PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) — Medical debt can be debilitating. Nearly 100 million adults in the U.S. carry some form of medical debt, according to a 2022 Kaiser Family Foundation national survey.
If you’re having trouble paying your medical bills, it may be tempting to sign up for a medical credit card or medical loan offered by a health care provider. But beware, Consumer Reports says there are severe drawbacks.
“These options can have high interest rates, steep payment penalties, and do damage to your credit,” said Lisa Gill of Consumer Reports.
CareCredit is the largest medical credit card company and a subsidiary of Synchrony Financial. A spokesperson for Synchrony, says “CareCredit’s convenient and transparent financing options make health and wellness care more affordable and can be used to pay for a wide range of health and wellness items.”
But according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the average medical credit card carries a whopping 27% interest rate, much higher than the typical 16% for a general-purpose credit card.
A main reason the CFPB has warned, “Our research indicates that in many cases, patients who use these products end up worse off.”
So instead of signing up for a medical credit card or loan, ask your medical provider if they directly offer interest-free or low-interest payment plans. If that doesn’t work, consider other options.
“If you have good credit, you may want to consider a personal loan from your bank or credit union where interest rates start around 10%,” said Gill.
Never provide your credit card when receiving care in an emergency room. If you’re insured, ask for the invoice to be sent to your insurance company. If you’re uninsured, ask for it to be mailed to you so you can figure out how to pay or negotiate it in a calmer setting.
And if you’re confronted with a hospital bill you can’t afford, always ask if there’s a charitable program you can apply for. You can find out how to apply with your specific hospital at DollarFor.org.
Finally, if your insurance company refuses to cover a procedure that isn’t elective or cosmetic, consider filing an appeal.