If you are injured in an accident, the unexpected medical care expenses can create a financial burden that is difficult to shoulder. This could leave you asking how unpaid medical debt can affect your credit.
This is not an uncommon concern; according to a 2014 study by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFB) over half of debt appearing on credit reports is related to medical expenses, and for about 15 million people, the only negative mark on their credit report is from outstanding medical debt.
Many medical providers, instead of attempting to collect outstanding debt themselves, employ debt collection agencies. If collection agencies can’t collect the outstanding debt, it can be reported to the major credit reporting agencies. This can negatively affect your credit report and score, and therefore your ability to borrow money.
A low credit score can also translate into higher interest rates on credit card debt or other loans linked to variable interest rates.
In this way, the costs of an injury can translate into higher costs to service previously established debt. If you are already struggling to repay outstanding medical debts, increased costs associated with credit card debt, car loans, mortgage payments, or other loans, add an additional burden.
There is no standard period that medical providers must wait before sending your debt to collections. The providers control when they send medical debt to collections. Time periods for reporting vary widely from 30 days to 6 months, which can make it difficult for people suffering from serious injuries with long recovery times. In addition to dealing with recovery from your accident, you must stay on top of outstanding medical bills so your credit is not negatively affected.
Another difficulty is keeping up with the number of bills from different providers. For example, if you are injured in a car accident and transported by EMS to the ER of the nearest hospital, there will be multiple bills from each provider involved in the treatment. EMS, the hospital, the ER physicians, and the radiologists could all bill you separately.
Each provider has a different policy when it comes to sending your debt to collections. It is not uncommon for someone injured in an accident to overlook or misplace a bill from a provider, which ends up in collections negatively affecting the injured parties’ credit.
Fortunately, recent rules changes will benefit those with unpaid medical expenses. Beginning on September 15, 2017, a 180-day (6 month) waiting period will be put in place by the three large credit reporting agencies TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax.
The waiting period is designed to give people time to resolve disputes with insurance companies and negotiate payment arrangements with providers. Additionally, medical debt will be removed by credit bureaus once the debt is paid by an insurer. Unfortunately, these rules are not retroactive. If you already have outstanding medical debt the new rules will not apply to that debt.
The changes, which will be instituted nationwide, stem from two key efforts by states to aid consumers. The first is a 2015 settlement between the three major credit reporting agencies and New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. The second is an agreement between 31 other state attorneys general and the reporting agencies.
If you are dealing with outstanding medical debt stemming from an injury, you have options to help make sure you protect your credit. You might be able to use your own auto insurance, such as Personal Injury Protection or Medical Payments Coverage, to offset the costs and keep the debt current.
Additionally, you can contact each provider and ask them what options you have for keeping the bill out of collections. Most providers will allow you to establish a payment arrangement if you can’t pay the bill in full. If you have health insurance, it might be a good idea to make sure each provider has your health insurance information, so they submit the outstanding bill to your health insurance provider.
It is also a good idea to check your credit score to make sure the outstanding debt is not negatively affecting it. Consumers are entitled to a free credit report from each credit reporting company every year.
Many banks and credit card companies now offer free credit reports as part of their services. Check to see if you have access to these services to stay on top of your score.
If you were injured in an accident at no-fault of your own, and the medical expenses and other problems are piling up from the accident, considering discussing your case for free with one of FVF’s experienced injury attorneys. Call 512-982-9328, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit FVF’s website to see if we can help.
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