Medical debt is a serious issue in the United States. It doesn’t discriminate against age, education, or even those who are financially responsible. Anyone can be affected by medical debt.
The high cost of medical procedures is partly to blame for the rising debt in America. What do most people do when they can’t afford to pay their medical expenses in full? They put it on a credit card which leads to even bigger issues with high interest rates. When this happens, the only thing to do is to find a more cost-efficient way to pay off the credit card debt.
The current state of American medical debt
According to a 2020 survey of Income and Program Participation, American medical debt in 2019 was at least $195 billion. In 2020, the average amount of medical payments per person was $11,945. According to the CMS National Health Expenditure Accounts Data, from 2009 to 2020, the largest source of American debt stemming from collection agencies was unpaid medical bills.
Medical procedure surprise
The high cost of medical procedures in the U.S. is partly to blame for medical debt. The other contributing factor is unexpected procedures and bills. ER visits, outpatient procedures, and unexpected surgeries top the list for surprise medical procedures which lead to unforeseen medical bills.
Not only are there procedure surprises but there are also surprises in some medical bills. Who hasn’t received a bill for medical services that was much higher than expected? Thankfully, as of January 1, 2022, the No Surprises Act went into effect protecting patients from unexpected costly medical bills.
What are alternative ways to pay medical debt besides credit cards?
Paying for medical bills using a credit card may seem like a quick fix initially, but the interest rate is going to catch up with you in the long run. Between the payment and the interest, you will end up paying a lot more than the original cost and if you can’t meet the payment and/or due date, it will put your credit score at risk.
Fortunately, there are some alternative payment options other than using a credit card for medical payments.
Things to look out for
1. Payment plan
If you can’t pay your medical bills in full by the due date and your medical provider offers a payment plan, then breaking your bill up into monthly payments is one of the best alternatives. The interest on a payment plan typically is less than credit cards.
2. Medical credit cards
If your medical provider doesn’t offer a payment plan and you can’t pay the bill in full, then your provider may accept medical credit cards. A medical credit card can be applied for at the hospital or medical office to pay for services, typically specific procedures, received. These are often offered at 0% interest for a specified time. The real advantage here is that you might be able to pay off the debt before the interest-free period ends or at least pay it down with no interest in the meantime.
3. Unsecured credit options
Personal loans and credit cards with 0% interest is an option for paying off medical expenses after all other options have been exhausted. To qualify, you need to have good to excellent credit and be able to consolidate multiple debts. Again, the advantage here is low to no interest rate.
4. Medical bill advocate
If your medical debt is really high or you think you have not been charged unfairly, you can hire a professional to negotiate your medical bills. The advocate may be able to reduce your bill.
5. Income-driven Hardship Plan
If you have a low income and high medical bills, you may qualify for an income-driven hardship plan. Some providers offer reduced medical costs to low-income patients who qualify.
6. Negotiate cost
Negotiating medical bills can be attempted before you try any other option or after your bill is sold to collectors. If you can’t afford your medical bills or you think you’re being overcharged, you may be able to negotiate or reduce the medical costs owed.
Best ways to pay off credit card debt from medical expenses
If you already have medical debt on your credit card, then you need to find the best way to pay off the credit card debt as quickly as possible.
Best way to approach paying off credit card medical debt
1. Use a pay off method.
There are two ways to approach paying off credit card debt from medical expenses: the snowball and avalanche methods. With the avalanche method, you start paying off the debt with the highest interest charge each month and work your way down. The snowball method allows you to pay off the debt with the lowest balance and work your way up.
2. Consolidate debt with a personal loan.
Consolidating debt reduces multiple payments to one monthly payment. By streamlining your loan repayment, you only have one payment and one due date to keep up with. Interest rates are typically much lower on personal loans than credit cards. This can save quite a bit of money overall on your medical debt.
3. Use a balance transfer.
A common way to pay off card debt is to transfer your balance to another card and get 0% APR on balances for up to 12 to 21 months. By transferring your medical expense debt to a credit card with this offer, you can either pay your medical debt off completely or at least pay a portion of it off and not have to pay interest. This saves quite a bit of money in the long run.
4. Try credit counseling.
Credit counseling is a professional service that helps individuals get out of credit card debt. This service typically starts with a consultation to review your financial situation and then options are laid out for paying off your medical debt as quickly as possible.
Once you are out from underneath your medical debt, try not to put any more medical expenses on your credit card. This is one of the most expensive ways to pay for your medical expenses. There are more efficient ways and other alternatives to cover these expenses, including an emergency savings fund and health savings accounts, which come with tax breaks and can help pay for future qualified medical expenses.
Many individuals use credit cards to pay for their medical expenses and then get into trouble when trying to pay the card off. There are better ways to cover these expenses. These include making smaller monthly payments with a payment plan, using a medical credit card, taking out a personal loan, using credit cards with 0% interest, negotiating your fees or hiring a professional advocate to reduce your costs.
Use Bright to pay off credit card debts
If you don’t have it yet, download the Bright app from the App Store or Google Play. Connect your checking account and your cards, set a few goals and let Bright do the rest.