Medical debt is bringing down the credit scores of 1 in 5 Americans - and most of them probably don't even realize it. According to a report published by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), 43 million US citizens are burdened by past-due medical debt because of a system that is difficult and tedious to navigate.
Many of the past-due medical bills arise from complications or delays from the hospital or doctors and insurance companies. Although most of the bills should and eventually will be paid for by insurance, many people are opting to foot the bills out of their own pockets in order to save their credit scores.
According to the report, the practice of "parking" by many debt collectors is causing many Americans to suffer and be pursued for medical debt that they do not even owe.
CFPB chairmain, Richard Cordray, said that parking is a practice that causes the most damage to consumers and is not how the system should be used.
"The collection process should not depend on harming consumers by adverse reporting before a consumer even learns she owes a medical debt. If it takes a drop in her credit score or an adverse action notice to make the point, then even more damage has been done to her financial standing," he said.
Unfortunately, there is no set time frame for when a medical bill can be sent to insurers for collecting and many are being wrongly pinged to consumers and their credit reports instead.
"It is critical that safeguards, such as clear rules that require debt collectors prove that a consumer owes a debt, are in place to ensure that they do not face abusive collection practices that undermine their financial stability or ability to build assets for the future," says Lisa Stifler, who works for the Center for Responsible Lending.
The light at the end of the credit tunnel is that once the convoluted medical debts on the records are settled, it should no longer affect the consumer's credit score. Financial experts agree that they should take advantage of the free credit report they are entitled to from any of the three credit bureaus once a year.
As soon as they receive the credit records, they should report the discrepancies immediately, especially ones concerning unpaid medical debt.