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If you’ve recently had a medical cost that you know you can’t afford to pay, you might be wondering if unpaid medical bills show up on your credit report. The answer is yes, they can—and they can potentially decrease your credit score. Medical bills are similar to other credit bills—if you make late payments or miss payments, they’ll be reported to the credit bureaus. If your medical debt is sent to collections, that will also show up on your credit report.
How medical bills end up on your credit report
A Salary Finance survey indicated that 54 percent of the people who reported having medical debt also said they’ve defaulted on those bills. If you miss or make a late payment on your medical bills, this data may show up on your credit report.
However, that’s not usually how it works. Doctors and hospitals simply don’t have the time to report every missed and late payment. Instead, they usually wait until a few payments are missed or late in a row, and then they opt to send the debt to collections instead. As a result, the first time medical debt shows up on consumers’ credit reports is often when their debt is already in collections. Having a collection item on your credit report is damaging and can sink your credit score significantly.
When you can remove a medical bill from your credit report
To understand how you can remove a medical bill from your credit report, you need to first understand the process for reporting.
Unpaid medical debt shouldn’t be reported to the bureaus until it has been in collections for at least a year. This grace period allows you to handle any potential errors that might occur during the billing process, which can be complicated. You can also use this time to work out a payment plan for the debt.
Once a medical bill appears on your credit report, you should review it for accuracy. If the debt was inaccurately reported in some way or seems to be a result of fraud, you can dispute it. This is also true if your bill should have been covered by your insurance provider, because it’s not right for you to be punished for an error caused by the complex medical billing process. We’ll cover what the dispute process looks like below.
Additionally, beginning in July 2022, paid medical collection debt and medical collection debt under $500 should no longer appear on credit reports. These significant changes are intended to provide some relief for consumers and help them “focus on their financial and personal well-being.”
How to dispute medical bills and medical collections on your credit report
Step 1: Write to the collection agency and demand validation
You can send a letter to the collection agency asking them to validate the debt or show that it actually belongs to you. You might also consider also stating that you want the collection to be removed if not validated within 30 days.
Step 2: Break out the magnifying glass and look for errors
Suppose step one didn’t yield a result that works in your favor. In that case, you can obtain a copy of all three credit reports and look for any inaccuracies—even minor inaccuracies matter.
Once you have the credit reports in hand, review them carefully for even the slightest inaccuracies. Consider all of the dates, names, balances owed and everything else detailed about the debt. If you spot any errors in the credit reports, you can dispute these with the relevant credit bureau. The credit bureau will, in turn, be responsible for investigating the errors on their end. And, if they cannot ultimately verify the information, they may drop the medical collection item from your credit report.
How medical bills affect your credit score
If a medical debt is sent to collections, it will show up on your credit report and hurt your credit score. Additionally, so long as it remains unpaid by either you or your insurance, it can stay on your credit report for up to seven years, so the impact on your credit score will fade with time but last for a while.
However, medical bills in collections affect your score differently than other types of bills in collections. The most recent scoring models—VantageScore 4.0® and FICO 9®—give medical debt on your credit report less weight, so it won’t impact your score as much. However, not all creditors use these latest scoring models, so medical debt in collections can still have a significant impact with some lenders.
When are medical bills sent to collections?
Note that medical bills can be sent to collections even as you’re paying them. If you’re making too-small payments or late payments or missing payments often, they can be sent off to collections. If you set up a payment plan with your medical care provider, make sure you get it in writing.
Medical bills can’t be sent to collections earlier than a predetermined set of time. Most healthcare providers have a waiting period of 60, 90, 120 or even 180 days before they’ll send your medical debt to collections. You can ask your lender how long their waiting period is.
How to keep a medical bill from being sent to collections
Take the following steps to try and keep a medical bill from going to collections:
- Review your Explanation of Benefits: Your Explanation of Benefits (EOB) explains how much your insurance provider will pay for each charge. The EOB will explain what the insurance provider should pay and what may be left over for you to take care of.
- Ask for an itemized bill: Ask your healthcare provider for an itemized invoice of your charges. Review the charges so you can understand how much your insurance provider should pay. Make sure the hospital is accounting for all payments by your insurer and isn’t overcharging you.
- Check the accuracy: Never assume the medical debt is without errors. You should take the time to evaluate if all the charges are correct, if your insurance payments are accounted for and if all other details are accurate. If there are any errors, bring them up immediately.
- Work on a payment plan: If you know you can’t pay for your medical bill up front, ask your provider for a payment plan. Monthly payments can make the bill much more manageable. However, note that payment plans often charge interest and other fees.
- Keep an eye on your medical debts: If you have many medical bills, it can be easy to have one slip by you and end up in collections. Unfortunately, even keeping in touch with your healthcare provider and insurer won’t always help you catch every bill. So, make sure you’re regularly checking your credit report. If a medical bill ends up in collections, you’ll see it on your credit report.
How to negotiate medical bills with collectors
If your medical bill is already in collections, consider negotiating with the collection agency. First, verify that the account is actually yours and the amount is correct. Next, ask them to avoid reporting the bill to the credit reporting agencies. If you can offer a quick payment solution, most collection agencies will work with you and delay reporting.
If they’ve already reported the debt, you can make an arrangement known as “pay for delete”, where you agree to pay the debt fully if they remove the debt from your report afterwards. Whatever plan you agree to with the collection agency, ensure you get it in writing so you have proof.
Should I pay a medical bill in collections?
Yes, you should pay a medical bill in collections if you can afford to do so. As we mentioned before, updates to the credit reporting rules now mean that paying your medical debt should get it removed from your credit reports. Plus, this should stop collectors from contacting you for payment, which can bring you further relief.
We advise you to pay off your debts if you can, but if you don’t pay your bill in collections, it should eventually drop off after seven years pass.
How to minimize the negative impact of medical bills on your credit score
Everyone gets medical bills, and it’s not that uncommon for the bills to feel unaffordable. No matter how unpleasant the situation is, you can’t ignore your medical bills. If left unaddressed, medical bills will impact your credit score and, therefore, your other lending opportunities.
Always communicate with your healthcare provider and insurer about your medical bills. If they send your bills to collections, you’ll know and be able to react accordingly. You have options to reduce the negative impact of medical bills on your credit score; you just have to be proactive.