If you're one of the many Americans living paycheck to paycheck, paying off exorbitant medical bills may not be an option. Ignore your medical debt, however, and it will eventually end up in collections and damage your credit scores. This is the choice that thousands of Americans are faced with: go without necessities in order to make payments on medical debt or let their credit scores take a hit.
How Do Unpaid Medical Bills Affect Your Credit Scores?
If you don't pay off your medical bills, the doctor or hospital you owe will eventually turn your account over to a collection agency. The collection agency's task is to collect as much of the debt as possible. The collection agency keeps a percentage of whatever they collect as payment for their services.
|A medical emergency may cost you your good credit.|
Hospitals and doctors' offices don't report your debts to the credit bureaus. Even if you set up a payment plan and faithfully adhere to that plan, the payments you make toward your medical bills don't show up on your credit report and help boost your credit scores. As unfair as it sounds, the only impact medical debt can have on your credit report is a negative one. Collection agencies routinely report their accounts to the credit bureaus. Collection accounts are always negative and will significantly damage your credit scores. Paying off the debt doesn't change this. Paid medical collections are just as damaging to your credit rating as unpaid ones.
How Much Medical Collections Hurt Your Credit Scores
The affect any item--positive or negative--has on your credit scores depends on how good or bad your credit is when the item initially appears on your report. The better your scores are when a medical collection appears on your report, the more credit points you'll lose. I'll give you some ballpark figures, but none of this is set in stone. In other words, your mileage may vary.
On average, a collection account of any variety will cost your credit score about 100 points. If you have excellent credit, expect your scores to take a bigger hit. The opposite, of course, is true for those with bad credit. If your credit is already in shambles, you may lose only 50 points--sometimes less. Time also plays a big role in the impact a medical collection has on your scores. The older a collection account is, the less it affects your credit.
How Long Does Medical Debt Stay on Your Credit Report?
Medical collections remain on your credit report for seven years. The original delinquency date generally won't show up on your credit report. What will show up is the date the collection agency first reported your medical debt to the credit bureaus. That date has no impact whatsoever on the date the credit bureaus must remove the item. The date of removal is set in stone regardless of what state you live in or whether or not you've ever made a payment on the debt.
The exception to this rule is if the collection agency sues you and wins a judgment. A judgment will remain on your credit report for either the amount of time that the judgment is enforceable in your state or seven years, whichever period is longer. In addition to giving the collection agency a wider range of debt recovery options, judgments also do significant damage to your credit rating.
Medical Collections Often Carry Less Weight With Lenders
Now for the good news. (Didn't think there was any of that, did you?) Lenders who pull and review your full credit history often place less importance on medical collections than other types of collection accounts. This is because a medical collection on your credit report doesn't scream "I'm financially irresponsible!" like, say, a defaulted credit card. Lenders know that medical emergencies are out of your control. Thus, even though the medical debt shows up on your credit report and hurts your scores, it may not be an obstacle with some lenders.
There are exceptions to this rule as well. If the debt is still within your state's statute of limitations, your lender has the right to turn down your application until you either pay off the debt or the statute of limitations passes. This is nothing more than the lender protecting its own interests. After all, no lender wants to finance an item that can be liened or seized due to an unpaid medical collection.
Can a Doctor or Hospital Send Medical Bills Directly to Collections Without Notifying You?
Keeping Medical Debt Out of Collections and Off Your Credit Report
Debt Collection Lawsuit Statute of Limitations By State