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You Ask. Bev Answers: How Long Will Unpaid Medical Debt Remain on My Credit Reports?

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In a time of great uncertainty, a voice of knowledge and reassurance can make all the difference. Beverly Anderson, President of Global Consumer Solutions at Equifax, answers your questions based on her years of experience in the consumer finance industry. You can post a question for Bev on Equifax's Facebook page. Bev regrets that she cannot answer every question individually.

Question: How long will it take for medical debt to fall off of my credit reports? Is there anything I can do to speed up the process?

Answer: The Coronavirus/Covid-19 pandemic has drawn increasing attention to how staggering medical expenses can be for many Americans. A recent study by FAIR Health found that treatment for an uninsured individual who is hospitalized with Covid-19 could exceed $45,000 — and the pandemic is only one small element of the big picture when it comes to health care expenses.

Medical debt will generally remain on your credit reports for seven years. However, not all debt is treated the same and there are special rules surrounding medical debt in particular.

Since most health care providers do not report to the three nationwide consumer reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion), medical debt generally will not appear on your credit reports or impact your credit scores. But if your bill remains unpaid, there's a chance your provider will turn the debt over to a collection agency, which can report your unpaid bills to the credit bureaus after 180 days.

The three nationwide consumer reporting agencies enacted this six-month waiting period in 2017 to give consumers more time to pay their bills before the debt impacts their credit scores. If your medical debt is reported as being paid by you or by insurance before the 180 day period is up, then the credit bureaus will remove it from your credit history. Otherwise, the unpaid debt will stay on your credit reports for up to seven years.

Like any debt that has been sent to collections, your unpaid health care expenses will likely have a negative effect on your credit scores. However, scoring models sometimes weigh medical debt differently. Since most anyone can become saddled with sudden medical debt, several prominent models give it less weight when determining your credit scores. Of course, you never know which credit scores your lender will access, so it's wise to prevent the debt from being reported in the first place.

If you're worried about your unpaid medical bills affecting your credit reports, here are some steps you can take:

  • Contact your health care provider and work out a payment plan. They may be willing to reduce the amount owed or allow you to pay the balance over time.
  • Settle with the collections agency within 180 days. Once your debt has been turned over to collections, you can keep it from appearing on your credit history by paying the amount due before the six-month waiting period ends.
  • Review your medical bills carefully and verify every charge. Mounting health care expenses can easily become overwhelming, and it's easy to lose track. Request an itemized bill so you can see exactly what you're being charged for and identify possible mistakes. Similarly, review your credit reports to make sure no incorrect charges appear on your credit history.

If you believe medical debt has been listed on your credit reports erroneously, contact the health care provider or collection agency first. You can also file a dispute with the three nationwide consumer reporting agencies. At Equifax, you can create a myEquifax™ account to easily file a dispute. Visit our dispute page to learn other ways you can submit a dispute to Equifax.

If medical debt does wind up being reported to the nationwide credit bureaus, you may want to check your credit reports regularly to make sure the debt falls off once seven years have passed.

You can obtain a free copy of your credit reports every 12 months from each of the three nationwide consumer reporting agencies by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com. Additionally, your myEquifax™ account will give you six free Equifax credit reports each year. You can also click “Get my free credit score” on your myEquifax dashboard to enroll in Equifax Core Credit™ for a free monthly Equifax credit report and a free monthly VantageScore® 3.0 credit score, based on Equifax data. A VantageScore is one of many types of credit scores available to consumers.

About Beverly:
Beverly Anderson is the President of Global Consumer Solutions at Equifax. She is responsible for the strategy, development, growth and profitability of direct and indirect businesses serving consumers with credit, identity and financial education products and services.

For more than three decades, Beverly has built businesses and delivered significant results in the financial services and payments industries. She drove consumer and small business strategies, product strategies, and enterprise growth and profitability strategies for First USA (now JPMorgan Chase), Fleet (now Bank of America) and American Express. Before joining Equifax, she was the Executive Vice President of Cards and Retail Services at Wells Fargo where she led consumer credit cards, co-branded cards, loyalty solutions, retail finance, digital payments and enablement capabilities. She has also held leadership roles managing auto loans, personal lines and loans, servicing, loan operations, collections and fraud operations. https://www.equifax.com/about-equifax/corporate-leadership/beverly-anderson/

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