Should I pay a medical bill in collections?

Our counselors regularly meet with clients who have bills for past medical services on their credit report, and a question we hear quite often is “Should I pay a medical bill in collections?” This is always tough to answer, even when talking about debt in general, because there are quite a few considerations.

For instance, you should be familiar with the new rules for how FICO treats medical debt, which are more favorable to consumers. And then there’s the age of your debt and how that factors into the decision. And, of course, there’s always an ethical dimension to a question like this, so you have to make the choice that aligns with your values. Let’s take a closer look at how to approach this decision along with the information you’ll need to have in hand.

Some Important Considerations

We’ve covered how the new FICO score affects medical debt in detail, but the gist is this: When you pay off a medical debt in collections, the collection activity is permanently disregarded in the calculation of your FICO score. This is great news and, as we will explain, provides incentive to pay off an old medical debt. But, there are two caveats.

First, not all lenders are using FICO 9, the new score that treats medical debt in this favorable way. So, there’s no guarantee that you will reap this benefit.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, FICO still uses any negative marks created by the account before it was sent to collections in its calculation of your score. This means that if the original creditor or service provider (a dentist, for example) reported you to the credit bureaus as delinquent or “late” before sending the account to collections, you cannot undo that negative impact.

This is problematic because it’s not a uniform standard. In our experience at Clearpoint, it’s rare for an original provider to report directly to the credit reporting agencies. What’s easier, and often less expensive, is to sell the debt to a third-party collection agency instead who handles all of this on their behalf. And for consumers, that’s the ideal outcome, because if there is no original reporting, the situation (in terms of credit damage) can be totally repaired by paying of the collection account.

The CFPB, in their 2014 report on medical collections, found this to be generally true as well. They report:

Bureau interviews indicate that nearly all healthcare providers that permit reporting prefer to allow their contracted collection agencies to report the unpaid accounts to credit reporting agencies as opposed to reporting the unpaid accounts themselves.

But some providers operate differently and for a variety of reasons, such as having a more streamlined infrastructure, may report a late status directly to the reporting agencies long before involving a debt collector. This is bad for consumers’ credit and hard to predict. It varies by provider and, to an extent, by industry. There is not readily available data on this problem, but from our experience dental and vision providers are much more likely to do this than large hospitals or lab companies.

Questions to Ask

As you evaluate whether repayment makes sense for you, you’ll need to ask the following questions and take the appropriate steps to resolution.

Did the original creditor report directly to the credit bureaus?

It will be helpful for you to know what you’re up against—one type of negative mark (the collections activity), or two (the collections activity and the original delinquency). To know this for sure, you will want to pull all three copies of your credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com.

Once you have this information in hand, you can better evaluate how to move forward. Paying off the collections account will have a positive impact to your FICO 9 score, but if the original delinquency is also listed, the positive impact may be less significant.

How old is the debt?

This is a really important question to ask. If you have an original negative mark, that’s going to stay on the report for a total of seven years. The collections account will also negatively affect your credit for seven years if you don’t pay it off. If you are nearing the seven-year period, you may receive much less net benefit to paying off the account, since it will soon be off anyway.

What is the statute of limitations?

This is also important to know. While the debt will affect your credit score for seven years, that’s actually different than your legal responsibility to the debt. That’s determined by the statute of limitations in your state. It’s important to know this as well. There’s no legal reason to pay off a debt beyond the statute of limitations, but it might still help your credit. If your statute of limitations is shorter than your seven-year period, the same principle mentioned above holds true—it’s a good idea to pay it off early, but much less so as you approach seven years. But also, keep in mind that if your statute of limitations is longer than seven years, you will still be legally responsible for that debt, which means you could face a lawsuit.

If you want to know more about old debt and how to handle collectors, be sure to read our post about zombie debt.

Can I settle?

If paying off the balance in full is part of your dilemma, settling may be a great option. In general, settling a debt creates its own negative comment on your credit report, but luckily medical settlements are treated differently. Just as with medical collection accounts paid in full, FICO 9 ignores settled medical accounts.

For starters, try offering the collector one third of the total balance and negotiate from there. Keep in mind that any amount forgiven that exceeds $600 can be declared as income, so you should receive a 1099 at the end of the year and it may have tax implications. Also, be aware that there are many for-profit debt settlement firms who make big promises but may actually do more harm than good! We recommend trying this tactic on your own, rather than working with an outside firm.

Prioritizing your Repayment

We recommend working on the newest debts first, because they will be showing on the credit report the longest and are farthest away from reaching your state’s statute of limitations. The only exception is if the creditor is taking legal action against you. In this case, you should appear in court if summoned, explain your situation, and make a payment arrangement.

Moving Forward

In the future, reach out to the provider right away when you receive a medical bill. By applying for “financial aid” or an in-house payment plan, you can keep the debt from going into collections and damaging your credit. Check out our in-depth look at how to negotiate medical expenses before and after your receive a bill for more information and cost-saving tips.

Thomas Bright is a longstanding Clearpoint blogger and student loan repayment aficionado who hopes that his writing can simplify complex subjects. When he’s not writing, you’ll find him hiking, running or reading philosophy. You can follow him on Twitter.

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116 responses to “Should I pay a medical bill in collections?”

  • Hi, Kaiser Permanente (medical) balance due to collection for $172.49 to USCB America. I called to pay it and they offered to settle the bill for $43.12. I told them I’d prefer to pay the full amount because I didn’t want this to affect my credit. The person helping me said that it was never sent to creditors and that if I payed the $43.12 it would have no affect on my credit at all. I have a hard time believing this. Could she be right or is this something that does happen with small uncollected medical bills? Thank you.

    • Emilie Burke

      Hi Leo! This is possible! You can also settle and ask them to record it at “paid in full.” I hope that helps!

  • I had a medical bill from 2008 that made its rounds in collection companies for a couple of years while I was in college. The bills were only for around $100 each but I was dumb and just never paid them. They aren’t on my credit report at least anymore and I haven’t gotten a collections letter for a couple of years. Should I be concerned about these anymore or just forget they even happened?

    • Emilie Burke

      Hi CJ, I’d suggest saving money so that if they pop back up you can pay them off right away!

  • I just received a collection letter for a hospital bill even though I have been making payments. Can I negotiate a settlement for the balance owed?

    • Emilie Burke

      Hi Terry! It is different on a case-by-case basis, but often times once the account has gone to collections, you can no longer negotiate with the hospital directly. Hope that helps!

  • I have a $28,000 medical collection with a well known non – profit clinic/ hospital in AZ. I’ve been paying them $100/mo on time for 2 yrs.Yesterday I received an email stating the payment is insufficient and telling me that I should use my available credit to pay… and listed my actual available credit on each of my credit cards! They did offer a settlement at 20% off but I don’t have the cash and the interest alone on credit cards would be more than I can afford. I’ve not missed our been late with a payment in 2 years. Can they come after me? So far, they have not reported anything I my credit.

    • Emilie Burke

      Hi Marli! Have you reached out to them to see what they are willing to work with you on?

  • Two days ago I received a bill from a collection company for a medical bill they say I made in August 2012, #1 I never received a bill for it originally #2 today it has shown up on my credit karma as a bill in collections with the date opened as March 5, 2018. What can I do

    • Emilie Burke

      Hi Marie!
      You should get in touch with them as soon as possible. If it is incorrectly reported on your credit report, you should actively try to have it removed! Best of luck!

  • Jewelleigh

    I have like 5 different hospital bills that went to collections recently and there all in the 2 hundreds area and want to know are they payable after cOllections ?

    • Emilie Burke

      Hi Jewelleigh! You can absolutely pay it off once it goes to collections! Hope that helps!

    • Krystle

      You want to pay it off ASAP. I had a bill about six years ago that was $360 and now it’s about $4,000+. I advise for you to take care of it as soon as possible.

  • I have really gd credit but had a medical bill just appear on my redit report from like 3 years ago that i wasnt aware of and it dropped my score by like 35 points.if i pay the debt collector can i have it removed right away so my score will return close to as it was or will i be stuck wit a 7 year mark on my report?can anyone provide me with a answer to my situation.

    • Emilie Burke

      Hi Eric! Your best bet is definitely to get it paid off. Then you can file a report with the credit agencies, but if it’s not a mistake they may not take it off. Hope that helps!

  • Hello I have a very huge problem. You see i have been admitted to the hospital last year at december for two weeks! Now It’s my first time to be admitted here in the US. I am just an Intern from the Philippines. I Have Pneumonia that time when i got admitted and The final result is i have HIV/AIDS. After being admitted to the hospital for two weeks i feel Better and after 1 month Medical bills mailed me a lot. And when i call the Bills in the Hospital my total bill is $75,000! I don’t know what to do. Some of my bills like $1,600 has sent to collections! I Am just an intern here in the US and don’t know much about Medical Bills. It really cost a lot. what should i do? I am so sad right now. I don’t wanna have that kind of bill like $75,000. And also they told me to refer to a Charity. I don’t know what that means.

    • Emilie Burke

      Hi Lindon! I’m sure this is a stressful time. Your best bet is to go to the hospital and communicate with their billing department directly. At the very least, they should be able to tell you what your bills are for and what options you have available to you. Hope that helps!

  • I have 27000 dollars in medical debt the place I lived before years ago just sent me a letter m not too sure what to do, I was paying it I was laid off. Then other bills racked up and I just forgot about it. I can’t afford to live and pay off the debt for the next ten years

    • Emilie Burke

      Hi David! You might want to try settling. Alternatively, one of our free credit counselors might be able to help you.

  • Marshal borja

    My wife just got a summons to appear in court from one of those whackos that deliver them. It’s for 4000 and some change. Its saying there can be interest and court costs and all that. We don’t know what to do. Its alot of money and we don’t know where to turn for answers. It was for my wife’s previous pregnancy. It’s a total of 7 different accounts with the same hospital. All totalling the 4k. What should we do? And what if my wife was to threaten just to file bankruptcy, we just closed on our first home and financed 2 vehicles. Our credit is tapped and so is our expenses. With all these accounts being small we just kind of put them off with all the other stuff going on with getting mortgage and needing money down and all that . Any advice on what we should do???

    • Emilie Burke

      Hi Marshal! I’m sorry about this tough situation. It sounds to me like you’ve got a lot of different pieces in play. I’d suggest getting on the phone with a credit counselor who can help you get situated with a plan to feel more in control. Hope that helps!

  • Hi, thanks for useful topic. Please advise, after my debt is passed to collectors, is it possible to call to hospital and ask for discount and pay to them directly?

    • Emilie Burke

      Hi Nat! This is really a case-by-case basis. For some hospitals, once they’ve passed the account to collections, there’s nothing they can do anymore. For others, that’s not the case. I’d suggest reaching out to them directly. If that doesn’t work, try negotiating with the creditors!

  • I have been paying off hospital bills since 2013 never missed a payment. The hospital sent to a collection law firm. I called they said hospital did not want to be bothered with the bill so they sent to law firm. I’ve been paying 200.00 every month. 2yrs ago I had a repairman fixing my door when a man asked if I lived there and serves him papers. When I read it said they were taking me to court.i called sheriffs office and everything was supposed to be cleared up because I faxed every copy of checks that this firm had deposited. Therefore they were not telling truth. Sheriff sept. Secretary said they apologize and will not happen again we’ll it did anyway it was resolved again .sent them all my proof. I just did a credit check and it shows collections as of 2015 9000.00 at this point I owe 4400.00. What shld I do. I’ve been thinking of getting a lawyer. I always had great credit.im angry at what this firm has done

  • Hello I have. A collection bill from 2017 unfortunately I was late to arrange payment and monthly payments is 125 a month till bill is payed know my question is once payed is it possible another collection they will try and force me to pay I am stressing and it’s making me so worst in my health and I’m scared once payed will the collectors leave me alone?v

    • Emilie Burke

      Hi Vanessa! I’m sorry about this situation. If you’ve already paid off the bill and have proof that you’ve paid off the bill, yes, the collectors should leave you alone. If they do not, show them the proof that you have paid it off in full.

  • Jeremy Davidson

    I’d leave a question but I already see the answer in every q&a… Just like a broken record of an ad that keeps playing “I’d suggest contacting one of our representitves”

    • Emilie Burke

      Hi Jeremy! A lot of times the best way to help people is with personalized recommendations, which it can be hard to do via comments and without understanding someone’s full financial picture. We are here to help as best we can though!

  • I have a medical bill that has just gone into collections. I went through a tough financial time. I can pay it now, but I’ve been told that it will hurt me worse to pay it.

    • Emilie Burke

      Hi Jon! If you can, you should absolutely pay the bill. Whether your settle it or pay in full, you can negotiate with the reporting agency about how it is reported on your credit report, so that you can minimize the harmful effects it may have on your credit scores! I hope that’s helpful!

  • Kelly Butts

    How can I pay off my medical bill when I pay 100$ monthly and it goes up enormously 2 months ago bill was 60000$ now it 62,000$ please help … thank you all for your time …

  • Chris guy

    Probably not much I can do, but Saline Memorial in Benton, AR charged me $2,384 for an MRI on my hand. (Medical bluebook for this test is $637 on the fair end, and $1648 on the unfair end.) My insurance rejected the claim. They refused to negotiate any of the charge. (Typical of this facility). In the process of applying for financial aid and waiting on tax documents and other info, they slung it to collections in less than 5 months even though I kept in contact with them. I am now telling them I will pay in full if we can get this ridiculous charge down some. (I’ve already paid over $1000 to radiologists, specialists, and referring physicians). They refused to talk to me. (Period)! The collectors were able to negotiate “only 10%” which still leaves me with over $2100 in collections, even though I have offered to pay in full. The agency refuses to negotiate on their end, “but I can make payments of $200/month”. Am I stuck here? If so, should I pay in full or make payments?

    • Emilie Burke

      Hey Chris! I’m sorry about this tough situation. One of our free credit counselors might be able to help you understand all of your options. Otherwise, I’d suggest trying to negotiate a lump sum. Make sure to get a pay out amount in writing before making any payments.

  • I currently have a medical bill from 2010 in collections, it has been removed from my credit report. They contacted me about a year ago and I started making payments on it. The bill total is approximately $1,500. They informed me there is another bill in collections with their company. I am not aware of any other bill that I would have and did not acknowledge it. My question is if I stop making payments on the one I am currently paying on is there anything they can do about it. It is currently off my credit report and my credit is good and I am not acknowledging the other bill that they have!

    • Emilie Burke

      Hi Jean! I’d suggest getting in touch with one of our free credit counselors so that they can make a suggestion based on all the details of your unique circumstances! Best of luck!

  • Greetings,
    My child required an ambulance service about 6 months ago and we received a bill from the city for around $900. I contacted the city and our insurance and was told it was unlikely it would be covered. Somehow, the insurance paid about half of it eventually – but the rest I could not afford. Another family member was diagnosed with a major illness and I forgot about the bill. It has now gone into collections. I can’t afford it. The city can’t talk to us about it now – how to either get rid of this bill or negotiate it the best way? Thank you!

    • Emilie Burke

      Hi Jan! I’m sorry about this tough situation you’re in. Once the debt has been sold to a collection agency, you’re only able to work with them directly. They may be willing to negotiate a lower amount to settle the bill. I’d suggest reaching out for a meeting with one of our free credit counselors to help you devise a plan to handle this bill.

  • Ashley

    I have a few medical bills in collection, Do I have to pay that bill because I don’t have any legal contract binding me to this collection agency would I be able to dispute the charges because of “No Contract”

    • Emilie Burke

      Hi Ashley! Do you know where the bills originally came from? Collection agencies usually buy your debts from original creditors, leaving them as the new owner of the debt. You still have to pay it, but you’re just paying a different group. You do have more flexibility in negotiating your total amount due with collection agencies, though. One of our free credit counselors might be able to help you create a plan for you!

  • I go twice a year to get sprayed for AKs. As always, I paid my $40 copay, but was billed as a surgical procedure of $150. The dermatologist was unwilling to bill it as usual because they say I got 15 sprayed instead of 14, which is what they say is the max for an office visit charge. My insuranc waid if they billed it as an office visit, all would be good. My beef is that the only time I was ever told that there would be a surgical charge as if something is cut, like a mole. It is now with collections. I talked to them and told them why I was appealing the charge. What would you suggest I do? Thanks

  • My son at age 21 (last year) was involuntarily admitted to a local hospital for physical and psychiatric evaluation (he was wanting to commit suicide). He had been beaten and robbed at his home and the robbers took everything he had. My desperation to get him help lended me to an idea to volunteer to take him to my bank and open him an account and give him money. He agreed and on the way to the bank he fell asleep so I parked the vehicle with him in it and called the police requesting an escort to the facility. They arrived and we proceeded. My son was awakened by the officers once we arrived and taken inside the ER. I gave the admittance clerk his medical insurance card and completed the documentation. I made it abundantly clear that my son wasn’t working and I was concerned about any bills he may receive. She asked me to complete a document explaining the involuntary, police escorted admittance and assured me there would be NO financial responsibility for the admittance. Here we are, months later and my son is informing me he is receiving calls from collections. I went to the hospital and they pulled up the file and said he had no obligation. Now, I haven’t yet mentioned that this hospital took it upon themselves to transfer my son to another local hospital who also handles substance abuse. He was there for one day, they sent him there and back by ambulance. The ambulance district assured me whatever arrangement immanence with the original hospital doesn’t include them…the debt will not be excused. Is there any law protection my son in this situation? He was not a participant and admitted involuntarily with a police escort. He can’t afford these bills he is working part time and can’t afford his utilities (I pay them) nor does he have a car. Can you help?

  • Daniela romero

    I just received a bill for 5000 from the Santa Clara County Department of tax and collections. I have not received a bill prior to this and what they have informed me is that back in 2012 and 2014 I went in for medical procedures. In 2012 I was a full-time student and I believe that show proof of that which now they are denying that I did as far as 2014 I might have went in but I don’t recall. I own a business and I’m currently being audited by the IRS for 35k. I am actually not creating any Revenue in my business and am in the process of showing my loss to the IRS. However now this bill has been brought up to my attention and of course I do not have the money to pay for the 5K. What can I do to help resolve this? What happens if I am unable to pay him at all? Will I go to jail? I’m not even able to do an offer in compromise because at this point I would rather do an offer in compromise with the IRS instead due to the fact that I owe them way more. Please help I feel trapped

  • Amanda

    I recently got notice that I had something negative on my credit report. Turns out that my step-daughter did not pay a dental bill. So, because the insurance is in my name it goes on my credit? Same with my husband? He had an ER visit and has not paid. Will that also go on my credit?

    Thanks

    • Emilie Burke

      Hi Amanda! Usually insurance does not dictate who is responsible for the bill, but the signatory at the doctor/dentist. For example, you might be responsible for your daughter’s bill before she was a minor, not because of the insurance. Hope that helps!

  • Landon

    I’ve been paying off a medical bill in the amount of $10,000 for the past two years. To the hospital. I noticed this on my credit report, that’s what made me get in touch with the hospital to set up a payment plan. Every time I make a payment to the hospital, it is not updated on the collection company. I recently made my last payment to the hospital and the collection company is reporting paid in full. How come the collection company report paid in full when I never actually paid them? And since there is no payment history on the collection agencies reporting, can I dispute them? It seems as if the hospital never reported to the collection agency that I was making monthly payments. They only reported once it was paid in full

    • Emilie Burke

      Hi Landon! You could absolutely try that! There’s certainly no harm in trying. If you’re paid in full, though, your score should soon pick up anyway. Hope that helps!

  • Hello, I have a medical bill for $1311. I went back and forth with the medical company due toco fusing statements from my insurance company. Somehow I missed an email where they gave me a 40% discount and the bill has gone to collections now. The letter states I have 30 days before my credit is affected and lists the full bill amount with interest. What is not clear is if I pay off the bill does it still hit my credit score (worried about those not using the new FICO calculation) and is it too late for me to go back to the hospital and accept or pay their offer? What should I do here?

    • Emilie Burke

      Hi Nikki! Your best bet is always to try to address this issues as soon as possible! I hope that helps!

  • Brenda

    hello so I gave birth in 2014 and I had insurance but then I was checking my credit score in 2017 and it said I had 3 deragatory marks I owed 8 thousand by the collection agency. What can I do now can my insurance still pay for this or do I have to talk to someone about my problem?

    • Emilie Burke

      Hi Brenda! Your first step should be tracking down where the debt currently is. I hope that helps!

  • Jazmin

    I am trying to fix my credit and went to annualcreditreport.com and saw that I have 5 medical bills in collection from 2012 and 2013-a total of $1,089. I do not know what they are from but I know I went to the hospital a few times those two years. What is best to pay it all off and if so what benefits more to pay it off with one payment or do monthly payments- or ask for a settlement and if so how much of deduction is appropriate. I’m trying to fix my credit because I am looking to get a house maybe next year.

    • Emilie Burke

      Hi Jazmin! Your best bet is to try to settle with a large amount of money.

  • I was admitted to the hospital in 2015, at the time I had primary and secondary insurance through my wife’s employer and Medicaid. The hospital took all my insurance information and no balance was due. Later that year I received an invoice from the hospital saying I owe $2k. I called the hospital to dispute and they mentioned that a primary insurance was never included in my files. I provide them my primary insurance information which was through my wife’s employer. They mentioned that the insurance should pay the amount in full. I never heard back from them. A year later in 2016 I received a letter from a collection agency saying I owe another amount for that hospital service. I called the hospital and they assured me that the insurance information was entered and to disregard these claims. I called the collection agency and they mentioned not to worry and that someone will contact me in 60-90 days if the amount is still owe. A year later passes and two weeks ago I received another letter from a difference collection agency saying I owe a different amount for the same hospital service. I just emailed the hospital to verify and clarify if I do have an outstanding balance I don’t mind resolving and figure a repayment plan. What should I do after I receive a reply from the hospital? Should they contact the collection agency or should I?

    • Thomas Nitzsche

      Keep all your documentation and the hospital should contact the collection agency to pull it back. Check your credit reports at annualcreditreport.com to see if any of the collection agencies reported it and, if so, dispute it with the bureaus online.

  • amieblunck@gmail.com

    My husband & I are looking to improve his credit so we can buy a house. The only bad thing we see on his credit is a medical bill ($835) from 2015. (Now in collections). We call the collection agency they said that we could settle for $500 and it will be taken directly off of our credit completely in 10 to 21 days.. My first question is – will it actually be taken off of our credit? And 2nd – with the settlement of $500 will that actually improve our credit score at all? ( I was told by a few people that by paying it it will not improve our credit but if it does it will be very very little and it will still show on our credit and it will show that we settled for $500 and not pay the $835 which could actually hurt us in the long run..)

    • Thomas Nitzsche

      Hi Amie, I would get that offer in writing and then accept it. Medical collection debt is minimized in some of the new credit scoring models but, generally speaking, when an item goes to collections that is where the damage happens. Paying or settling it will mark it as such on the credit report and help if someone is manually reviewing it, but it’s not going to increase the score either way. What will help increase the score is time and wise use of other (current) credit accounts. This means primarily keeping all current accounts in good standing (no late payments), opening some new lines if you do not currently have any active accounts, and now allowing any revolving account (credit card) balances to exceed about 30% of their limit. You might also look at a “credit builder loan” from a local bank or credit union or a “secured credit card” if you do not have or are unable to secure a traditional credit card.

  • I have a hospital bill to paid and the amount he is 12 thousand and I don ‘t have that kind of money because when I went to the hospital I was not assured and also they don ‘t have my social security do you think they can do something to me like sued me

    • Thomas Nitzsche

      Hi Ange, If the bill is still be handled by the hospital I would recommend contacting their billing department and applying for “financial aid”. Depending on your financial situation, many times they will be able to erase some (or even all) of the bill. It is important to do this BEFORE it goes into collections though. We cannot give legal advice, but if your bill is already in collections then yes, it is possible that they could try get a judgment against you.

  • Dennis Settle

    I was released from prision in feb after being in in incarcerate for 5 years. I called my doctor to make an appointment and I was told that i owe a bill and cant be seen by him tell paid in full but it was already sent to the collection agency and on my credit report. When i pay the doctor officer and get the documentations stating that it was paid in full. Do i contact the collection agency and send them the information that it was paid and write a dispute later so they know it was paid and maybe i can get it off my report. Could you please give me some advice. thanks in advance

    • Thomas Nitzsche

      Hi Dennis, If you paid the doctor’s office, they should notify the collection agency of the paid status and the collection agency should update your credit bureau to be marked “paid”. I would follow-up by checking your report in a couple of months to ensure, and if any issue you can dispute directly with the bureaus via annualcreditreport.com. Hang on to all your documentation!

  • I am getting calls from Harris & Harris in regards to my medical bill of $122.00. The last statement I have shows that it’s not due until 6/10/17. How is it in collections if the due date hasn’t come yet? I’d rather pay the hospital the amount, and not the collections agency. What do I do?

    • Thomas Nitzsche

      Hi Lily, I would contact the medical provider and inquire if the account is in third-party collections or just accounts receivable (in-house collections). If in-house, then you should be able to pay the hospital with no problem. If third party, then you may be required to pay the collection agency. If you don’t think the bill was old enough to be sent to collections, you can inquire with the medical provider about their policy.

  • My bill is an emergency room visit from 2008 it’s now 2017 and I just received a notice from a collection agency in the mail. Should I be paying this? If not how do I go about it?

    • Thomas Nitzsche

      Hi Ryan, This depends upon your state’s statute of limitations on debt, which can range from 3-10 years. You should look up this information, which is available online, keeping in mind that the date starts from whenever the bill first went into collections. Also keep in mind that if you made any payments towards it during those years, or even acknowledged the bill was your debt, it could “reset” the clock. Regardless of the statute, the bill should only show on your credit report for 7 years (a totally separate and unrelated “clock”), so it should no longer be showing on your credit report. If it does appear on your credit report, you should dispute this via annualcreditreport.com.

  • Robin Scott

    Hi! Thank you so much for this article!

    I am trying to get a home loan and we saw that I had $300.00 unpiad medical expense, which is dramatically effecting my credit score. I have a couple of questions for this. The first being, are hospitals required to send a itemized list for what I am being charged for? I remember getting a bill, but because I had just paid a large amount to them the day the bill came and it was without information about what I was paying for, I tossed the bill. And I never received another bill.

    The credit report my credit union showed us does include the name of the collection agency (it just says Unreported with several digits under it). How do I find who I should pay? Can I call the original provider and pay them? And if so, will that follow under the rule you are speaking of and remove the negative feedback?

    Thank you so much for your help!

    • Robin Scott

      I should have said, the report did not include the name of the agency.

    • Thomas Nitzsche

      Hi Robin, Yes you should be able to contact the original provider to either pay it and have them remove it from collections, or they may tell you who to contact to pay it. If you had insurance at the time, you should have received an Explanation of Benefits (EOB) which would have provided the detailed breakdown of services and what was covered by insurance. You could contact the insurance company and they could probably provide this if you know the approximate date. You may or may not have been provided with detailed billing from the provider, but they should certainly be able to pull it up for you.

  • Amanda Smith

    Can I get assistance paying a medical bill if it has already gone to a collection agency?

    • Thomas Nitzsche

      Hi Amanda, If the bill went to a collection agency very recently, you can attempt to work with the original provider to see if they will pull it back from collections and set up a payment arrangement. There is no guarantee that they will do this however, so you may be faced with either a payment arrangement or settlement with the collection agency.

  • Angela

    I am trying to pay off medical bills on my credit report. I need written documentation from the company that I am paying the agreed amount how do I go about doing this? Also is it better to pay each medical issue separately or have them lump the 5 together if they are from the same company but each has there own account#

    • Thomas Nitzsche

      Hi Angela, You can request a payment agreement, with or without payment history, on each of the accounts from the collector. I would suggest paying them separately in order to avoid confusion, since they have separate account numbers. If you find this burdensome, you could set each of them up on your bank or credit union’s online bill-pay in order to automate it and make it easier.

      • Myrthil Daphnee

        Question: I have given birth to a baby at Ste Mary Medical Center two years ago,at that time Medicaid had paid all the medical expenses for me.However I am able to start reimburse my bill from Collection but I can’t find a case or an account number to do so.How can you help me please?

        • Myrthil Daphnee

          Question: I have given birth to a baby at Ste Mary Medical Center two years ago,at that time Medicaid had paid all the medical expenses for me.However I am able to start reimburse my bill from Collection but I can’t find a case or an account number to do so.How can you help me please?

        • Thomas Nitzsche

          Hi Myrthil, the medical center should be able to conduct research to determine your account number and which collection agency it was sent to. You could also check your credit report at annualcreditreport.com.

  • Can a hospital say you have to pay $200 a month towards your bill or it will go to collections? I said I could do a $100 a month, but not $200

    • Thomas Nitzsche

      Hi Jess, yes they can. It’s in your best interest to try to work with them directly on a payment plan to prevent it going to collections. Have you already applied for “financial aid”? If not, you should ask for it by name. They don’t advertise it, but financial aid can possibly reduce the principle balance and/or allow for a longer repayment period. I hope this helps!

    • Laquanda Harris

      My bf receive a call saying he owe a bill back in 2002 but it was on his credit now that its off his credit they trying to make him pay $500 in a few days the man told him to put $500 on a green dot card or either some papers will get serve is this scam?

  • My question is. I have 4 collections on my credit report 2 from a hospital I used to work for in 2014 I had there insurance apparently they never paid it the 2 bills were never sent to my home ..I assumed it was because I worked there They showed up on my report after I quit, long story short every few months they remove them and they stay off for a couple of months the put them back on usually under a different collection agency. Here’s the biggest thing that bothers me they don’t put the original date it always looks new or sometimes don’t list it as medical. I’ve noticed it with my other 2 in collections..is this legal? And every time they add it back to my credit file it’s drops my score 30 to 100 pts! I would make payments but I don’t trust them. What do I do?

    • Thomas Nitzsche

      Hi Lena, You should check your state’s “statute of limitations” on debt to see how long you are legally responsible for the debt. This ranges from 3-10 years and starts from the date it originally went into collections with the first collection agency. You should also note that it should only report to the credit bureaus for 7 years from the time it went into collections. Keep in mind that these are two separate issues and time-frames and that making a payment or even acknowledging the the debt may reset the clock on the statute of limitations (but not the 7 year credit reporting). It is legal for them to sell the debt, but not for the debt to show more than once simultaneously. If you see the same debt listed more than once you should dispute it with the bureaus via annualcreditreport.com.

  • Martha

    Hi, I had a filling with the dentist, I came back 3 days later because the filling was uncomfortable. When i left the office they said that i didn’t owed anything and that they will contact my insurance. All this happens on December and by February i didn’t have my insurance any more. After 1 year later of the visit to the dentist I received a bill from an other dentist company , I called them and they stated that when they contacted my insurance i was not insured any more and that the insurance will not cover the cost. Now after 2 years they want me to be responsible for they negligence and a collection company called me today. What can I do?

    • Thomas Nitzsche

      Hi Martha, I am sorry to hear of your problems with this. I would first start by organizing the dates and any related paperwork and then calling the insurance company and original dentist office to understand what happened. If the failure was because of their delay in contacting the insurance company then I would make a formal complaint and ask them to erase the balance and notify the collection agency. If you experience push-back I would file a complaint with the BBB and the American Dental Association and/or whatever accrediting body your dentist is certified by. If it is determined that for some reason you are indeed responsible, then I would work with the collection agency to settle the debt. Good Luck!

  • Christine

    Question – I just discovered that I’ve been put in collection for a ER physician bill incurred by my daughter (then a minor) in April of 2013. (In all for a minor fainting spell, I paid almost $4K to the hospital & lab but apparently not the doctor). I just spoke with original biller who said my former insurance company paid 50% of this invoice leaving me responsible for 256$ – which I gladly would’ve paid had I realized it. At this same time our house was for sale and we moved.
    Long story short the bill was put into collections August 2013- just 4months after the orig. injury, and 3months after my insurance paid their part.

    I had literally no idea I had this debt and have been officially in collections for past 4-yrs until April29,2017 when my credit score dropped overnight by about 85 pts!!
    I guess thats when the collection agency reported? so, what do I do now?

    Verbally, the collection co. said if I paid they’d request a removal from credit reporting agencies – should I believe them!? What can I do to hedge my bets ?! Should I send some sort of certified letter, pay half now, and 1/2 after?
    Help pleeeeeeease!!!!!

    • Thomas Nitzsche

      Hi Christine, I understand your frustration as I experienced a similar scenario where I missed a bill during a move. Unfortunately, the creditors and bureaus place the burden of responsibility on the consumer. The good news though is that newer credit scoring models minimize the effect of medical debt on the credit score. I would get their promise to request a removal from the credit bureaus in writing (and have them specify all three bureaus, not just one) and then pay off or settle the debt. Good Luck!

  • Jacquelyn Fekete

    I live in the state of Montana. My provider has written​me several referrals for various specialist that are based in a clinic hospital not the hospital where my provider is located. When the phone calls came from these new referrals at the cinic hospital they told me that I would have to contact their billing department do the outstanding bills which started in 2005. I called the billing office and they told me that everything has been sent to collections and that I would have to contact the Collection Agency collections and make payment arrangements before anybody in the clinic could see me. I asked if I could make payments directly to the clinic and the billing person kind of skirted around the subject and said well you know you probably will want to contact the collection agency and arrange payment arrangements and they will probably require you to make a down or a first payment and then have the Collection Agency contact us stating that you have made payment arrangements with them. At that point I requested for her to send me what the balance was and what it was for. I got that paperwork from the clinic and everything on there has been sent to collections and that my balance due with the clinic was 0 and the they had written all past due amounts off as bad debts. From what I understand once it’s turned over to collections and they declared it a bad debt, The clinic would no longer have any say whether I paid the Collection Agency, would they? It shows on the paperwork she sent me that the debts were reversed once they turned it over. Is it legal for them to deny me medical attention from my new referrals until I make a payment for a debt that they have turned over to a collection agency?

    • Thomas Nitzsche

      Hi Jacquelyn, I cannot give legal advice, but I can tell you that Montana’s statute of limitations on debt ranges from 3-10 years, depending on the type of debt. You may want to read up on your states’ statute of limitations to determine which type of debt your’s falls under and compare that to when the debt first went into collections. You can also take your finding back to the provider to see if they will accept, but it might be easier to ask for another referral to a different provider for the service you need if that is a viable option. Good Luck!

  • Jarez Flutch

    How do I solve a $500.00 medical bill? Due date 5/7/2017 Before it go into collection.

    • Thomas Bright

      If you can’t afford it outright, the most important thing is to call the billing department and make arrangements. Get it in writing, but you may find that they are very willing to work with you via a reasonable payment plan.

  • I had surgery last year. Prior to surgery, I asked 4-5 times how much I was going to have to pay. They kept saying I didn’t owe anything. After the surgery, I got a bill for $3500. I said I wouldn’t pay it because I was not given an informed choice prior to surgery. They made the mistake, but now my bill is being sent to collections. What do I do?

    • Thomas Bright

      Fran, you may already be doing this, but I would continue to follow up with the original care provider. If you had an arrangement with them, that’s who I would reach out to and pester until this is all sorted out. You might consult an attorney for advice, especially as it sounds like this agreement wasn’t in writing.

    • samp73son@gmail.com

      Is it for the anesthesiologist by any chance? As a CAR for a major insurance company I can’t tell you how many times the anesthesiologist isn’t in network. Most insurance companies understand you have no control over this and will pay the bill. Check your EOB

  • Sullivan

    Hey, so, I have a bad heart and I had to go to the hospital twice. When I got out, I got four medical bills all adding up to $13,000 and I can’t even afford to make payments. I’m only 20 and I only make 1,100 a month and I have 900 for rent each month not including electric and water bills. What should I do?

    • Thomas Bright

      Step 1 is to communicate this explicitly to the provider. They should be able to work with you in some way, via a payment plan etc. If you have insurance, you should also double check the itemized EOB and bills, to make sure you were given the coverage that you’re entitled to.

  • Collection agencies can be very intimidating. I just recently received a 2000 dollar hospital bill sent to the revenue group collection agency, and they have been calling through out the day. I only make 1200.00 a month and have to pay rent, car payment, etc. I sent them 20.00 in the mail to put towards the bill. Now I am terrified that they will sue for the full amount. If I make small payments monthly, can they still sue me?

    • Thomas Bright

      Jess,
      The fact that you are sending $20 per month may show progress to them. It’s a rather small total amount of $2,000, which may make a lawsuit less likely. Since you are technically still behind on payments, my thinking is that they could still sue but likely won’t. Be sure to consult legal advice when/as needed.

  • Irene Garcia

    I was a victim of domestic abuse in 2005. I had been dropped off on the highway up in the mountains and was transported down the mountain in an ambulance when I was in the hospital there was a victim advocacy lady who did the paperwork and said that the bills would be paid. years later not sure how many years later I received a call from collections being threatened that if I did not pay this it would go against my credit I had told him that the lady at the hospital said that it would be paid for they threatened me and I made a few payments but when I had spoke with with someone they had told me that I should not be paying this debt that that debt was to be paid off by the victims advocacy that was in the hospital now the hospital never sent me a bill only the ambulance so now it’s 17 years later and they gave me a call today saying that the bill is now $2,000 instead of $1,000. I’m not sure what my legal rights are or even had to go back that far to see who the victim advocacy people who pay the hospital bill.

    • Thomas Bright

      Irene, your best bet may be to get in touch with the advocacy organization. Or, try contacting free legal representation in your community (legal aid, etc.). They should be able to give you the best advice and point you in the right direction.

  • I have hospital bills for 2012 and my credit is 580 says I have four of them the highest is about 900 will my credit suck for ever if I don’t pay and what can I do to repair it I’m only 24

  • emerald

    I just got a debt collection call today in the amount of 100 dollars for a medical bill from 2011. I was surprised to hear I had a bill from an emergency service I received while out of state on vacation . As I never received a bill and assumed my insurance picked up 100%. This is not nor has it ever been on my credit report. Paying is no problem however I am worried that if I do pay this will than go on my credit report as a open collection or a settled collection possible lowering my score. Any thoughts?

  • Amanda

    If you have a medical bill that you didn’t know about, and the collections company is the one who reported the account to the bureau, do I pay the original creditor (hospital) or the collections agency?

    • Thomas Bright

      Typically it’s preferred by all parties that you pay the collector. However, you can certainly (and should) check with the hospital to make sure you are dealing with the right agency, etc.

  • I was wondering if i could get my insurance to pay part or a medical collection bill. I just found out about it and i saw my issurence was never billed from the medical provider. Should i pay the hole sum or ask my insurance first?

  • I have a four year old medical bill in collections $130,000 incurred when my son was in the hospital. At the time, I tried working with hospital and collections but the monthly payments were extremely high. Any advice? Thank you in advance.

  • Frank Elrod

    We had medical bills that went to court and we made monthly payments and got a letter saying our account was paid off. We know have a collection agency coming after us for we think the same bills that were in the settlement.So we called to get a copy of all bills in the original pay off,she said they were in storage and couldn’t get them. Here is the kicker! 2 years after account being paid off I get a phone call from her saying they found a bill for $125.00 they didn’t include in original deal and she wants interest on top of that. Isn’t it too bad they messed up and didn’t get all the bills added in? What do we do? It seems that the atty and the medical place are both trying to collect on the same bill.PLEASE HELP!!!! Many thanks!!!

  • Hiren Patel

    I was involved in an accident back in June 2016 and had visited orthopedics and another hospital even though it wasn’t my fault and my insurance company did handle some portion of my medical bill but now I am still getting a huge amount of bills from the orthopedic firm. is there any way i can reduce it or avoid it since they are much bigger than I can afford?

  • I have neglected to pay a $150 medical bill due to the incompetency of the nurse practitioner. It has gone to collections and shows up now on my credit report. My credit score is in the 680 but it has affected my ability to get a loan. Will this also affect my ability to finance a car in the future? If I pay off the bill, it will say settled, but is there a way to have it removed from my credit report?

    • Thomas Bright

      Hi Gail,

      I recommend reading this article about having items removed from your report. Also, I wonder what exactly happened with the nurse, and if that would give you any sort of case to have the negative mark removed. That might be something to explore.

  • A collection agency called me about an old medical debt from 2008 they said they tried to get a hold of me but I never heard from any body now they said it will go to court if I don’t pay it . Question is should I pay something that old and no proof of it or is it a scared tactic from the agency to make me pay them

  • Deborah Dickson

    Could only pay 10 dollars on a bill sent to collection, they sent my check back and said pay in full amount 112 dollars , can theyes refuse much attempt to pay them?

    • Thomas Bright

      Hi Deborah,

      Unfortunately, yes, collectors can refuse partial payment. If you do reach new payment terms/arrangements with them, be sure to get that in writing.

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