-off loan—unlike forgiven debt—is still considered an obligation that you must pay.
When the first-mortgage lender foreclosed on your home, the second mortgage was also foreclosed, and that lender lost its security interest in the real estate. But while the second-mortgage lien was eliminated, the debt associated with the second mortgage wasn't. Instead, the loan became unsecured debt. Then, after you stopped making payments on your second mortgage, your second-mortgage lender eventually determined that the debt was uncollectible and decided to charge it off. A charge off usually happens between 180 and 240 days from the date of your last payment.
A "charge off" means that the lender is writing the debt off their books, but it doesn't mean that the lender forfeits the right to collect it. Even though the lender did a charge off, the debt remains legally valid.
After the charge off, the creditor will typically send or sell the account to a collection agency. That agency will probably make repeated calls and send letters to you to in an attempt to collect the debt.
You have a few different options after a lender charges off a second-mortgage and sends it to collections. Your options include:
Ignoring the debt and letting a suit happen generally isn't recommended. If the collection agency wins the lawsuit and gets a money judgment against you, it may typically collect this amount using regular collection methods, like garnishing your wages or levying your bank account.
Of course, if you have nothing that the collection agency can get from you—you're "judgment proof"—and this financial situation will last for a long time, then it might make sense to do nothing. However, being judgment proof is, in some cases, only a temporary condition. Your financial situation could improve. So, consider talking to a lawyer before you make this decision. You might have a defense to the suit, like the statute of limitations has run out or the creditor doesn't have the legal right to sue (called "standing").
Filing for bankruptcy is an option as well because bankruptcy can reduce or eliminate this type of debt.
If you can't afford the required monthly payments or come up with enough to pay off the total amount of the debt, you might be able to negotiate a settlement for an amount less—often much less—than what you actually owe. Some creditors will accept as little as 10%-20% of the remaining balance to settle the debt. Though, you might be liable to pay taxes on any forgiven amount.
If you want to try to settle a debt that resulted from a charged-off second mortgage, consider talking to a debt settlement attorney.