Dealing With Medical Bills You Can't Pay

Lisa Zamonsky with the Los Angeles Times reports that roughly 54 million people in the U.S. had debt trouble in 2012 when it came to medical bills. It's hard to say exactly what Zamonsky means when she says "trouble," but a fair assumption might be that when a medical bill came in the mail, those 54 million people didn't necessarily have the funds to pay it straight away.

There are situations of extremely overwhelming debt, like the 35-year-old described in Zamonsky's article, who has had a medical condition (clubfeet) and racked up $400,000 in medical debt after years of surgeries and associated treatment, ultimately leading him to file for bankruptcy.

But it doesn't really take $400,000 in medical debt to turn a situation into an overwhelming one. If there really are 54 million Americans - Zamonsky says that's 20 percent of the population - who aren't sending in their checks right away after getting a bill in the mail, it stands to reason that even small medical bills can be a burden.

Indeed, one bankruptcy lawyer quoted in the article said that most medical bills are "fairly small": "If you get a small medical bill, instead of ignoring it just pay it." But what about all the other bills? The mortgage or rent, car payments, etc. all need to be paid too.

If bankruptcy isn't an option at this point, or does not fit your situation, Zamonsky writes that there are ways to deal with medical bills that you can't necessarily pay:

  • Don't avoid bills - they'll just hurt your credit score in collections
  • Confirm accuracy of charges - make sure the amount is correct 
  • Know your rights - debt collectors cannot abuse or harass you
  • Set up a payment plan - making payments can prevent the debt from going to collections

Check out her article to learn more about these tips.

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