Paying medical bills can be challenging, especially if the bills are for an unexpected illness that you weren’t financially prepared for. Getting a loan for the amount you owe or charging it to a credit card may seem like a way out of the problem. However, taking on new debts to pay old ones is usually a bad idea. It causes the interest on your debt to grow, which means you are obligated to pay a larger total amount. It also postpones addressing your financial problems when it would be better to resolve them. Fortunately, there are some strategies you can use to tackle medical bills without going further into debt.
Apply for Financial Aid
Some hospitals offer discounts to patients with low incomes. Call your hospital, and ask if you can apply for financial aid. The application process requires you to provide proof of your income and assets and to certify that your medical expenses aren’t covered by insurance or Medicaid. You should also let the hospital know if there are unusual circumstances, such as a recent job loss or large medical bills from a spouse’s illness, that are making it difficult for you to pay for your medical treatment.
Ask for More Time to Pay
If your hospital doesn’t give discounts or if you don’t qualify for them, it’s always better to talk to the hospital than to ignore the bills until they go to collection. Offer to pay what you can up front, and ask to make monthly payments to meet the rest of your debt. Your hospital may agree to give you some extra time when it sees that you’re making a sincere effort to pay your bills.
Withdraw from a 401(k)
In most cases, you face a steep tax penalty if you withdraw funds from a 401(k), but large medical bills are an exception. If your medical bills aren’t covered by insurance and are greater than 10 percent of your adjusted gross income, you may be able to make a penalty-free withdrawal from your retirement account for paying medical bills. Some conditions apply; for example, you can’t withdraw this year to cover medical expenses from previous years.
Talk to a Credit Counselor
If you try these strategies and still aren’t able to pay your medical bills, don’t give up. Speak to a nonprofit credit counselor, and explain your situation. The counselor may be able to communicate with your hospital and other creditors and help set up a payment plan. A plan can allow you to pay a manageable amount each month and to pay off your medical expenses over time without relying on credit cards.
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Consumer Education Services, Inc. (CESI) is a non-profit service provider of comprehensive personal financial education and solutions for all life stages and for all of life’s milestones. Our goal is enhanced economic security for everyone we serve.
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