Managing Debt

The Ultimate Guide to Solving Your Medical Bill Problems

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Medical BillsIf you think you’re immune to damage from a collection account on your credit report because you pay your bill on time, think again. Medical bills that you don’t know about could be hurting your credit, and the odds are not in your favor. An estimated 30 million Americans were contacted by collection agencies for unpaid medical bills in 2010, according to the Commonwealth Fund.

We’ve written extensively about medical bills and the havoc they can create on your credit. You’ve responded by sharing your stories about sky-high bills, insurance processing delays and mistakes, and dealing with collection agencies who collect this type of debt on our blog and in the Credit.com Forum.

Here we pull together our best advice for dealing with these problems.

Unfortunately, some patients are under the impression that medical bills somehow don’t affect their credit, or are treated differently when their credit scores are calculated. That’s simply not true. A single collection account – even for a $15 copay – can cause your score to plummet. Just ask the Cobbs, a couple in Illinois whose plan to refinance their home was derailed when they discovered their credit scores were too low. The cause? A billing snafu resulted in them being sent to collections for several copays.

And don’t think that just because you have insurance, you’re immune. Even with excellent insurance, your bills may not be covered, as one man found out when he got an $83,000 bill from an “out of network” surgeon after he accidentally sliced off his finger with a table saw.

The Major Myths

Make sure you review one of our most popular articles on this topic, where we debunk four medical billing myths that may wind up costing you big time:

Myth 1: As long as I am making payments on a medical bill, it can’t be sent to collections.

Myth 2: I have to be notified before a medical bill is turned over for collections.

Myth 3: Medical collection accounts are treated differently than other types of collection accounts when credit scores are calculated.

Myth 4: I need to pay off these debts to clean up my credit.

There’s no way to completely prevent one of these bills from turning into a collection account on your credit, and there is no sure-fire cure for fixing it when it does happen. But that doesn’t mean you have to sit by helplessly while it destroys your credit rating.

You Have Rights

Anytime you are contacted by a collection agency, you have the right to written confirmation of the debt, as well as the right to dispute it. That’s your right under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Debt collectors aren’t allowed to break the law when contacting you about a bill from a doctor or hospital. If you know your rights, you’re in a better position to stand up for them.

Under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, you also have the right to dispute inaccurate information on your credit reports. But you have to know how to properly dispute an item on your credit report to get results.

Routine office visits should be straightforward, especially when all you owe is an office visit copay. But as one of our readers who worked in medical billing for many years pointed out, it’s often up to the patient to double check that all the charges are billed and paid properly.

If you really want to understand why medical billing is such a mess, you’ll want to read our interview with a physician who is speaking out about the problems he and his patients encounter all the time: An Insider’s Guide to the Insane World Of Medical Bills. Be sure to check out his tips for saving money on prescriptions, even if you have insurance.

Sent to collections over a disputed bill, or before you even received a bill? One of our readers was able to stop a medical bill from damaging her credit. Other readers have even replicated her success. And don’t miss our piece about how to fix your medical bill problems.

Help for Hospital Bills

Hospital bills totaling thousands of dollars aren’t unusual. If you get a very large bill you can’t afford to pay, you first want to find out whether you are eligible for financial assistance. New rules in the Affordable Care Act offer some protection for patients at nonprofit hospitals.

What if a hospital is pressuring you to pay more than you can afford? After Michelle racked up a $7,000 hospital bill she was told she needed to pay $200 a month immediately. The problem? On her disability income, that was simply impossible. Michelle needed advice on how to negotiate her bill and to make sure she was getting thefinancial assistance she needed.

Or maybe you simply believe you were overcharged. Blake was billed almost $2,000 for a short visit to the ER for a sprained pinky finger, and wanted to know what his options were for protecting his credit if he refused to pay the bill, which he found outrageous.

Another option is to to try to negotiate down the balance on a large hospital bill. After he received a $30,000 bill from a visit to the ER when his daughter injured her leg, Brett Goldstein became something of an expert on how to negotiate medical bills. He shared what he learned with our readers.

And if you have been in a car accident, you will need to make sure you aren’t blindsided by bills that wind up in collections.

Can Congress Help?

Congress is considering the Medical Debt Responsibility Act, proposed legislation that would require medical bills to be removed from credit reports 45 days after they are paid, provided the original amount is $2,500 or less. It has bipartisan support, but has been slow to make its way through the legislative process. Learn more about Medical Debt Responsibility Act and how you can weigh in. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is also examining the issue.

Are you dealing with medical billing problems that have affected your credit? Share your story in the Credit.com Forums

Image: Fotos Gov/BA, via Flickr

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  • Maria

    Do these fall off after 7 years of non-payment? My 822 credit score went bad after 2 brain hemorrhages and now disability so at this point my credit is wrecked for many reasons. I am not in a position to buy anything. It has been already 3 years, and there is no change in sight in my circumstances, can i just wait it out?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Maria

      So sorry to hear what you’ve been through!

      Collection accounts (including medical bills that go to collection) can only be reported for 7 years and 180 days from the date you fell behind on the original bill. After that time they must not be reported. As long as the collection agency has accurately reported the date, this will happen automatically.

      The only way they can affect your credit longer than that is if they sue you and get a judgment against you. The judgment would have its own reporting period.

      • http://credit.com Suzanne M Stone

        I have the situation of receiving several hospital bills, turned into a collection agency (who assigned their own account number to them) sending me a letter that they were taking me to court. I paid the bill, in full, prior to the court date, and called to make sure the court date was cancelled as they had been paid in full.
        They assured me they would take care of everything and that the court date would be cancelled. This was in late 1999.
        A week later, I received a letter from the courts saying that they had ruled against me as I did not appear in court. I took the receipt I was given by the collection agency to the court house, but since the account numbers were different, they would not believe me. I then called the collection agency (NCO Financial) who later reported that I had paid the bill to the courts, but did nothing to erase the judgement against me.
        Will this judgement ever go away? tThe debt was paid prior to the court date!

        • Gerri Detweiler

          Suzanne – Sounds like you’ve got a mess on your hands. It also sounds like the judgment creditor (in this case the collection agency) needs to fix this. They can likely correct it by filing a satisfaction of judgment showing it was paid in 1999. Since judgments that are paid or satisfied can be reported for 7 years, reporting it paid should do the trick.

          If they won’t cooperate, I would encourage you to contact a consumer law attorney. If the collection agency broke the law – and it sounds like a possibility here – you may be entitled to damages and the collector will have to pay your attorney’s fees. In fact you may want to consult one anyway before you try to resolve this on your own.

          Will you let us know what happens?

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  • Felicia Tucker

    I surgery done May 2011. Yes I have set up a payment plan for my deductible which it was $1400.00. I sending the payments then they stop sending me my statement. So I didn’t send the payment in. So just received a call from a collection agency tell me I owe 1300.00. I need to pay them $416.00 for three mounts. Which I don’t have right now. I do not understand why they stop sending my statement and did not contact at all. I now have to find a way to get off my credit report. Please Advise me. Thank You:

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Felicia – I wish I had better news for you but the hospital or doctor probably isn’t obligated to send you a statement each month. There simply aren’t any consumer protections here that I am aware of. When the statements stopped you should have called to find out what was going on. (I am not trying to lecture here, just explaining how this works.) So now you are stuck dealing with the collection agency. They aren’t required to accept what you can afford to pay. So you’ll have to try to work with the collection agency to get them to accept what you can afford. Even once it’s paid it will stay on your credit report for seven years. Having said this, you can try to deal with it in this way: Reader Stops Mysterious Medical Bill From Damaging Her Credit. Hopefully they will work with you.

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      Felicia — Did you get the payment plan in writing? Unless the payment plan was agreed to in writing, what likely happened is that the statements were monthly past due statements for the remainder of the balance due. The statements likely stopped after a certain amount of time (typically 3-6 months) because the provider/hospital sent the account to collections. A common misconception about medical bills is that the account can’t be sent to collections if you’re making payments — this isn’t true. Another misconception is that the provider or hospital has to tell you that they’re sending your bill to collections — this isn’t true either. You can read about both of these issues and more here: Four Medical Bill Myths That Can Cost You Dearly

      While you can’t stop the hospital from sending the bill to collections, you may be able to negotiate with collector to settle the debt. Two resources that may help you with this:

      Is it Ever Too Late to Negotiate a Medical Bill?
      How to Negotiate Your Medical Bills

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  • Kara Carr

    I’ve been paying on a medical bill through a collection agency I still question the charges because when I received the statement in the mail it did not give me any explanation of the charges. The collection agency is trying to do a settlement with me, but they tell me I have 13 mo left to pay it in full. I have been making payments on time, but they are telling me to triple my payments monthly. I don’t know what to do.I feel so helpless because I can’t afford anymore than what I’m paying them.

    • http://getoutofdebt.org Get Out of Debt Guy

      Since you made payment arrangements already you admitted to the debt so it’s too late to dispute it but it seems like what you really need is a statement of the debt and payments to show how the payments are being applied.

      I think what you are saying is the tripple payment offer was for the settlement. If you can’t afford that then just keep making your regular monthly payments.

  • http://yahoo charles ott

    my question is this,i had bypass an heart operation a year an half ago.now I;m being bother day today from collection agency.I;m on social security do to the fact i can not go back to working .the doctor don;t want me to go back. I was a over the road truck driver an made a good living but that is gone for good now.my problem is that I;m unable to pay what these collection agency want do to the fact it takes all the money from social security to live a pay the bills.I keep telling these people there is no money to give an when I do get back on feet I;ll pay them but they don;t seam to care.I have tried to find the help on this but just don:t known were to look for sure. any ideas or help will be helpful.

  • steven

    I have been paying the hospital directly every month on the bills owed and now they sent it to collection. They cash every check, everytime I send it so I dont know what to do.
    Seems like they are trying to rip us off even more.
    As well, I’m thinking of taking the Dr. to court or small claims because it was his mistake that resulted in the second hospitalization.
    What advice

  • Josy

    I admit, I forgot to pay off the balance of one my hospital bill and 4 months later the bill (in the amount of $125.00) got turned into collection. Is there anything I can do to avoid having this reported on my credit? This was a stupid mistake to forget.

    Thanks,

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      Unfortunately, once the debt is sent to collections, the collection record will remain in your credit report for seven years from the date the original account initially went into serious delinquency status (typically the 180+ day late mark). At this point, the only way to have it removed is if the collection were reported in error. You can read more about low dollar collections, how to handle them and their impact to your credit scores in this article:

      A Debt Collector Came After Me for $8.97

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  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    Hi Sharon — You’re not alone, we hear this type of story from consumers quite often. Fortunately,Gerri has covered this topic in-depth here on Credit.com. To help you decide how best to handle this medical bill, including how to negotiate the debt and your options, the following resources may help:
    How to Fix Your Medical Bill Problems
    Is it Ever Too Late to Negotiate a Medical Bill?
    How to Negotiate Your Medical Bills
    An Insider’s Guide to the Insane World of Medical Bills

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  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Yes, the physician’s offices do receive less if they have to pay the collection agency to collect on their behalf. Typically they do send bills first though. Sometimes there is a mistake (they have an old address, for example) and sometimes the patient doesn’t pay close attention, figuring that insurance will cover it. But we still get complaints from patients who say they never got a bill before it went to collections, and sometimes it is impossible to figure out what happened.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Possibly. i wrote about this topic recently in this article: Can a Debt Collector Double My Debt?. Hope you find that helpful.

    Remember, most collection accounts can be negotiated! Plus you may want to try to get the physician to pull it back from collections so you can pay them directly and avoid the damage to your credit reports. We wrote about that here: Reader Stops Mysterious Medical Bill From Damaging Her Credit

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    Susan – This happens a lot more than you’d think and is one of the reasons we encourage consumers to follow up with both the hospital and your insurance provider to make sure all of the charges are paid. If they aren’t, and the bill is sent to collections, it ends up hurting you in the long run.

    In most cases the hospital will send notices informing you that the bill is delinquent and needs to be paid. If at all possible it’s best to try and pay the debt or negotiate a payment plan. Even then, the hospital/provider doesn’t have to agree to accept monthly payments or work out an extended payment plan, and in many cases they prefer full payment over monthly installments. Legally, they are within their rights and can send the account to collections if the bill isn’t paid according to the initial terms that were signed and agreed upon prior to the procedure. If insurance doesn’t pay it, it falls to the patient to cover the difference.

    As far as additional collection fees go, collectors are legally able to charge interest and fees but they cannot be excessive. Exactly how much they can charge will vary by state so you’ll need to check with your state attorney general to be sure.

    Gerri has written about medical debts, your rights and how to handle medical collections when you can’t stop the provider from turning them over quite extensively. To explain this problem, and your options, the following resources may help:

    Four Medical Bill Myths That Can Cost You Dearly
    Is it Ever Too Late to Negotiate a Medical Bill?
    Can I Stop a Medical Bill from Going to Collections?

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  • Christie

    We have been making regular payments on a medical bill for 1 1/2 yrs. In August we stopped receiving statements and received a check that had overpayment/refund on it. We had no idea what was going on. Then we received a new EOB from our insurance with recalulated benefits that said it was paid and we were due the refund. Now, I have just recieved a statement from the hospital with everything reversed. And the balance includes the amount of the refund. I also received another EOB identical to the original amounts from my insurance. Can they do that to us? Tell us our bill is paid and then bill us again?

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      Christie –
      Have you contacted the hospital to ask for an explanation? That would be a good first step. Then, you should contact your insurer. If it turns out you still owe the hospital, you may be able to negotiate. This post has some tips: Is It Ever Too Late to Negotiate a Medical Bill?

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is now taking complaints about collection practices. You can file one here: http://www.consumerfinance.gov… And please let us know what happens.

  • Lauren

    Im 21 and I got sick and was in the hospital for a month and my insurance did not cover 1 night in the ER so I was charged with over 6,000 dollars sent to collections. what do I do…
    ? where do I start?

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      Lauren – What state do you live in? First step is to ask for an itemized bill listing detailed charges. Then ask the hospital how to apply for financial assistance. You may qualify to have the bill reduced substantially.

  • arincon

    I live in Wisconsin, and had a baby last year. Halfway during my pregnancy, my husband’s job switched insurance plans, and my doctor was not in their network. However, since I was past 20 weeks in my pregnancy, they allowed me to apply to keep my doctor as in-network. I was led to told my hospital would be in-network, as well as my doctor. Now I have about $10,000 in bills, some already in collections, despite having insurance. The insurance company says that I was overcharged, and they will not pay more than they believe it should cost, and the clinic says they will not lower the amount owed, and despite re-coding, my bills have only increased. We only make about $32,000 a year, and will never be able to pay off these bills. What can we do?

    • http://consumerrecoverynetwork.com/ask-a-question/ Michael Bovee

      If you are unable to get the bills adjusted, reduced to an affordable balance, or set up with affordable payment options, you may be left with limited options.

      Medical bills can be settled for less than what is owed when they are in collections. And chapter 7 bankruptcy would wipe the debts clean.

      What can you afford to pay towards the bills each month?

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    I would still suggest you try to get itemized bills from the provider so you can audit them to see if they are accurate. You don’t say how long ago this happened, but I would still suggest you try to find out whether you were eligible for financial assistance. Your only other choice is to try to negotiate a settlement with the collection agency. I know this probably isn’t something you want to deal with, but it’s either fight it or pay – or get rid of the debt in bankruptcy. This article may come in handy: Big Hospital Bill? Negotiate!

    • Lauren

      Okay this happened January of 2013 so about a year ago.. and it is already in collections

      • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

        It is up to you, but if I were in your shoes I would try to do as I described. It probably won’t be easy but it’s a good chunk of money you are talking about.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Talk with your insurance company immediately for advice. If the provider is a participating provider they must follow certain procedures and they can’t “balance bill” you amounts beyond your agreement.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    I would suggest you file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Agency. Please write them a brief letter complaining about the company and stating that they are charging you for a bill you already paid. (Make sure the complaint you file is clear and to the point.) You may want to also file a complaint with your state attorney general’s office.

    In addition, you should file a written dispute with the collection agency. You can state that you already paid this bill to the original provider. Send your letter to the collection agency certified mail, return receipt. Keep a copy for your records where you can find it later if it comes up again.

    And in the meantime, if you can remember which credit cards you may have used to pay it, contact them to see if they can help you retrieve a record of that payment. Even if it costs you a little money to get copies of those statements it would be helpful.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Tony – I would suggest you talk with a bankruptcy attorney. Paying a few dollars here and there is not going to resolve this and it is just doing to drag it out. You may end up sued – especially for those large amounts. So sorry to hear what you have been through.

  • http://consumerrecoverynetwork.com/ask-a-question/ Michael Bovee

    There is less to be concerned about when you know the debt collector is working directly with your creditor/lender/service provider.

    I would personally try to work directly with, and send payments to, the clinic/service provider, or their billing office. But that is not always possible.

    Are these collection balances appearing on your credit reports?

    • arincon

      I don’t know if they are working directly together or not. The bills were sent to separate collection agencies, and I haven’t checked my credit report lately, but assuming it’s showing up there. I’m not worried about paying off some of the smaller amounts, and think I can do it, but the largest one is going to take a long time. The insurance company claims that the average birth in my area costs only about $2200 (which sounds low), and of course mine had complications and I had to end up staying longer in the hospital, but was told it was still going to be covered (by my doctor.) Is there anything you can do when it seems like you have been basically lied to by everyone? It is just so frustrating when you’re told that everything is covered, and then it’s not. I guess you need to get everything in writing. I had a hard enough time trying to get the insurance company to pay for the emergency repairs following the birth, because they had to call in a special surgeon for the job who wasn’t in network….like I had a choice. The entire situation is so frustrating.

      • http://consumerrecoverynetwork.com/ask-a-question/ Michael Bovee

        You can run out of options dealing with the medical/insurance racket real quick. It does not sound like you would qualify for any bill reduction based on income. And I am not sure what benefit would come from complaints with your states insurance regulator. But filing complaints may lead to something (and would probably be cathartic too).

        It would be good to get a grip on these before they appear on your credit, if that has not happened yet. If it has, post an update.

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    emailed a reply asking you some questions. Did you receive it?

  • Samantha

    In 2009 I was visiting Missouri and had to be taken to the hospital because I went into DKA, Diabetic Keto Acidosis, I was there for a few nights. A few weeks later I was headed home and went low blood sugar when we landed for a layover in Atlanta, Georgia, I was taken to the hospital and treated, then released the same day to catch my flight home. After getting on the plane to head to Arizona, I again went low blood sugar and the plane made an emergency landing in Amarillo, Texas, I was again taken to a hospital and treated. All of these hospitals took my insurance card but still ended up sending me bills for all of these visits. I proceeded to contact my insurance, who said they should have been billed and I needed to send them all the bills I received in order for them to take care of it. At the time I was unable to comply and now 4 years later I am concerned with these items on my credit report. Since these medical bills should have been sent to my insurance in the first place, and the hospitals did not bother to contact the insurance and just sent the bills directly to me, is there a way to dispute these if I do not wish to wait 3 years for them to be removed from my credit report, since I am getting married next year and wanting to buy a house soon after?

  • Samantha Spejcher

    In 2009 I was visiting Missouri and had to be taken to the hospital because I went into DKA, Diabetic Keto Acidosis, I was there for a few nights. A few weeks later I was headed home and went low blood sugar when we landed for a layover in Atlanta, Georgia, I was taken to the hospital and treated, then released the same day to catch my flight home. After getting on the plane to head to Arizona, I again went low blood sugar and the plane made an emergency landing in Amarillo, Texas, I was again taken to a hospital and treated. All of these hospitals took my insurance card but still ended up sending me bills for all of these visits. I proceeded to contact my insurance, who said they should have been billed and I needed to send them all the bills I received in order for them to take care of it. At the time I was unable to comply and now 4 years later I am concerned with these items on my credit report. Since these medical bills should have been sent to my insurance in the first place, and the hospitals did not bother to contact the insurance and just sent the bills directly to me, is there a way to dispute these if I do not wish to wait 3 years for them to be removed from my credit report, since I am getting married next year and wanting to buy a house soon after?

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      Samantha – Whether or not the medical providers were required to bill your insurance before trying to collect from you probably depends on whether or not they were “in network” participating providers. If they were, then they may have been required to bill and not hold you responsible if they didn’t. But that’s really an insurance company question. You’ll need to contact them for advice.

      As for getting them off your credit reports, you may open a can of worms if you start disputing them. If I were you I would be more concerned about whether they are outside the statute of limitations and, if not, whether you can be sued.

      • Samantha Spejcher

        At the time I contacted the insurance and they said I was covered for all hospital visits because they were emergency visits and my insurance covered those regardless of doctor or hospital or state. But as I said the hospitals sent the bills to me rather then the insurance, they never contacted the insurance even though I gave them all the insurance information.

        • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

          They may have violated the terms of their contract with the insurer then which means they may not be able to bill you directly. Ask your insurance company about that.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    I have no easy answer for you there. My suggestion is you talk with a consumer law attorney to find out what your options are. Quite honestly, after talking with the attorney you may find it’s cheaper to settle the debt than to hire them to try to clear it for you. But that’s a discussion you’ll need to have with them. Visit naca.net for a referral.

  • tania

    Long story short, about 3 years ago I went to the ER for possible miscarriage. A friend took me and I put their address down for the hospital to send the bill for personal reasons I did not want anything sent to my home. There were many things going on in my life at that time and I completely forgotten about the bill. It wasn’t until a recent visit to the ER this year that I was asked If the address on file was correct. I then remembered how they even got this address from the miscarriage visit. I began to receive calls from debt collectors,but have avoided speaking to them. I have checked my credit score and have nothing ? I am in fear that due to the time its been that I will be owing a lot of money and that my credit will be a nightmare. I want to resolve this and pay that bill but don’t know where to begin . Please respond, I need help.

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      Tania – I am sorry to hear what you went through and unfortunately I don’t have a simple answer for you, nor can I promise won’t affect your credit. In fact, make sure you check all three credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion as some collectors report to one or two bureaus but not all three.

      You may want to first check out the statute of limitations for your state to see whether this debt is too old (probably not, but it’s a good idea to know). Then if you want to take care of it, I would suggest you talk with the ER, explain what happened and ask them for the status of that bill and whether you can make payments to them.

      If not you may have to try to work something out with the collection agency. We’ve written a lot of stories on this that you’ll find linked from the above article.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    The only thing I can think of is for your sister to reach out to the medical provider and ask for copies of the bills. If your cousin signed for the procedures she agreed to be 100% responsible. I really don’t see how she can sue your sister in that situation. I am not an attorney, though, so please don’t take that as legal advice.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Unfortunately as uncomfortable as it may have been to confront the dentist it should have been done well before it went to collections. Now you are facing the the same problem you had then – except that your credit has been damaged. And yes, a collection account can cause considerable damage to your credit scores, not to mention the fact that you could be battling this account for several years and it can stay on your reports for 7.5 years.

    The collection agency is not going to want to get in the middle of this dispute which is essentially over the quality of the service you were provided, so you are going to have no choice but to go back to the dentist and ask them to pull the account back from collections (so that it is removed from your credit reports) and erase the “balance.” I can’t advise you on your legal rights with regard to whether this debt is legitimate. I am not an attorney and that would depend on the facts and circumstances as well as laws in your state.

    Read: Reader Stops Mysterious Medical Bill From Damaging Her Credit

    I would suggest you start off polite but firm; they got paid well for the services they did perform and you did not continue the treatment. Mentioning that this has damaged your credit may help too (see below).

    In the meantime, you can send a written dispute to the collection agency stating that you don’t believe you owe this debt and asking them to verify it. Keep your letter clear and straight to the point and send it with proof of delivery. I am not suggesting that this dispute will make it “go away.” It won’t. But it may buy you some time while you try to straighten it out with the dentist.

    Also in the meantime, please check all three of your credit reports with AnnualCreditReport.com and check your credit score with Credit.com to see how this may be affecting your credit.

    Of course, the other alternative is to consult with a consumer law attorney. Considering the damage this can do to your credit, it may be worthwhile, but that will ultimately be your decision.

  • Ashleigh

    A few years ago I went to an urgent care to see a doctor. We got a bill for around $300 when I was covered under two insurance policies. We called the office and they said they would get it fixed. Then we got another bill as a final notice and we called again and again and each time we were told it would be taken care of. We stopped getting bills for it so we thought it had been. I ended up getting a job with that medical company and quickly found out that was not the case and it has been damaging my credit the whole time. I called the billing department a few times when I worked there and they told me my insurance policies were both claiming primary. So we called each of them and they both denied it and said they were getting filed properly. The ladies from the billing dept Of the urgent care told me they would call the collections agency and tell them to hold off temporarily until they figure it out. That was about a year ago and It is still affecting my credit. What else can I do to solve this? I feel helpless.

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      You are stuck in a very difficult situation.

      First you need to get your credit reports from all three major credit reporting agencies at AnnualCredit.com. You need proof that these accounts are on there.

      I assume you still work for this practice? If so then try to make an appointment in person with the supervisor of that department. Is that possible? Take a copy of your credit reports and show them to her and tell her that you need them removed from your credit reports. I’d normally say threaten a credit damage lawsuit but if you work for that practice it may not be wise.

      The only way these are going to come off your credit is if the provider who placed it for collections will pull it back from collections. I wrote about that here: Reader Stops Mysterious Medical Bill From Damaging Her Credit

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    It is hard to tell without more details. It certainly would not hurt for you to talk with a consumer law attorney to find out whether you have a case for credit damage. You can visit NACA.net for a referral. The first consultation is usually free. Will you let us know what they say? (You’ll still need copies of your credit reports to prove what’s going on.)

    • Ashleigh

      I certainly will keep you all updated! I appreciate the advice.

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