(Original post: June 28, 2022, Updated April 27, 2023)
When you aren’t feeling well and need medical care, you focus on getting the treatment you need. But in addition to focusing on their physical health, many Americans also worry about how much that health care will cost them, and how they’ll pay the ensuing medical bills.
About 1 in 5 Americans had a medical bill they could not pay at the time they received the care. Those bills often end up in debt collections, and then show up on a person’s credit report. In 2021, medical debts in collection were found on 43 million credit reports. Medical debt, even when it is paid off, can remain on a credit report for up to seven years. Those negative marks on your credit report can mean that you might not be approved for a loan, or a credit card, and can even impact hiring decisions by potential employers.
The three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) have pledged to change how they will treat the reporting of medical debt. As of July 1, 2022, the agencies said paid medical debt will no longer appear on credit reports.
The credit bureaus announced new policy on April 11, 2023, that owed medical debt under $500 will not be included in credit reports either. (Note: these changes are voluntary on the part of the credit bureaus — not a governmental mandate.)
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimates this new policy removing debt under $500 will help about 15.6 million people increase their credit score by about 25 points.
What should you do now?
Because these policies should significantly improve your credit score, we encourage you to check out your credit reports and make sure any paid medical debt or medical debt under $500 is no longer listed on your credit reports.
How do I check my credit report?
Obtain a free copy of your credit report by requesting it online from annualcreditreport.com or calling 1-877-322-8228. These are the official channels authorized by the government for requesting free reports. You can get a free report from each of the three credit bureaus once a year. Be aware: Other sites offer a credit report, but they may ask for a fee, show you ads, or may be a scam site trying to steal your personal information.
Look closely at your report to make sure the information is correct. You should no longer see any medical debt that you have already paid in full or any medical debt under $500. Medical debt will generally appear in one of two places.
- Check the section where the credit reporting agency “flags” any new debt.
- Check the “Account Information” or “Collections” section of the report.
You should not see any paid medical debt or medical debt under $500 on your report. If you do, go to step 3.
Use the dispute process offered by credit reporting agencies to report any paid medical debt or other errors. You can use these links:
Federal law requires credit bureaus to investigate any disputes within 30 days (or 45 days if you got your report through the free annual report service). The credit bureau then must notify you within five days of completing its investigation.
What if the credit bureau doesn’t remove from my report the medical debt I’ve paid off, or medical debt under $500, even after I disputed it?
If the credit bureau does not respond within a timely manner or denies your dispute, you can submit a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Companies have 15 days to respond to you before your complaint is published on the public database that is used by the CFPB to track consumer problems.
Are there any other new policies I should know about relating to medical debt?
The credit bureaus also promised that any new medical debt will not be included in credit reports until a year after the debt is given over to collection agencies (rather than the current six months).
Should I check my credit report at all three of the major bureaus?
If you think you have lingering paid-off medical debt, or if you find a paid medical debt on one report, you should check your reports with all three bureaus. Your information isn’t necessarily the same on all three of your credit reports.
For more information on how to read and understand your credit report:
We have more tips on how to find mistakes on your credit report:
Photo Credit: Bermix Studio on Unsplash
Senior Director, Health Care Campaigns, U.S. PIRG Education Fund
Patricia directs the health care campaign work for U.S. PIRG and provides support to our state offices for state-based health initiatives. Her prior roles include senior policy advisor at NJ Health Care Quality Institute, associate state director at AARP New Jersey and consumer advocate at NJPIRG. She was appointed to the Ground Ambulance and Patient Billing Advisory Committee in 2022 and works with patient advocates across the U.S. Patricia enjoys walking along the Potomac River and sharing her love of books with friends and family around the world.