Can I Stop a Medical Bill from Going to Collections?

Unexpected medical bills can often lead to crippling debt. And if you’re not able to pay the debt, it can lead to even more complications if the debt is sent to collections, as is the case for a reader who recently sent in this question:

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Unfortunately, the provider/collector doesn't have to agree to accept monthly payments and in many cases, they prefer full payment over monthly installments.

Legally, they are within their rights and can send the account to collections if the bill isn't paid according to the initial terms that were signed and agreed upon prior to the procedure. (Typically, it's the form we sign claiming responsibility of the debt in the event our insurance doesn't cover the procedure.) I know it's frustrating that they won't work with you, especially after you've made the $150 good faith payments each month, but if they were once willing to work out payments with a recurring auto-billed payment schedule, it would be worth contacting them to see if doing so would keep the account from going to collections.

If they agree, I'd even go so far as to set up recurring auto-payments to go to a credit card (at least for the next five months until the debt is paid) to avoid having the account go to collections.

Worst case, you'd have the ability to pay the credit card bill when you get paid so that you're not having to worry about your auto-payment conflicting with the dates you get paid. If they agree to this, make sure you get the agreement in writing so that there are no misunderstandings going forward.

Fortunately, the remaining debt isn't in the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars range that often force consumers into taking drastic measures (like bankruptcy) because they have no way of ever paying the debt. In the end, with a remaining balance of $550 it's best to do whatever you can to keep the account from going to collections -- even if it means paying the remaining balance on a credit card and then making the payments to the credit card for the remaining time.

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