You’re getting anxious about the approaching due date on your hospital bill. Perhaps you’ve even gotten a payment reminder in the mail or call from the hospital. It’s not like you to skirt a payment, and you can’t afford to let your hospital bill go to collections or affect your credit.
But before you cave, understand your rights: Chances are you have more time than you think to do your research and negotiate your hospital bill.
Hospitals will try to get you to pay as quickly as possible, but there are laws and rules in place that ensure you have time to do your research — particularly if you visited a nonprofit hospital, which is the most common type of hospital in the U.S. In any case, the earliest a hospital bill could affect your credit is 12 months from the time it goes to collections.
If you visited a nonprofit hospital, the earliest your unpaid bill can affect your credit is 16 months from the time your hospital first sent you your bill.
If you visited a nonprofit hospital, like nearly 60% of hospitals in the U.S. are, federal law protects your hospital bill from going to collections prematurely.
Hospital bill collections cannot legally start until 120 days after the hospital first sent you your bill, or the “statement date” printed on your bill. If your hospital is billing you for multiple procedures, the 120 days starts ticking from the statement date on the bill for your most recent procedure.
Your unpaid hospital bill cannot affect your credit for 12 months from the time it goes to collections, based on a change the three major credit bureaus enacted on July 1, 2022. This applies to any paid hospital bills, as well as hospital bills that were already in collections at the time of the change. Starting in January 2023, any unpaid medical debt under $500 won’t affect credit at all.
If you visited a for-profit hospital, bill collection timelines may vary a bit more, but you may still be protected by your state’s laws.
Some states have blanket laws against hospital bill collections before a certain time period; In California, for example, it’s 180 days from the hospital bill’s statement date, and in Washington it’s 120 days. One way to check if you’re protected under state law is to visit the Medical Debt Policy Scorecard:
If your state doesn’t have any protections listed, call your hospital’s billing department and ask about their collections policy.
Your unpaid hospital bill cannot affect your credit report for 12 months from the time it goes to collections, based on a change the three major credit bureaus enacted on July 1, 2022. This applies to any medical bills that were already paid or in collections at the time of the change. Plus, starting in January 2023, any unpaid medical debt under $500 won’t affect your credit at all.
Now that you know your rights, you can breathe a little easier knowing you have time to negotiate your hospital bill before it affects your credit.
If your hospital bill has gone to collections, your hospital is unlikely to negotiate, because it has already sold your bill to a collections agency. Your best bet is to speak directly with the collections agency.
Goodbill isn't currently able to negotiate hospital bills that are already in collections, but you still have options. Experian, one of major bureaus, has published this guide on how to negotiate a hospital bill directly with a collections agency. You'll want to weigh your options carefully, as settling with the collections agency for a reduced balance could affect your credit score.
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