Stories of individuals sliding into the purgatory of insurmountable debt as a result of medical bills are on the rise. The high cost of medical treatment, plus the potential for loss of income owing to needing treatment in the first place, can combine in a rather tragic fashion.
The good news is hospitals and the big three credit reporting bureaus have taken this into consideration. As a result, measures now exist to provide consumers with more time to work things out.
Here’s how medical debt affects your credit score.
Hospitals Are Somewhat Chill About It
You can be quite delinquent on medical debt before word of the problem ever reaches the credit bureaus. In most cases, medical facilities won’t report the issue at all. However, if things go on for too long, they will sell your debt to a collection agency, at which point all bets are off.
How long this takes varies. It can be as few as 60 days or as many as 180. The best way to determine — as well as avoid it in the first place — is to communicate with the accounts receivable people at your hospital when you know paying is going to create a hardship.
Credit Bureaus Are, Too
In an effort to give people more time to clear things up, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion will sit on reports of bad medical debt for 180 days before recording it into your history. This effectively gives you an additional six months to get things straight before your credit score is affected.
Sometimes it’s just a matter of getting things worked out with insurance companies. Given this can be a bit time consuming, that 180 days, plus the 60 to 180 provided by the medical facility, should be more than enough time to get things handled — even if you need to arrange debt consolidation or some other method of getting your finances back in hand.
Further, medical debt is given less weight when credit scores are calculated, so it won’t bring your ranking down as significantly as other types of credit issues. Also, where standard collection actions stay on your report for up to seven years after they’ve been satisfied, medical debt is cleared immediately upon payment.
Sometimes It Isn’t Your Fault
With insurance copays, deductibles and the confusion surrounding what insurance companies do and don’t cover, it’s entirely possible to have an unpaid medical debt without realizing you do.
Therefore it’s always a good idea to follow up with your insurance company, as well as the medical facility, to see what you owe after a medical procedure — and make sure payments have been made. This positions you to push whatever buttons you need to with your insurer to set things in motion if you find out they haven’t been handled.
Or, worst case, you’ll find out there’s an issue before it goes to collections.
Don’t Relax Too Much, Though
When it comes to the question of how medical debt affects your credit score there is much good news. Everybody is on your side and willing to give you ample opportunity to clear it up. What’s more, even if things get all the way to the collections phase, it’s expunged from your record as soon as payment is made.
On the other hand though, when all is said and done, an unpaid debt is still an unpaid debt. Yes, medical obligations are treated with a less heavy hand than other types. However, it still looks bad sitting on your credit report unresolved — and yes, it can lower your score if it’s left to stagnate.