Medical bills on credit report: Do they affect your credit?

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In a Nutshell

Changes introduced in 2023 mean that medical bills generally don’t appear on credit reports until they’ve gone unpaid for at least one year. Plus, medical collections under $500 shouldn't appear on your reports. But once an unpaid medical bill goes to collection, the collection account can appear on your credit reports — and stay there for up to seven years if you don't pay. 
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Medical bills over $500 left unpaid for a year can appear as collections accounts on your credit reports.

If you’re facing a medical bill you can’t afford, it’s worth double-checking with your insurance company to see if it’ll cover the bill. If the insurance company won’t budge, or if you’re uninsured, you can ask the healthcare provider about setting up a payment plan. This could help you avoid having the bill go to collections — which can negatively affect your credit scores.

Do medical bills appear on credit reports?

Medical bills usually only show up on your credit reports if they’re sent to collections. And in 2023, the three major consumer credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) agreed to remove the following types of medical collections accounts from credit reports:

  • Paid medical collections accounts
  • Medical collections less than a year old
  • Medical collections under $500

If you check your credit reports and see medical collections that fall under one of those three categories, the CFPB recommends disputing the information with the credit-reporting company.

As long as you pay your doctor’s bill or hospital bill on time, it shouldn’t be reported to the credit bureaus. But if you miss the due date, and you’re significantly late (say, several months late), the medical office might turn your debt over to a collections agency.

Regardless of when your healthcare provider turns your bills over to a collections agency, the three major consumer credit bureaus will now give you a one-year grace period. That means unpaid medical bills won’t show up in your credit history until you’re at least 365 days late. So, theoretically, even after your past-due medical bills are sent to collections, with the 365-day rule you might be able to pay them before they show up on your credit reports.

And remember that if the bill is under $500, it won’t show up on your credit reports at all. Plus, if you pay the bill, it’ll be removed from your credit reports — rather than staying on your reports for seven years like other collections accounts.

How do medical collections affect credit scores?

Credit-scoring models use multiple factors to calculate credit scores, including credit card utilization, payment history and age of credit history.

Your payment history is the most important factor that goes into determining your credit scores. So just like any other collection account that shows up on your credit reports, medical collection accounts (that are older than one year and greater than $500) can negatively affect your credit scores if you don’t pay them.

But it’s possible for a medical collection to affect your credit scores differently than other types of collections. Some scoring models give less weight to outstanding medical debts than other types of collection accounts.

How can I get medical bills off my credit report?

Medical collections can stay on your credit reports for up to seven years from the date they become delinquent (this happens 180 days after they’re first due).

But there are a few ways you might be able to get medical bills off your credit reports.

  1. Ask your health insurance company to pay it. If you have reason to believe your insurance company should’ve paid a medical bill that slipped through the cracks, you can follow up and ask it to reconsider your insurance claims.
  2. You can dispute the medical bill. Check to make sure the bill is accurate. If you believe it was placed on your credit reports by mistake, or because of fraud, you can challenge it.
  3. You can pay the bill. If you pay a medical collections account, it should be removed from your credit reports.

Medical bills can be costly, confusing and overwhelming. Consider looking into additional resources, like medical billing advocates or financial assistance programs, to help you negotiate and understand the terms of your bills. Depending on where you seek assistance, you might have to pay a fee for the service.

Do medical bills in collections ever go away?

After seven years, medical collections will drop off your credit reports, even if you haven’t paid them off. And if you pay them off at any time, they’ll be removed from your reports.

But your credit reports may not be your only concern.

In addition to reporting your past-due medical bill to the credit bureaus, the collections agency could also take you to court to recover the money you owe. They usually have between three and six years before the statute of limitations (the time limit for taking legal action) expires, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

If you can’t afford to repay your medical expenses, you could file for bankruptcy protection. But this should be a last resort.

Next steps: How can I keep medical collections from ever appearing on my credit report?

These tips could help you keep medical bills off your consumer credit reports.

  1. Know what your health insurance will and won’t cover. If you’re not sure whether a particular medical procedure will be covered, or how much your insurance company will pay, give your insurance company a call before your appointment and ask how much you’ll be responsible for paying out of pocket. That way there won’t be any surprises.
  2. Try negotiating a hefty medical bill. If you don’t have insurance at all, or your insurance won’t cover a particular procedure, it may be worth trying to negotiate cost or a payment arrangement before you undergo treatment. Your medical service provider may charge lower rates for people who are paying privately.
  3. Stay on top of your due dates. It might help to set a calendar reminder or automate payments so you don’t lose track of when your bills are due.
  4. Request a payment plan. If you can’t afford to pay your medical bills all at once, ask the hospital or medical provider if it offers payment plans to give you a longer period of time to pay.
  5. Check your credit reports for suspicious behavior. If you notice a bill for a doctor’s appointment or hospital visit you never made, you can dispute the charges and may be able to get them removed from your credit reports.

About the author: Tim Devaney is a personal finance writer and credit card expert at Credit Karma. He’s a longtime journalist who prides himself on being a good storyteller who can explain complex information in an easily digestible wa… Read more.