Medical debt, begone! Kind of.
The three major credit bureaus in the U.S. — Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax — announced that almost all medical debt (approximately 70%) will be coming off credit reports this summer.
Earlier this year, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) found that medical debt is the most common tradeline of debt collection among consumers’ credit reports. Not only that, but these negative marks — which can drag your score down for up to seven years — are often the result of billing mistakes within our healthcare system.
So, if you’re one of the 43 million Americans with medical debt on your report, you could see your credit score jump by several points after the new reporting rules take effect on July 1st.
Here’s what to know.
How medical debt can impact your credit score
Owing a couple hundred bucks to your doctor or hospital won’t automatically drag your credit score the same way carrying a balance on your credit card would. The real problem starts when your debt goes unpaid for a long time, and your healthcare provider hands your bill over to a collection agency in hopes of recouping some of the costs.
Suppose the collection agency cannot reach a payment for an overdue account within six months after acquiring your balance. In that case, they may report it to the credit bureaus.
If the collection account is reported to the credit bureaus, your credit score could drop by as much as 110 points, depending on the credit scoring model used.
The worst part?
According to Equifax, collection accounts can stay up to seven years on your report, even after being paid. This, in turn, can result in reduced access to credit, insurance, and even housing, as all of these things are tied to your credit score.
Changes to medical debt reporting are coming this summer
In a joint statement released in March, the CEOs of Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax, recognized that most medical collections debt occurs due to “unforeseen medical circumstances” — a problem that has gotten worse since the pandemic started.
So, in an effort to help consumers to gain “fair and affordable access to credit,” the agencies will be implementing the following changes:
- All paid medical collections debt will be dropped from consumers’ credit reports, which will no longer drag down their score for up to seven years.
- Collection agencies will now have to wait 12 months, instead of six, to report any unpaid balances, giving consumers more time to negotiate a payment plan.
- Lastly, if your medical collection debt is less than $500, it will no longer be a part of your report — even if it’s unpaid.
These changes will be implemented automatically starting July 1st. So, if you have medical debt on your report, you could see a significant boost in your score this summer.
How to find out if medical debt is dragging down your credit score
If you aren’t sure if medical debt is affecting your credit score, the best thing you can do is request a copy of your credit report to find out.
You can get a free copy of your credit report from all three bureaus by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com. Although these reports won’t show you your credit score, you’ll be able to see a list of all your debts, their balance, status, and who your creditors are, along with their contact information.
Likewise, some banks and credit card companies, like American Express, also allow you to check out your credit report for free, even if you don’t have an account with them.
What to do if medical debt still appears on your report after July 1st
All eligible medical collections debt should automatically disappear into the thin mist after July 1st, but in the unlikely event that yours doesn’t, you have two options.
First, you can contact your healthcare provider or the collection agency to dispute the charge.
This is the best way to go about it, as they’ll be able to send the updated information to all credit bureaus at once, saving you the trouble of filing three individual disputes.
But if you’d prefer not to deal with your healthcare provider or the collection agency, filing a dispute directly with the credit bureaus is an option, too.
You can do this online or by mail. However, I highly suggest going the online route, as it is quicker. Besides your personal info (name, address, social security number, etc.), you’ll have to provide any receipts or letters that prove that the account in question is eligible to be removed from your report.
For your convenience, here are the links to file a dispute with each of the bureaus:
And, remember: you will have to do this one by one, as credit bureaus don’t exchange information with one another. So, just because you disputed the mistake with Experian doesn’t mean that it won’t show up in your report from TransUnion or Equifax.
Likewise, disputing the account will only work if:
- Your debt was paid.
- The amount due is less than $500.
- The account was sent to collection less than a year ago.
Otherwise, it will remain on your report.
One last thing
Even if medical debt doesn’t appear on your credit report, that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook.
You still have an obligation to your healthcare provider or the collection agency, so it’s best to contact them to explore your repayment options if you’re having difficulty making payments. I know this can be easier said than done, but it could spare you the headache of future financial woes.
Medical debt can put a damper on your credit score. However, these new changes are aimed to help you straighten things out. The most important thing is to keep a close eye on your report, especially after July 1st, to ensure your score isn’t getting dragged by mistake.
Featured image: Evgenia Terekhova/Shutterstock.com