Paying Medical Bills with Credit Cards, is it a Smart Choice?

Guest Post by Eliza Morgan

Those who really fear credit card debt are usually cautious when it comes to making future purchases. For example, if a couple knows they want a new TV for the living room, they'll usually save for a few months and then pay for a new TV with cash. But not everything can be so calculated, especially when it comes to your health.

Sometimes you get sick out of nowhere, and even if you're insured, getting billed for medical expenses is one of the easiest ways for someone to get into debt (or deeper debt). Think about it: one single trip to the emergency room can set you back $200 for someone with insurance. If this was an unexpected expense and you don’t have enough money in your account, what will you do? Charge it on your credit card. Depending on how quickly you can pay it back will determine how much interest you will accumulate. In fact, according to the most recent statistics, nearly 21 million Americans accrued credit card debt in 2008 due to using their cards to pay for medical bills. While health is important and unpredictable, there are some things you should consider first before using your credit card to seek temporary relief.

1. Negotiate with your Doctor/Hospital. First things first, it's always important that you speak up front that you may not be able to afford whatever procedure or test that the physician says you need. If it's an emergency situation the physician will go ahead and do the procedure, but they will be more willing to give you a discounted rate or work out some sort of payment plan (some charge interest; others do not). Either case, you are not obligated to pay any sort of out-of-pocket expenses up front so don’t be too tempted to put it on your credit card immediately. But if you discuss your financial situation from the beginning, the physician may be able to reduce your bill in some area, whether it's with the anesthesiologist if you've had surgery or with your medications.

2. Know who is more likely to Report to Credit Bureaus. If you put your medical bills on your credit card and then can't find a way to pay off your credit card bill, you will undoubtedly be contacted by a bill collector. From there, the appropriate crediting bureaus will be notified as well and your discrepancy will negatively be placed on your credit report and affect your credit score. While you do in fact want to pay off your medical bills at sometime, it's important to know that rarely do physicians and hospitals actually report to collection agencies (as opposed to credit card companies that do it almost immediately). In fact, various sources say that only.07% of medical businesses actually report their patients to bureaus. Most just write off any losses.

3. Get a Health Savings Account. Lastly, a great way to be better prepared for these kinds of unexpected medical expenses to acquire a health savings account (HSA). Most health insurance companies require a high deductible (about $1,500 for a single) to establish one through your plan but they can really be a life saver and help you be debt free. How it works: a portion of your paycheck (prior to taxes) is put into your HSA each month. You can build the money in your account tax free as well. You are then issued a debit card and can use that card strictly for paying for medical expenses, such as when paying off co-pays, medications, and remaining balances you may have on a surgery. It takes out the temptation of using a small portion of your savings for something other than medical uses. Your balance moves from year to year and works as an IRA after 65, so it can be invested.

Author Bio:
Eliza Morgan is a full time blogger. She specializes in writing about business credit cards. You can reach her at: elizamorgan856 at gmail dot com.

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