It may be time to take a new look at your credit report – especially if you are among half of the Americans who have any kind of medical debt. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) says that many consumers who've taken on some form of medical debt in the last year have protections they need to know about.
The biggest subset of that pool is the 40+ million people who might have unpaid medical bills. For them, the U.S. Congress, federal agencies, and others have stepped up to pass the No Surprises Act to help protect Americans from certain unexpected medical bills, such as those surprise medical bills from out-of-network providers for “emergency services.”
The second group of consumers who are getting some relief are those who’ve seen negative information pop up on their credit reports related to a medical expense. For them, the CFPB has laid down the law to debt collectors and consumer credit reporting companies that they can’t collect, furnish, or report any invalid medical debt.
In the wake of the pandemic, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion were tasked with removing all paid medical debts from consumer credit reports, those less than a year old, and all medical collections under $500. That last step went into effect on April 11, 2023, and with this change, the CFPB estimates that roughly half of those with medical debt on their reports will have it removed from their credit history in the upcoming months.
Those three companies have taken to this task expeditiously, too. When ConsumerAffairs checked on their collective progress, TransUnion claimed that nearly 70% of the total medical collection debt tradelines reported to the Nationwide Credit Reporting Agencies (NCRAs) have been removed from consumer credit files.
Making sure your debt isn’t still being reported
To prove they’re doing what they were told, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion are offering free online credit reports once a week through AnnualCreditReport.com. The CFPB says consumers with medical debt would be wise to order one from each and double-check if they’ve been removed like they’re supposed to be.
The agency offered this advice to be sure:
If you previously had a medical collection under $500, a paid medical collection, or a collection less than a year old on your credit report, check to make sure they no longer appear on your reports. Be aware, however, that this doesn’t include credit card collections, even if you used your credit card to pay for a medical expense under $500.
Also, while you’re looking at your reports, check for any other information that might be inaccurate. Here’s a list of the typical inaccuracies on a credit report.
If you find a medical collection under $500, a paid medical collection, a collection less than a year old, or errors on your report, you can dispute that information with the credit reporting company.
If you run into problems
Another olive branch the credit reporting companies are offering is an extension of the time it takes to dispute, negotiate, or pay for any outstanding bills before they can be reported. Consumers in those situations now have one year from the time they saw a doctor before they’re allowing medical debt to appear on their credit report.
For those who are unable to pay their medical bills, they may qualify for financial assistance programs, aka “charity care.”
If all else fails, the CFPB says it's got our collective backs. “We expect that the No Surprises Act, the recent actions by credit reporting companies, and the CFPB’s own actions and guidance will reduce the challenges many families face after they receive medical care,” the agency said.
“If you find invalid medical bills on your credit report or if you’re having issues disputing other medical bill errors with the credit reporting companies, submit a complaint to the CFPB.”