Options for Managing Long-Term Medical Debt Payments[yoast-breadcrumb]
Options for Managing Long-Term Medical Debt Payments
Medical debt can be super stressful. I get it — I’ve been there. When the bills start piling up from an unexpected surgery, a hospital stay, or even routine doctor visits, it can feel totally overwhelming.
You’re not alone! Tons of people struggle with medical debt. The good news is, there are options to make it more manageable. I wrote this article to walk through some of the main strategies for tackling long-term medical debt. I’ll go over the pros and cons of each one, so you can figure out what might work best for your situation.
One of the most common options for dealing with medical debt is to set up a payment plan directly with your healthcare provider or hospital. Basically, you agree to pay off the debt in installments over time.
Payment plans can give you more flexibility — maybe you can only afford $50 a month, or need to pay different amounts at different times. The key is communicating with the billing department. Let them know what you can reasonably handle based on your income and expenses.
- More flexibility than a lump sum payment
- Interest rates are often lower than other financing options
- Allows you to pay off debt over time without going into collections
- You need to stick to the agreed upon payment schedule
- Doesn’t consolidate multiple medical debts into one payment
Medical Credit Cards
Using a medical credit card is another option that spreads payments out over time. These special credit cards are designed specifically for healthcare expenses. They tend to have lower interest rates than regular credit cards.
- Can be used to pay for healthcare expenses at different providers
- Consolidates multiple medical debts into one place
- Special financing offers like 0% interest periods
- Credit checks and approval required
- Potentially high interest rates if an intro period ends
- May be tempted to overspend on the card
Personal loans allow you to borrow a lump sum at once to pay off medical debt, then make fixed monthly payments over a set repayment term. Interest rates vary but are often lower than credit cards.
- Consolidates multiple medical debts
- Fixed monthly payment may be easier to budget
- May get better rates with good credit
- Loan approval required
- Borrowing costs increase total debt with interest
- Early repayment fees may apply
Home Equity Loans
If you’re a homeowner, a home equity loan lets you borrow against the equity in your house. The debt is secured by your home, so rates may be lower than other financing options.
- Often lower interest rates
- Fixed monthly payments
- Interest may be tax deductible
- Putting your home up as collateral is risky
- Closing costs and fees
- Lower borrowing limits than primary mortgage
Medical Debt Consolidation
Debt consolidation rolls multiple debts into a single new loan, so you only have one payment. Nonprofit credit counseling agencies also offer debt management plans to consolidate debt and negotiate lower interest rates.
- Simplifies repayment with a single payment
- May lower monthly payments
- Nonprofit options provide financial counseling
- Closing fees for debt consolidation loans
- Damage to credit score from new loan inquiries
- Nonprofit plans may have enrollment fees
Balance Transfer Credit Cards
Balance transfer cards allow you to shift debt from another credit card over to a new card, often with a 0% intro APR period. Just be sure to pay off the balance before the intro rate ends and watch out for balance transfer fees.
- 0% APR intro period stops interest for a time
- Consolidates multiple credit card debts
- Can help reduce interest costs
- High transfer fees apply in some cases
- Need good credit for approval
- Intro 0% rate is temporary
Debt settlement involves negotiating directly with creditors or collection agencies to pay a lump sum that is less than what you owe. This can save money but also has risks.
- Settles debt for less than original balance
- Stops collection calls and letters
- Major damage to credit score
- At risk of getting sued by creditors
- Taxed on amount of debt forgiven
As a last resort, filing for bankruptcy can eliminate medical debt along with other unsecured debts. This provides a fresh start but can seriously impact your finances for years.
- Eliminates eligible medical and other debts
- Stops collections and lawsuits
- Allows keeping certain assets
- Severely damages credit for 7-10 years
- Loss of certain assets
- Costly legal fees
The Bottom Line
Dealing with medical debt is super tough, but know you have options. Payment plans, special financing, and consolidation can make bills more affordable. In some cases, debt settlement or bankruptcy provide a fresh start. Consider the pros, cons and risks to find the best solution for your situation. And don’t be afraid to ask questions – hospital billing departments deal with this stuff every day. Wishing you the best of luck getting your finances back on track!