Does Medical Debt Go Away After Seven Years?
If you’ve ever been in a situation where you didn’t have health insurance or were under-insured, you may be faced with some medical debt. Two-thirds of Americans state that they are “very worried” (38 percent) or “somewhat worried” (29 percent) about being able to afford unexpected medical bills for themselves or their family. A surprise medical bill can be an extremely stressful occurrence, especially if you’re already facing debt.
You may have heard that medical debt disappears after seven years. Like all myths, the “seven-year-rule” does have a grain of truth to it—but medical bill debt forgiveness is not as easy as it sounds. In most situations, it’s better to pay off the debt before it hits the seven-year mark in order to avoid harassment and the potential for a lawsuit.
New Era Debt Relief explains what can happen when medical debt is ignored:
You May Face Long-term Consequences
If you took out a loan or charged a medical bill, the payment is usually due in 30 days. If the amount is too large and you are unable to repay the full amount in time, late fees will apply. Not only will you acquire interest, but the late payments will also affect your overall credit score.
If the debt has been ignored for 90 days, you are likely facing intense collection efforts and more late fees. Calls and letters from the creditor will increase and become more aggressive. If the debt was placed on a credit card, the issuer may shut down the card and report the delinquency to credit reporting bureaus.
When an original creditor decides a debt is not collectible, they may opt to sell it to a third-party debt collector. They will also inform the credit bureaus that your account was “charged off”. This will result in a negative mark that will stay on your credit reports for seven years, making credit repair an obstacle.
When a debt collector has been ignored and has not received the money they are owed, they may decide to sue you. You will receive a summons about the lawsuit and the court hearing. It is extremely important to respond to the lawsuit and show up for the hearing.
Even if you ignore the lawsuit you will still have to pay the judgement amount. This could lead to automatic paycheck reductions or even your accounts being frozen.
The Debt May Still Affect You
A statute of limitations (SOL) is the amount of time a party has to take legal action. When it comes to medical debt the collector only has a certain amount of time to file a suit in order to collect the remaining balance. The length of time depends on which state you live in and how you communicate with the debt collector.
The SOL has nothing to do with how long medical debt collections stay on your credit report. It usually takes seven years for most debts to fall off of your credit report. But that does not mean the debt has gone away, it just isn’t being reported by the credit bureau anymore. This means that your credit report will no longer be affected by that debt, even though you still owe money. Any lawsuit resulting in a civil judgement will drive your score lower, and filing for bankruptcy may have even more of a negative effect.
When the SOL on your debt expires, that also does not mean your debt is gone. What it does mean is that you are no longer legally responsible for the debt. There is a difference between the two—because you can still be sued for the debt.
If the SOL on that debt has expired, it is your responsibility to alert the court. The creditor won’t get a judgement against you as long as you come to court prepared to prove that the debt is too old. Proof may include a personal check that shows the last time you made a payment or records of communication that you have made concerning that debt. The start date for medical debt collections SOL is the date of your last payment.
Remember that making a partial payment, a payment arrangement, or accepting a settlement off on an old debt can start the SOL clock over again. If the SOL restarts, you are giving the creditor or debt collector more time to take legal actions against you for the debt. Although making a payment resets the SOL timeline, it does not restart your credit reporting time limit which will remain seven years for most debts.
You May Be Able to Repay the Debt
Statutes of limitations are a form of protection for patrons, but they are not automatic. It is your responsibility to acquire knowledge and stay informed about your debts.
The best way to make sure that medical debt doesn’t ruin your credit or place you within a legal situation is to pay it off. Credit scores do not take life struggles into consideration, so paid debts reflect much better than unpaid ones. Proof that you have paid the debt in full is the ideal protection against any future collection attempts.
If the medical debt is too massive to repay at the time, be sure to look into alternative options. You can ask the collector about repayment plans and hardship programs that they offer. Medical service providers tend to be more workable than the traditional debt collectors.
If you have low income and high medical bills, you may be eligible for an income-driven hardship plan. An income-driven hardship plan can break up the full amount you owe by into more manageable payments. In some situations, you may even be able to reduce the total amount you owe.
If the medical debt has moved to collections, you may be able to work something out. A settlement compromise enables you to pay less than the full balance you owe. Any amount taken off of the debt is usually a lifesaver in most situations. Tax implications may apply when working out a settlement, but make sure to get everything in writing.
If you are overwhelmed with the amount of debts you have acquired, it may be time to speak with a debt professional. Debt consolidation is a great option for people who want to have fewer monthly payments. It is the process of combining multiple credit card, high-interest loans, and other bills into one monthly payment. The process may even lower your interest rate, which can help you save money, lower your monthly payments, and pay down your debt faster.
New Era Debt Solutions has settled more than $250,000,000 dollars of debt since 1999 and wants you to be our next success story. If you need assistance achieving financial freedom, contact one of our friendly counselors at New Era Debt Solutions to learn more about finding the debt relief option that best fits your needs and budget. Our counselors are with you every step of the way.