A hospitalization or medical treatment can carry a price tag that packs a serious punch. If you’re unable to deal with those costs and leave the resulting bill unpaid, insult can get added to injury in the form of damage to your credit score.
That’s because once a medical bill becomes delinquent, many hospitals and individual medical providers will send it to collections. Even though unpaid medical bills might affect your credit report, there are steps to take to potentially lessen the impact.
Do Medical Bills Hurt Your Credit?
Unpaid doctor or hospital bills typically don’t automatically hurt your credit score. Because most health care providers do not report to the credit bureaus, medical debt would have to get sent to collections in order to eventually appear on your credit report and have a potential effect on your credit score. The point at which medical providers will sell the debt to a collection agency is after it’s 60, 90, or 120 past due, depending on the provider.
After that, the three credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — have set a one-year waiting period from the time the bill is sent to collections until the medical debt is included on a consumer’s credit report. This is intended to make sure there’s enough time to solve any disputes with insurers and allow for delays in payment.
Further, the three major credit bureaus will soon no longer include unpaid medical bills in collections on a person’s credit report if the amount owed is less than $500. And in even better news, medical debt that was in collections but is now paid off will no longer be included on your credit report (usually, collections accounts take seven years to drop off a report).
On top of all that, some scoring models don’t weigh medical debt as heavily as they do other types of debt when calculating credit scores. In fact, some models may exclude unpaid medical debt entirely. So while medical bills can affect your credit, the effect might not be as drastic as other types of unpaid debt.
Can Medical Bills Be Removed From My Credit Report?
Unlike other types of debt, medical collections debt will no longer appear on your credit report once it is paid. Unpaid medical debt, however, can appear on your credit report for up to seven years if it remains unpaid. Fortunately, as time goes by, the account in collections counts less toward your credit scores.
If your bill was sent to collections by mistake, you may be able to have it removed by proving the error. Collect as much evidence as you can to make your case, such as credit card or checking account statements. You also might ask for payment records from your medical provider’s billing office.
You can file a dispute with the credit bureau that’s reporting the error. The credit bureau will then investigate and respond to you within 30 days. You may also receive email updates from the credit bureau regarding the status of your dispute.
Does Paying Off Medical Collections Improve Credit?
If you pay off medical collections debt, it will get removed from your credit report, which will have a positive impact on your credit score, and potentially a significant one. This is a recent change — previously, paid medical collections debt remained on credit reports for up to seven years.
One option to explore if you’re seeking to pay off your medical collections debt and thus get it removed from your credit report is to get your health insurance company to pay the debt. If you have reason to believe your insurance company should have paid a medical bill, ask your insurer to reconsider your insurance claims.
What to Do if You Can’t Pay Your Medical Bills
If the balance on your medical bill is your financial responsibility, but you’re unable to pay it, there may be ways to relieve your medical debt. Here are some options to consider:
• Ask the medical provider to set up a payment plan. Discuss this option with your medical provider to find a plan that is manageable with your monthly budget.
• Review your explanation of benefits the insurance company provides. Look out for billing errors or consider negotiating some of the medical charges, both of which could lower the total amount due.
• Consider getting a temporary part-time job. This may help bring in extra income that you can put toward the medical debt.
• Get assistance from a patient advocate. This might be an option worth considering if you can’t get the provider to budge on the payment.
• Apply for a personal loan. Medical debt is one of the common uses for personal loans. If you can secure a personal loan that has a lower interest rate than credit cards, this may offer another option for payment. Note that your approval and the interest rate you’re offered on the loan will depend on your credit record and other factors — here are some tips to get your personal loan approved.
Being Proactive About Medical Bills
Just because you made your copay at the doctor’s office doesn’t necessarily mean the bill is settled. Additionally, the fact that the provider has billed your insurance company doesn’t automatically mean the amount will be accurate or even paid.
If you haven’t received a statement from your medical provider’s billing office within a few weeks of your appointment or hospital stay, it might be a good idea to call for a billing update. Catching errors early in the billing process can help keep medical bills off your credit report and in turn, prevent medical bills from affecting your credit score.
If you know ahead of time that you won’t be able to pay the entire amount owed, contacting the provider’s billing office and trying to negotiate a payment plan may be a good first step. If you can come to an agreement, it’s a good idea to get it in writing. If you can’t reach an agreement, start exploring other options, making sure to weigh the pros and cons and crunch the numbers, such as with a personal loan calculator.
Should a collection agency employee contact you about a bill that you think has been paid or should have been paid by insurance, stay calm. Ask if you can call back with information that shows there’s no open balance.
If you have unpaid medical bills on your credit report, focusing on getting them paid has the potential to make a real difference in your financial future. Staying on top of medical bills can mean extra vigilance, but the effort is worth it to keep medical debt from affecting your credit.
If paying your medical bills with a personal loan makes sense for your financial situation, a medical loan from SoFi might be right for you. An unsecured SoFi personal loan can be used for medical bills, in addition to other expenses, and has no fees required, competitive interest rates, and a variety of repayment terms to work with different budgets.
Check your rate on a medical loan from SoFi.
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.
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