A reader can't afford a medical procedure. Now what?

2 minute read

Question: I had a mole on my face and thankfully, it turned out not to be cancer. But now I owe $1,200 for the procedure and I can’t afford it. My boyfriend says just to ignore the bill and it’ll go away, but that doesn’t sound right.

Won’t that hurt my credit score? Won’t the doctor want his money?

— Kelly in Arizona

Howard Dvorkin CPA answers…

An emphatic yes to both questions. After that, it gets murky.

Medical debt combines two confusing and depressing topics: The healthcare system and the debt-collection industry. That’s why it’s so hard to get straight answers to simple questions. For instance, your medical debt will eventually drag down your credit score. When exactly? Hard to say.

That’s because many doctors and hospitals don’t report debts to the three big credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion). Instead, they simply send the unpaid balances to a collection agency – which not only calls you repeatedly, but will report you to the credit bureaus.

Just one of those reports can ding your credit score by 50 points. That’s a lot when you consider the highest score is only 850.

So what can you do? Negotiate. Collection agencies aren’t known for their flexibility, so you want to negotiate with the doctor’s office or hospital before your debt gets to the collection agency. I’ve heard stories of former patients getting a third or even half of the debt waived.

To do that requires many uncomfortable conversations, however.

You’ll need to prove you can’t afford to pay the entire bill, which means disclosing your family income. It also means paying something, anything right now. You’re more likely to get a break if you offer to make frequent installment payments.

Of course, there are no rules here, so it’s up to the doctor or hospital. Some are very nice about these things. Others send your bill to collections immediately.

So the only crystal-clear advice is this: Be proactive. Call about that debt now.

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About the Author

Howard Dvorkin, CPA

Howard Dvorkin, CPA

I’m a certified public accountant who has authored two books on getting out of debt, Credit Hell and Power Up, and I am one of the personal finance experts for Debt.com. I have focused my professional endeavors in the consumer finance, technology, media and real estate industries creating not only Debt.com, but also Financial Apps and Start Fresh Today, among others. My personal finance advice has been included in countless articles, and has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Forbes and Entrepreneur as well as virtually every national and local newspaper in the country. Everyone should have a reason for living that’s bigger than themselves, and besides my family, mine is this: Teaching Americans how to live happily within their means. To me, money is not the root of all evil. Poor money management is. Money cannot buy happiness, but going into debt always buys misery. That’s why I launched Debt.com. I’m glad you’re here.

Published by Debt.com, LLC