Finance Globe

U.S. financial and economic topics from several finance writers.
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Unpaid Medical Bills Can Hurt Your Credit Score

Most people realize that credit cards and loans affect their credit score. Even the occasional blemish from an unpaid utility bill won’t surprise many people. But who’d expect medical bills to affect credit scores?

To clarify, not all medical bills will hurt your credit score. Particularly, if you receive a medical bill and you pay it off within a few days or weeks, your credit score is usually safe. However, unpaid medical bills that wind up with a collection agency are the ones that can damage your credit rating.

Even if you have health insurance, you could wind up with medical bills since health insurance providers don’t always cover 100% of medical costs. Doctors and medical service providers hold you responsible for any expenses not covered by health insurance. In fact, when you visited the doctor, you probably signed a document accepting financial responsibility for uncovered charges.

If you get a bill from a medical provider, don’t assume your insurance company is going to pay the charge. Chances are, the provider has already billed your health insurance and the insurance company paid its part. Call the service provider to find out why you’re receiving the bill. If believe the insurance company should have paid, follow up with them, too. But first find out how long the medical service will hold the bill before they pass it on to a collection agency. Letting them know you’re working with the insurance company will buy you some time, but eventually someone will have to pay. And, ultimately, it’s your responsibility to make sure the bill gets paid.

You can keep medical bills out of the collector’s hands and off your credit report by acting on them sooner rather than later. For balances you can't afford to pay in full, contact the provider’s billing department to work out a payment arrangement. Many service providers will work within your budget and set an installment price you can afford. It’s important that you keep up with your monthly payment. Otherwise, if you fall behind, the service provider may send your account to a collection agency anyway.

Other options for dealing with outstanding medical bills are to pay them off with a credit card or consolidate them with a loan. You still have to keep up with the payments or else your credit can still be affected. Be cautious about paying medical debt with a home equity loan or second mortgage. If you fall behind on the payments, you risk losing your home in foreclosure – a move that will affect your credit and leave you homeless.

Unfortunately, once medical bills are on your credit report, they are there to stay, at least for the next seven years. Even paying the medical bill won’t remove it from your credit report. The best way to prevent damage is to take care of these bills before they become a credit problem.
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Tuesday, 20 August 2019

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