Navigating medical bills on a fixed income can be challenging, but it’s essential to know that there are practical strategies to manage and pay off medical debt.
With health care costs on the rise and income growth lagging behind, it comes as no surprise that millions of Americans are struggling with high medical bills and medical debt.
Below, we’ll explore the nuances of medical debt, its impact on your credit, and various steps you can take to alleviate the financial burden. Our goal is to empower you with knowledge and guide you toward effective solutions.
- Early Action is Key – Addressing medical debt proactively can prevent it from escalating and affecting your credit.
- Explore Negotiation – Many healthcare providers are open to negotiation and may offer discounts or flexible repayment plans.
- Professional Guidance Helps – Seeking assistance from professionals, such as medical bill attorneys, can provide valuable insights and support.
What Is Medical Debt? And Why It’s More Common Than You Think!
Medical debt arises when individuals cannot cover the costs of medical expenses, including hospital stays, surgeries, medications, and other healthcare services.
It often results from a lack of insurance coverage or high out-of-pocket expenses.
Medical debt is a prevalent issue in the United States, affecting individuals and families from all walks of life.
A LendingTree survey conducted in 2022 revealed that almost 25 percent of Americans have medical debt. Additionally, 4 percent of households are categorized as having “high” medical debt, which is defined as exceeding 20 percent of the household’s annual income.
Unexpected medical expenses can lead to financial strain, making it crucial to understand your options for managing and paying off such debts.
How Can Medical Debt Affect Your Credit?
Unpaid medical bills can negatively impact your credit score, potentially leading to future financial challenges.
It’s crucial to address medical debt promptly to mitigate its effects on your creditworthiness.
The good news is that you have several options available to help you pay off your medical debt and prevent it from negatively impacting your income.
How Do I Pay Off Medical Debt on Fixed Income?
If you’re facing medical bills that will be difficult to pay, check out these eight actions to take today to improve your financial situation.
#1 – Ensure Charges Are Accurate
Medical bills frequently contain errors, with estimates indicating a high prevalence. According to a study by Medical Billing Advocates of America, up to 80 percent of medical bills may include errors. That’s a lot!
That’s why it is important to review your medical bills carefully to ensure accuracy. Ask for an itemized bill if you did not get one.
Collect all your bills and insurance explanation of benefits (EOB) forms, and meticulously examine them for any instances of unauthorized charges, duplicate billing, or errors.
Ensure that your insurance company has covered all eligible expenses, and confirm that your healthcare provider has accurately recorded their payments.
Mistakes can occur, and correcting them can reduce the overall amount you owe.
#2 – If You Do Owe, Request A Discount
If the cost of your healthcare exceeds your expectations, communicate with the hospital administrator or billing department.
Express your financial constraints and inquire about the possibility of a discount, offering to settle the bill at a reduced amount.
Rather than resorting to sending your bill to collections, many healthcare providers are willing to negotiate and offer discounts, especially if you are facing financial hardship.
#3 – Request for a Workable Repayment Plan
Explore the option of setting up a reasonable repayment plan with your healthcare provider.
Numerous hospitals and medical practitioners are willing to establish monthly payment arrangements for patients with outstanding bills, often with minimal or no interest. Monthly installments can make it more manageable to pay off the debt over time.
When negotiating a payment plan with providers, careful preparation is essential. Assess your monthly affordability and the timeframe needed to settle the debt.
Compile documentation of your income and assets to demonstrate your financial situation, aiming for a realistic and tailored payment plan that aligns with your needs.
#4 – Explore Medical Credit Cards
Some financial institutions offer credit cards specifically designed for qualifying medical expenses.
These cards often come with promotional periods for the first 6 months to 2 years, with low or zero APR, providing a temporary relief window for repayment.
Medical cards can offer cost savings compared to regular credit cards, especially if you can settle your balance before the introductory rate expires.
However, exercise caution and carefully review your account before agreeing to transfer your balance to a medical credit card, and consider negotiating with your healthcare provider.
#5 – Consider Other Credit Options
Explore other credit options to address medical debt.
Homeowners can consider a home equity loan or line of credit, offering lower interest rates over an extended repayment period (typically 5-20 years).
Cash-out refinancing allows using home equity to pay off debts but may result in higher mortgage payments.
Consolidation loans are another viable option as well.
Sometimes, specialized medical loans are available, ensuring flexibility in managing medical expenses.
If you have other unsecured debt in addition to your medical bills, like credit cards and personal loans, then you may qualify for debt settlement to potentially eliminate up to half of what you owe!
Evaluate each option considering your financial situation, risk tolerance, and eligibility criteria.
#6 – Look For Financial Assistance
If you receive a high medical bill you’re not able to pay off immediately, research available financial assistance programs, both from the government and non-profit organizations.
Some institutions offer grants or low-cost loans to individuals with incomes below a certain level struggling with medical bills.
#7 – Consider Declaring Bankruptcy As A Last Resort Only
While it should be a last resort, declaring bankruptcy is an option for those facing overwhelming medical debt.
A 2019 study published in the American Journal of Public Health revealed that approximately 67% of individuals resort to filing for bankruptcy due to overwhelming medical bills.
Consumers facing financial challenges can consider two types of bankruptcy: Chapter 7, which is quicker and suitable for those with limited income and assets, and Chapter 13, designed for those with enough income to repay a portion over a five-year plan.
While bankruptcy can eliminate medical debts, it significantly impacts credit scores, causing an immediate drop and remaining on credit reports for up to 10 years, longer than individual debts, which cease being reported after seven years.
Consult with a financial advisor or attorney to understand the implications and explore alternatives.
#8 – Consult a Medical Bill Attorney
Before bankruptcy even becomes a possibility, and you’re encountering difficulties in negotiating or resolving a huge medical debt, then consider consulting a medical bill attorney.
These professionals specialize in navigating complex medical billing issues. A medical bill advocate can assist you in navigating the complex realm of information, filing appeals with your insurance company, and negotiating with your medical provider.
Their expertise can be valuable in reducing your debt and establishing a feasible payment plan.
3 Actions To Avoid When Settling Medical Debt
- Avoid neglecting medical bills – Actively engage with your medical provider to secure the best possible arrangement.
- Avoid agreeing to unmanageable terms – Ensure that your payment plan is sustainable and won’t jeopardize your ability to cover essential expenses.
- Avoid hastily resorting to high-interest credit cards – Converting medical debt into high-interest credit card debt may lead to higher costs. Instead, explore options like negotiating a lower bill or a low- to no-interest payment plan with your medical provider. If financing is still needed, consider alternatives such as a medical credit card or personal loan.
Closing Thoughts On How to Pay Off Medical Bills On A Fixed Income
Effectively handling medical debt may appear to be a significant undertaking. These costs are frequently unexpected and can be substantial, even with assistance from your insurance.
Managing and paying off medical bills on a fixed income requires a proactive approach and a willingness to explore various options.
Whether through negotiation, financial assistance programs, or professional guidance, there are viable paths to financial relief.
If you’re struggling with medical debt and need personalized assistance, we are here to help.
At Americor, we understand the importance of managing your finances wisely.
As America’s trusted source for debt relief solutions, we aim to empower you with financial knowledge that can lead to informed decisions, whether it’s about savings, investments, or managing debt.
If your debt has become unmanageable and you have difficulty making your debt payments each month, then you should consider a free consultation call with one of our certified Debt Consultants, who can provide personalized advice tailored to your specific needs.
By taking proactive steps today, you can put an end to your financial stress and work towards a brighter financial future.
Remember, there is always hope for debt relief, and our team of experienced professionals are ready to guide you on your journey to regaining control of your finances.
For more information on Americor’s debt relief services, contact us today to see how we can help you eliminate your debts, and get on the fast-track to becoming completely debt-free!