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Will my medical debt affect my credit score?
Unpaid bills affect your credit, but take longer to show up and are less damaging than other debt.
Medical debt can appear on your credit report and affect your score — if you ignore your bills. But there are several steps you can take to make your bills more affordable without impacting your credit rating. And if it’s already on your report, it’s possible to remove it before it disappears in seven years.
How can unpaid medical bills affect my credit?
Unpaid medical bills can affect your credit by showing up as a negative mark on your report after they go into collections. But they won’t show up immediately after you get a bill you can’t afford.
How long does it take to affect my credit?
Generally medical providers are required to wait 180 days before sending an unpaid medical bill over to collections. It shouldn’t appear on your credit report before that time.
How much can it hurt my score?
Medical debt generally doesn’t hurt your score as much as other types of debt regardless of what type of credit scoring. If it’s low enough, there won’t be any impact at all. The FICO 9 scoring system — which most lenders use to evaluate credit — also doesn’t consider any debt under $100.
This is relatively new. An earlier version of FICO weighed medical debt the same as other debts. After it made the switch to, FICO 9, FICO found that consumers’ credit scores jumped about 25 points.
How long does it stay on my report?
Unpaid medical bills can stay on your credit report for up to seven years after they were sent to collections. But it can be removed if your debt is paid off by an insurer.
What if my insurance never paid my medical bill?
Regardless of who’s at fault, it’ll remain on your credit report for up to seven years if insurance doesn’t pay the bill. But the FICO 9 and VantageScore 3.0 scoring methods disregard paid medical collections debts when calculating scores, regardless of how the debt is settled. That means once it’s paid, it won’t affect your credit score.
Check your credit score or rebuild your credit
Everyone’s entitled to three free credit reports a year by federal law. But if you’ve already used those up, you can check your report with one of the services on the table below. Or, click on the tab Repair your credit to compare services that can help get your score back in top shape.
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How to prevent medical bills from appearing on a credit report
Taking these steps as soon as you receive a bill can help prevent it from going to collections and hurting your credit.
- Ask for an itemized bill and dispute charges. You might find that once your provider breaks down your costs that you’re being charged for services or procedures you didn’t receive. Have these removed.
- Monitor your insurance. If that 180 day mark is creeping closer, follow up with your insurance company and ask it to pay.
- Negotiate your debt down. Hospitals tend to be more flexible about their pricing than you might expect. Reach out and ask if you can have a discount. In some cases, simply paying in cash or by a specific date can make your bills more affordable.
- Request a payment plan. Many hospitals offer interest-free payment plans that break up your expenses into monthly installments. In some cases, these are based on your income.
- Apply for financial assistance. If your income is low enough, your provider might reduce or forgive your medical debt — especially if you have hospital bills.
- Use a balance transfer credit card. These cards are designed to consolidate debts and come with 0% promotional rates, usually for the first 18 months. This can give you more flexibility than a payment plan. But it’ll cost you big if you still have debt when interest kicks in.
- Take out a debt consolidation loan. Using a loan to pay off your debts can help you spread it out over several years — and is better for bills over around $5,000. You’ll pay interest, but it won’t cost you as much as using a regular credit card.
How do I remove medical debt from my credit report?
You can remove debt from your credit report if your insurer pays it off. But you can get it to no longer affect your credit score in some cases if you settle the debt another way. Here are some steps you can take.
- Follow up with insurance — again. If it’s your insurance company’s responsibility to pay, stay on top of it until it’s paid off your bill.
- Consolidate your debt. Paying off your debt with a loan will also remove it from your credit report and can build your score by adding to your record of on-time repayments. But you typically need a credit score of at least 670 to qualify.
- Negotiate with the collections agency. You may be able to work out a repayment plan or settle the debt for a lower amount if you can prove that you aren’t able to pay the bill as is any time soon.
- Hire a medical billing advocate. These professionals can negotiate on your behalf — for a fee.
What if I paid it off and it’s still there?
If you’ve paid off your debt but it’s still showing up on your report, take these three steps to have it removed:
- Get a copy of your credit report. If an unpaid medical bill shows up on your credit report after you’ve cleared the debt, gather documentation that proves the bill was paid, such as receipts or account statements.
- Contact the bureaus. Let Equifax, Experian and TransUnion know about the error on your credit report by mailing a formal letter or by submitting a dispute form on their sites.
- Follow up. You should receive a response from the bureaus within 30 days after submitting your dispute. Confirm that the corrections are reflected on your credit report before moving on.
Where can I get help paying my medical bills?
If your insurance doesn’t cover your bill or you’re having trouble paying out of pocket, resources are available to alleviate your medical debt:
- Nonprofit hospitals. If you’re a qualifying low-income family, a nonprofit hospital might help cover the expense. You may need to show proof of income in the form of tax returns or pay stubs.
- Local human-service agencies. State-run health programs sometimes help supplement the cost of medical expenses. Research what’s available in your neighborhood through your city or county offices.
- The United Way. Call 211 from anywhere in North America to learn more about this nonprofit’s healthcare support system. Its advisers can point you in the direction of local services near you that may be able to help.
An unplanned medical bill shouldn’t add more stress to your recovery. You have 180 days to manage healthcare debt before it shows up on your credit report. Use the time to contact your insurance company, carefully review itemized bills and reach out to your provider for alternative payment. And go over our guide to handling medical debt for a more in-depth look at your options.
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