Medical bills are generally not reported to the credit bureaus unless they are sent to collections. Once medical bills hit collections they can take a toll on your credit score and cost you a lot more in the long run. Having an account in collections is a sign to lenders that you are a risky borrower.
Consumer Reports found that almost one-fifth of American credit scores have been negatively impacted by unpaid medical expenses. Thankfully, there are many steps you can take to prevent a medical bill from going to collections.
How Does a Medical Bill Go into Collections?
When a medical bill is severely past due, the medical bill is sent to a collection agency. Healthcare providers typically offer a grace period between the initial missed payment and when the bill is sent to collections, though the amount of time given will vary. A medical collection account can stay on your credit report for up to seven years if it is fairly reported.
In 2017, the big three credit bureaus (Equifax®, Experian® and TransUnion®) enacted two rules in regard to medical collections:
- Medical debt in collections will not appear on a person’s credit report until 180 days have passed since the debt was reported. This period gives consumers time to find solutions for the bill like starting a payment plan or arranging for the insurance company to pay the bill.
- The credit bureaus are required to remove medical collections from credit reports if the debt is reported as paid or being paid by insurance.
How Will Medical Collection Accounts Impact My Credit Score?
The impact on your credit score will depend on how late/behind you are on paying the debt. Payment history accounts for 35% of your credit score, so an account that is significantly late on payments that is also in collections will likely result in a damaged score.
In 2014 FICO® Score 9 ‘s scoring model changed so that medical collections have a lower impact on credit scores. Specifically, this scoring model introduced the following changes to how FICO® treats medical collections:
- Does not factor paid medical collection accounts into your score
- Differentiates unpaid medical collections from unpaid non-medical collections
This scoring model may benefit some people however, not all lenders use FICO® Score 9. Some lenders use older models and non-FICO® models depending on their preference.
How To Prevent Medical Bills from Appearing on Your Credit Report
There are several ways you can prevent medical bills from hitting your credit. For example, make sure you understand your coverage, negotiate bills when/if possible, work out payment plans with your healthcare provider, stay on top of your bills, verify all charges and keep an eye on your reports.
Below is a list of how and why you should do each of these things to keep medical bills off of your credit report:
1. Familiarize Yourself with Your Healthcare Coverage
Knowing what is and isn’t covered it KEY. Also know things such as your speciality doctor coverage, co-pay amounts, and costs for different procedures. This will help you anticipate and plan for potential costs. Always ask ahead of time how much a procedure may cost if your insurance does not cover it or if you don’t have insurance. If your doctors office doesn’t know or it seems unclear call you insurance provider directly to ask.
2. Negotiate Medical Bill Prices
You ideally want to negotiate the prices of your medical bills prior to starting any treatment or procedure to see what options are available, but you can also negotiate after. For example, some healthcare providers charge lower rates or charge on a sliding scale for patients who don’t have health insurance or enough coverage.
Some healthcare and insurance providers are willing to negotiate medical bills. You can research the average prices of your procedure and ask your healthcare provider if they’re willing to lower their prices based on the average. This is not guaranteed, but it never hurts to ask.
3. Ask About Repayment Options
If negotiating the price is not an option and you can’t pay the full amount up front, you can ask about enrolling in a payment plan. It’s ideal to work this out prior to your treatment or procedure, but you can ask about your options afterward if necessary. It’s also not guaranteed that your healthcare provider will agree to a repayment plan.
4. Stay on Top of Your Medical Bills
Get in the habit of checking your balance with your healthcare and health insurance providers after every procedure or visit. This way, you likely won’t get caught by surprise with a bill you didn’t know about. Be sure to update your mailing address to ensure the provider is mailing the bills to the correct address. Contact both your healthcare provider and your insurance provider if you haven’t received a bill you were expecting in order to ensure you don’t miss paying it on time.
5. Verify Charges Right Away
After you receive your bill, confirm that all the information on the bill is correct. Usually they will list what items are covered by your insurance company and what you still owe. Check to make sure the listed charges are correct.
You should also get clarification from your insurance company and medical provider on any charges that you’re not familiar with or that seem inaccurate. This way, you can potentially avoid mistakenly paying for something. Trust us mistakes happen all to often! It is important to check and question anything that seems off to you or that you don’t understand.
To do this, you can ask for an itemized bill to see what specific charges are contributing to the total bill. Then, verify each with your healthcare provider.
6. Monitor Your Credit Report
It is not unheard of that you may have a medical debt in collections without even knowing it. This can be due to your healthcare provider having the wrong contact information on file, a bill being lost in the mail or you being mistakenly charged someone else’s bill.
It’s important for you to regularly check your reports with the credit bureaus because you should know what pieces of information (or “items”) are influencing your score. You can get a free credit report from each credit bureau every year through AnnualCreditReport.com.
How Can I Remove Medical Collections from My Credit Report?
When you schedule a free consultation with Lifeguard Credit Solutions you will be able to review everything on your credit report. If you have medical bills in collections (or other negative, inaccurate items on your report) our team of specialists will be able to review them with you and come up with the best plan on how to remove them from your credit report. To schedule your free consult call Lifeguard Credit Solutions at 978–277–3060 or email us at email@example.com