Medical bills, like any other financial obligation, can have a significant impact on your credit score if not managed properly. While the medical industry is unique in many ways, when it comes to credit reporting, unpaid medical bills can lead to negative entries just like any other debt. Here’s what you need to know:
- Unpaid medical bills can lead to collection accounts, negatively impacting your credit score.
- Proactively addressing medical debts, such as negotiating with providers or setting up payment plans, can prevent them from harming your credit.
- While newer credit scoring models may be lenient towards medical collections, many lenders still use older models that treat all collections equally.
1. Medical Bills and Credit Reporting
Medical bills only affect your credit score when they’re reported to the credit bureaus. Typically, doctors and hospitals don’t report debts to credit bureaus. Instead, they turn over unpaid bills to a collection agency, which may then report the account. If a medical bill has been paid by the insurance company or if it’s in the process of being paid, it shouldn’t appear on your credit report.
2. Waiting Period for Reporting
There’s a waiting period before medical debt appears on your credit report. Previously, once your medical bill was 180 days past due, it could be reported to the credit bureaus. However, recent changes have increased this time frame, giving consumers more time to address their medical bills.
3. Recent Changes in Reporting Medical Debt
As of April 2023, the Nationwide Credit Reporting Agencies (NCRAs) — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — have removed medical collection debt with an initial reported balance of under $500 from U.S. consumer credit reports. This change has led to the removal of nearly 70% of collection accounts from consumer credit files.
The Impact on Your Credit
1. When Medical Bills Don’t Hurt Your Credit
Medical bills won’t hurt your credit score if they’re paid promptly or if an arrangement is made with the healthcare provider for a payment plan. Many medical providers are willing to set up payment plans for patients. As long as you adhere to the agreed-upon terms, your medical debt won’t be sent to collections, and thus, won’t harm your credit.
2. When Medical Bills Can Hurt Your Credit
Ignoring medical bills can be detrimental. Unpaid medical bills can lead to collection accounts or even court judgments if the creditor decides to sue. The addition of a collection account can significantly lower your credit score, especially if your credit was in good standing before.
3. Debunking Myths
There’s a misconception that medical collections are less significant in credit score calculations. While newer credit scoring models might be more lenient towards medical collections, many lenders still use older models that don’t differentiate between medical and non-medical collections.
How to Manage Medical Debt
- Review Your Bills: Always check your medical bills against the Explanation of Benefits (EOB) from your insurance. Ensure you’re only being charged for services you received and that your insurance has covered what it’s supposed to.
- Negotiate with Providers: If you can’t afford a bill, reach out to your medical provider. Many are willing to reduce the amount or set up a payment plan.
- Stay Proactive: If you’re facing medical debt, be proactive in addressing it. Whether that means setting up a payment plan, disputing an incorrect charge, or seeking financial assistance, taking action can prevent negative marks on your credit report.
In conclusion, while medical bills can potentially hurt your credit score, being informed and proactive can mitigate or even prevent any negative impact. Always communicate with healthcare providers and insurance companies, and monitor your credit report regularly to ensure all is as it should be.