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How consumers can help keep their medical debt in stable condition

If asked to identify the leading source of money woes for Americans, chances are good that people would list everything from mortgages and student loans to car payments and, of course, credit card debt.

While these are all excellent guesses, they are actually off the mark. Indeed, the unfortunate reality is countless studies have found that medical debt is the primary source of financial problems for people across the nation.

If you have a hard time believing it, consider some of the following statistics:

  • 40 percent of Americans incurred debt as a result of a medical issue in 2014
  • 20 percent of Americans under the age of 65 encountered difficulty paying down medical debt in 2015 despite having health insurance -- with 42 percent of these individuals having to take a second job and 63 percent having to clean out their savings

As discouraging as this, experts have identified some steps people can take to help limit the impact of medical debt on their financial wellbeing:

  • Look before you commit: For both routine and planned medical expenses, experts suggest first asking a billing department for an estimate and, if a choice of provider is possible, securing cost estimates from others to do a bit of comparison shopping.
  • Don't trust your final bill: Providers have a habit of sending bills with just a single -- and often large -- number at the bottom. However, experts recommend requesting an itemized bill to ensure there were no incorrect or duplicate charges, and to compare against the explanation of benefits sent by your insurer.
  • Always negotiate: Experts indicate that negotiating isn't just reserved for things like car shopping. Indeed, medical providers may not only be willing to negotiate how much you'll pay, but how you'll pay it (payment plans, etc.).

It's also important for people to understand that if medical debt simply becomes unmanageable despite their best efforts that they do have options, including the fresh start offered by Chapter 7 bankruptcy.  

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