Did you know that medical debt is a very different kind of debt? It may seem like owing someone money is the same whether you owe a bank for your car note or a hospital for setting your broken arm, but credit reports see them very differently.

Knowing that fact alone can help you protect your credit even when the medical costs pile up because of an emergency.

Three things everyone should know about medical debt:

1) The hospital can’t repossess your appendectomy.

Medical providers want to recoup their costs, so they often provide flexible payment options or discounts to patients who take the time to reach out to them. Many hospitals are more than happy to work with patients in establishing interest-free payment plans. Additionally, if you can pay off a bill in full, some providers are willing to give a discount for you to do so.  All you need to do is ask! For them, unpaid bills going to collections agencies will cost them more money than working with you to find a solution.

2) Medical bills don’t hit your credit report…for a while. 

Most medical providers don’t report unpaid bills directly to the credit bureaus, which means most medical bills don’t impact your credit report unless they are transferred to a collection agency.  So, it’s in everyone’s best interest to keep those bills out of the hands of collections agencies.  Contacting the hospital or doctor’s office to work out a mutually beneficial repayment option can protect your credit.

3) You have 180 days.  

Thanks to new regulations, medical debt sold to collection agencies won’t hit your credit report for 180 days. That means you have some time to negotiate disputed items with the provider or hospital. First thing you should do, though, is ask that the bill not be sent to collections while you work it out.  Cleaning it up after it’s on your credit report will be much harder.

 Unplanned and unexpected healthcare costs can be difficult, but there are ways to help relieve the financial burden. Always talk to your providers and your insurance company to see if an agreement can be reached.  When it can, it’s a win-win for everyone and helps prevents these expenses from negatively impacting your credit score.    

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