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When Do Medical Bills Affect Your Credit

Even people with insurance coverage can end up with medical bills. You have a window of time to pay or negotiate any medical bills before they affect your credit.

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Medical debt is another thing we're adding to the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic caused 53% of people who are already dealing with medical expenses to take on additional debt according to a survey from Discover Personal Loans. Like other types of debt, medical bills have the potential to affect your credit.

Medical Bills and Credit Reporting

You can end up with medical bills, even if you have health insurance. Some medical providers may not report outstanding bills to the credit bureaus, but may instead sell or assign unpaid bills to third-party collection agencies who then report debts to credit bureaus, after a waiting period.

In 2017, the three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—agreed to wait 180 days after the account was first past due before reporting unpaid medical bills. This gives you time to sort things out with your insurance provider and have them pay all, or at least some, of the bill and keep it off your credit report. After the grace period is up, any unpaid medical bills that get reported to the credit bureaus can impact your FICO® Scores.

Protecting Your Credit from Medical Bills

To stay on top of medical bills, start by talking to your health care provider once you receive the bill. Make sure you've been billed correctly, then ask about any discounts or financial assistance programs you can take advantage of to lower your bill. Negotiating a payment plan is another option if you can't get your bill reduced.

If you miss the window to negotiate with your service provider and the bill gets sent to collections, you may still have time to keep the account off your credit report. Review the bill to make sure everything is accurate, if you haven't already, and dispute any incorrect charges with the collection agency.

Paying off valid medical collections may be worth it. Some of the more recently released credit scoring models, like FICO® Score 9, ignore third-party paid collections, which could help your approval odds when you apply for credit with a lender who uses one of these later models.

How you pay your medical bills can impact your FICO® Scores too, whether you pay the third-party service provider or collection agency. For instance, taking out a new loan to pay off medical expenses means a new inquiry and increased debt on your credit report. Using your credit cards can also affect your FICO Scores if your credit utilization increases. Discover's survey found that 41% of people used credit cards to pay off their medical debt.

Regardless of how you choose to pay them, as with other amounts owed, taking care of medical expenses in a timely fashion will put you in the best position to avoid a negative impact to your credit. And, if you act quickly enough, you can avoid having a collection on your credit report, which can remain there for up to seven years.

LaToya Irby

LaToya Irby is a financial writer with over 14 years of experience. She's been quoted and published as a credit expert in several major publications including USA Today, U.S. News and World Report, TheBalance.com, and The Chicago Tribune.