Drowning in medical debt? You have options.

If you’re struggling with medical bills, you’re not alone. About one in five Americans are, and it’s the most common contributing factor to bankruptcy. Luckily, there are some options that may be available to help reduce the debt. Also, medical debt may not hit your credit as hard as other types of debt.

Ask for financial assistance

Depending on your income, you may qualify for a hospital’s financial assistance. By law, all nonprofit hospitals must have financial assistance policies.

Don’t pay the “chargemaster” rate

This is typically the highest rate healthcare providers charge. Insurance companies negotiate to pay a lower rate and you may be able to, as well. One thing to try is to check out fair rates for procedures on the Healthcare Bluebook’s free tool. Once you have the information about what rate would be fair, go back to your healthcare provider and see if they will reduce what you owe. Be persistent. It may take a long time to reach a payment you can afford.

Be aware that other bills damage your credit more

Although different credit scoring models have different results, many of them take medical debt less into account than other types of debt. For example, the most recent FICO scoring ignores medical collections where the original unpaid balance was less than $100. Also, once medical debt is in collections, the collection agency has to wait 180 days to pursue the debt in order to give insurance time to kick in. Moreover, the three main credit reporting agencies will remove medical debt from your credit report if an insurance company ultimately pays it.

Don’t pay medical debt with a credit card

Doing this takes away the protections from collecting medical debt. Also, it may not be any easier to pay off the resulting credit card debt, which will generally be at a much higher interest rate. Covering a medical bill with a credit card should be your last resort.

Medical debt stays on your credit score for seven years

Although bankruptcy stays on your credit for ten years most filers experience their credit rehabilitated in eighteen to twenty-six months, because all of their old debt was discharged. If you do not file, keep in mind that in Alabama the statute of limitations on collecting medical debt is generally six years. After that, the debt becomes uncollectable.

Bankruptcy is an option

Unlike some other kinds of debt, medical bills can be discharged in bankruptcy. You may qualify for Chapter 7, which wipes out most types of debt, or Chapter 13, which creates an affordable repayment plan for your debts.

To discuss debt relief options or how to file for bankruptcy, contact an experienced bankruptcy attorney.