How should I pay off medical debt that’s been sent to a collection agency?
“My debt from an unpaid urgent care bill has been sent to a collection agency. What is the best way to go about paying off this debt?”
Submitted by Jessica J.
Medical debt is a huge financial stressors for many people. Taking action early is the best way to get it under control.
Double-check your debt
Before you agree to anything, make sure the debt is yours and is accurate. If it has been sent to collections, there are likely additional fees. Dig a bit deeper to clarify the actual amount of the outstanding debt and the fees associated with collections. This information will be helpful if you have to negotiate.
Negotiate and plan
Once you have confirmed the debt is yours, negotiate. Let them know how much you can afford to pay. Don’t feel pressured to accept their first request. Having an accurate budget that includes debt repayment can help you avoid promising more than you can pay. When you call to negotiate, have a clear solution that works for you (i.e. I can pay $XX each month for XX months) and be sure you choose a due date that will not cause unnecessary pressure on your monthly cash flow.
Get it in writing
Get the agreement in writing! This is crucial. If the debt is in collections, it is impacting your credit score. Request (and require) a written agreement that when the debt is paid they will remove the delinquency from your credit report or change the status to paid in full.
The CFPB (Consumer Finance Protection Bureau) has sample letters and action steps to help you through this process. If you need additional help, contact a local nonprofit credit counseling agency.
As always, I encourage you to keep your saving plan (even if the amount is small) on track as you pay down the debt.
Saundra Davis is a nationally recognized financial coach and educator. Her experience in the U.S. Navy, where she made every money mistake possible, and her 20 years serving community-based organizations led her to the reality that the best way to help people find a path out of poverty is to help them become their own financial expert.