There about 6,000 hospitals across the United States that serve millions of people every year. Many of those people will receive treatment for whatever serious illnesses they have and later find they can’t pay their medical bills.
What happens when people go delinquent on their medical expenses? Do medical bills affect credit? Are there effective ways people can be proactive when managing medical debt?
All of those questions and more are answered in the post below. If you’re curious to learn more about how to navigate the ever-rising costs of medical care, keep reading to become a more informed consumer!
Do Medical Bills Affect Credit?
We’ve heard several people debate our post’s key question, “Do medical bills affect credit?” The answer to that question is yes and no.
People that go to the doctor’s office or hospital receive medical bills for services rendered. The simple act of receiving that bill does not adversely affect your credit.
Only if you exceed your bill’s time frame without payment (usually by a wide margin) will your medical office get tired of harassing you and send your bill to collections. That’s when you’ll get a bad mark on your credit.
What Is Collections?
Collections is a short-hand term for “collections agency.” Collections agencies are private businesses that buy debt off of companies and people at a reduced rate and then work to recollect a portion of that debt from delinquent parties so they can turn a profit.
For example, if you owe your doctor’s office $1000 and don’t pay it, your doctor may cut their losses and sell your debt to an agency for $200. The agency would then chase you down for the $1000 but will settle for anything above $200.
When Do Bills Go to Collections?
This depends on your doctor’s invoice terms and patience. Typically, medical offices will give patients anywhere from 30 to 90 days to make good on their bills.
Medical offices may choose to pursue payment long after 90 days to not have to sell your debt at a discount to an agency. Others may immediately sell your debt after your allotted time frame has lapsed.
How Long Will Bad Bills Stay on Your Record?
A medical bill that ends up with collections and shows up as a dark mark on your credit report won’t subside if/when you pay a collections agency.
Bad marks on your credit can sit on your report for over a half-decade. What’s worse is that bad marks on your credit pertaining to missed payments have the largest impact on your overall credit score.
Ways to Avoid Medical Bills Going Bad
Medical billing headaches stemming from delinquent payments can be avoided with some work. Here are a few tips on how you may be able to avoid and manage bill delinquency.
Start Investing in an HSA
If you’re employed full-time, your employer may give you access to an HSA account. An HSA is a tax-exempt Health Savings Account that you can shelter money in and withdraw from for free in order to pay for health expenses.
By putting money in your HSA, you’ll build an emergency fund that you can call upon if you come up against a difficult medical bill. You’ll also lower your taxable income by placing money there which may save you thousands if you end up falling into a lower tax bracket.
Opt for Affordable Treatment
Shopping around when receiving medical treatment isn’t always an option. When it is though, take the time to see who’s offering what prices and go with a medical provider that has rates you can manage.
While there are sometimes viable options to get a loan or obtain special financing for certain procedures, your goal should be to find rates that are feasible for you to pay for without incurring debt.
Get Quality Medical Insurance
People that are in low-income brackets in America almost certainly qualify for free healthcare through their state or the federal Medicare/Medicaid program. Enter your information on healthcare.gov and the portal will let you know what sort of help you can get and how to obtain it.
If you’re worried that you make too much money to qualify for free medical insurance, help may still be available. The federal government helps middle-class families with “premium tax credits” that offset the cost of health care, in-part. These tax credits can be claimed in April when you file taxes or can be pre-paid to your account each month when you pay your premium.
Armed with good health insurance, you’ll be able to side-step steep medical expenses in the future.
Negotiate Your Bills
Many people don’t know this but private practice medical institutions sometimes have wiggle room in the rates they charge. Don’t be afraid to ask for a discount on certain services to see if the doctor you’re working with will help you out.
A quick question could save you hundreds on treatments.
Work Out a Payment Plan With Your Doctor
Most doctors don’t want to sell your bill to collections since they’ll only receive a portion of what you owe them. A doctor will be much more open to working out a payment plan with you.
If you feel you’re not going to be able to manage your bills, ask your doctor if you can pay them back monthly. In that scenario, they get paid and you get to avoid a bad mark on your credit.
Your Credit Is Worth Protecting
Don’t be the person that throws your hands up, lets bills go to collections, and allows your credit to take a hit. Believe us when we say that bad credit is expensive and can limit your opportunities in life.
Your credit is worth protecting!
Use our guide to be an informed consumer and if you have more questions like “do medical bills affect credit?”, please explore additional information on our blog.