Mellody Hobson is the president of Ariel Investments, a Chicago based money management firm as well as the featured consumer finance expert on Tom Joyner’s “Money Mondays,” among other roles. In today’s “Money Mondays” segment, Hobson gives tips on how to protect your credit when you have hefty medical bills you can’t pay right away. Listen to the audio and read the tips below!PLAY AUDIO
TOM JOYNER: You are here this morning to talk about medical bills and credit – but all bills impact your credit, doesn’t them?
MELLODY HOBSON: Of course they do Tom, but there are signs that medical bills are playing an out sized role in damaging the credit history of many Americans. So this morning, I want to talk about the problem, and steps to take to ensure that you are not falling victim to this new trend.
Tom: Why are healthcare or medical bills different?
Mellody: A big reason that medical bills are different is that there is no real standardization among the industry, and yet there are so many different touch points. Put more simply, there is no specific billing cycle. Take your credit card bill as an example: you are billed monthly, and you are expected to pay off your credit card within 30 days. This is not the case in the medical industry, as the costs – and the payments – are larger and multifaceted. Some billing systems may give you two months; others may put you on a payment plan. So this lack of standardization presents challenges.
But there is another piece of this story, too, and that is the information gap. When consumers receive bills from their doctors or from laboratories they have never heard of, they can be lists of tests run, acronyms for various processes, or they can be comprised of what can only be described as indecipherable medical terminology. We have all been there. Because of this, many consumers do not know what they are being charged for, or if their insurance covers this, so they simply ignore it.
So these two factors coupled together really seem to separate healthcare bills out from others in many people’s minds, so they are less likely to be routine, and therefore routinely paid.
Tom: And this leads to big credit problems?
Mellody: It really can, Tom. More and more, we are seeing signs that this fractured billing process and the confusion it creates is damaging the financial reputation of many Americans. Basically what is happening is that it in the time that it is taking consumers to figure out who owes what when – which can run into weeks and months – the medical debts that are behind can be reported rapidly to credit agencies, and often without any notice to the people who are responsible for the debt. And even small unpaid bills can severely damage credit ratings.
According to the New York Times, a mortgage initiator in Texas recently looked at the credit records of 5,000 applicants and found that 40 percent had medical debt in collection, with the average around $400. Forty percent! That is a very big number just for medical debt. Additionally, the new consumer financial protection bureau has noted that half of all accounts reported by collection agencies now come from medical bills, and the credit record of one in five Americans is affected. This means that these bills may prevent you from getting a car, leasing an apartment or even getting a mortgage. Those are certainly big credit problems.
Tom: What should our listeners do?
Mellody: The first thing that people should do is simply be looking out for these medical bills. After any medical visit that requires a procedure that is not routine, such as an annual checkup, make sure you are aware of what communications you should be receiving. Talk to the billing person at your office to get a clear understanding of where invoices will come from. Secondly, information is power. One of the problems with many procedures is that you don’t know what it will cost until after the fact, so make sure to learn as much as you can about the costs before you undergo any medical treatment. Afterwards, take the time to inquire with the entity that sends you each bill. Ask questions if you are unclear about any charges – both with the billing entity and with your insurance, and be prepared to contest any outrageous charges. Finally, create a schedule for payment that ensures these bills are paid on time. If you can’t afford this, work with the office or lab to create a payment schedule. The main point here is to know what you owe, know why you owe it, and make preparations so you are not missing payments that you were not aware of.
Tom: Is this a problem that regulators are trying to address?
Mellody: Both congress and the protection bureau have been trying to protect consumers’ credit scores through various proposals, including differentiating medical debt from other forms; erasing the missed payments once they have been paid off or simply not having medical debt reported to credit agencies at all, for example. So far, the efforts have been stalled as the credit industry has fought successfully against them, saying they could protect people with legitimately bad credit histories and debt issues. But it also has to do with their bottom line. Currently, health care bills comprise the single biggest source of business for collection companies, according to consumer protection agency officials. So for now, the best thing you can do is be informed about your healthcare expenses, make sure you are asking the questions, and be ready to pay those bills on time!
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Celebs Tweet Their Thoughts About #JusticeForSandraBland
1. Jesse Williams
#SandraBland's treatment while attempting to travel freely on HER public roadways has been acknowledged as unlawful. She is already dead.
2. Taraji P. Henson
"SAY HER NAME #SandraBland"
3. Ava DuVernay
"'Why are you arresting me?' Because you know your rights. Because I can. Because no one'll believe you. #SandraBland"
4. Kim Kardashian
#WhatHappenedToSandraBland We need answers!!!! This is NOT ok! This is all shady! They need to own up to this & tell the truth!
5. Jussie Smollet
"A loss 4 words. #SandraBlandMatters #BlackLivesMatter 👈🏿tell me this should change once the nation shows that we do. "
6. Snoop Dogg
🙏🌹. Sandra. Rip. 🌹🌹
7. K. Michelle
R.I.P to this queen. This could've been any of us. My prayers go out to her family. #sandrabland https://instagram.com/p/5fvlO_AhCf/
8. Gabrielle Union
SAY HER NAME!!! #SandraBland #SandraBland #SandraBland #SayHerName
"We must get to the cause of #sandrabland death because this CANNOT happen again #deathorfreedom"
10. David Banner
"When will we fight back. A man's duty on earth is to protect women and children. Where are the gangsters? Preachers? We need you. Please."
11. Nicki Minaj
"Rest In Peace #SandraBland"
12. Talib Kweli
"We the people ask @LorettaLynch to investigate #SandraBland #KimberleeRandleKing RETWEET "
Signs. Signs. Signs all around us. The Message is Here. #SandraBland
14. Missy Elliot
"When I look at the #SandraBland traffic video it brings so many emotions😳😢😡😡😤!"
15. Jessie J
"God bless your soul Sandra | #sandrabland | Change needs to come |Justice needs to be served | Heart… https://instagram.com/p/5fV79mQ0aw/ "
16. Jackee Harry
"It's time y'all, it's time.." #SandraBland #BlackLivesMatter
"In memory of #SandraBland these things don't make no kinda sense "
18. Holly Robinson Peete
I really don't look forward to having ANOTHER difficult conversation w my kids tonight...but here we go again😧💔 #SandraBland #SayHerName 😢
19. Jeffrey White
Sadly, doesn't matter by whose hand she died. Unjustified arrested set the outcome in motion. The state murdered her. #JusticeForSandraBland
Sandra could have been your mother, sister, aunt, friend or if she wasn't killed the community outreach advisor A&M. #SandraBland
21. Joan Smalls
"My heart is broken. Sending my deepest condolence to her family and friends. May you find Strength, Peace and Justice. When will this stop? #EqualityForAll #RIP #Why #SayHerName
22. Gladys Knight
Sandra Bland.... #SayHerName #SandraBland
23. Cara Delevigne
Things need to change NOW #SANDRABLAND #Justice #Equality
24. Meek Mill
"Rip to that young lady that lost her life about a traffic stop! 🙏 ima make sure I pray for her and her family! 🙏😄😄😄"