Unpaid medical bills affect millions of Americans, especially the uninsured. Even the most expensive health insurance policies may not cover all the costs. One-third of Americans are dealing with some form of medical debt, which is often at least $2,000.

For many, medical debt is the reason they skip visiting the doctor or seeking medical care when necessary. Many medical debt relief programs are available to help you pay off your debt. However, paying off medical debt differs from paying off your credit cards or personal loans. It requires a different approach. 

This guide will give you a deeper understanding of the options available to help you manage and pay off your debt.

What Is Medical Debt Relief?

Medical debt relief refers to any program or solution to help you get out of debt. This can be through a payment plan, settlement, consolidation, and sometimes even forgiveness.

You can get medical debt relief through your healthcare provider, hospital, nonprofit organization, or a debt relief company

5 Medical Debt Relief Programs to Get You Out of Debt

Having large debts looming over your head can be discouraging and stressful. But there are a number of ways to tackle this debt. Here are some of the most effective medical debt relief programs you can consider.

1. Medical Debt Settlement Programs

An experienced debt settlement company can help you settle your medical debt for less than what you owe. The company working on your behalf can negotiate with debt collectors, hospitals, or medical service providers to agree on a reduced settlement amount for you, so you can potentially settle your medical debt for substantially less than what you may owe right now. 

Dealing and negotiating with collection agencies can be nerve-wracking when done on your own. A debt professional can be your advocate and negotiate an amount that everyone can agree to.

Best for: Those with over $10,000 in debt and several months past due.

2. Medical Debt Consolidation

If you have medical debt from multiple sources, one of the best options is to consolidate them all into a single loan. A personal loan can lower your interest rates and ease repayment.

If you have a good credit score, you may qualify for a debt consolidation loan at a lower, fixed interest rate, which can help you save a considerable amount of money in interest charges. 

You can also consolidate debts with a 0% APR balance transfer offer on a credit card. An important point to note here is that 0% interest comes with a catch. The interest will only remain 0% if you manage to pay off your debt in a set timeframe. 

If you fail to do that, interest will begin accruing on any remaining balance at the normal credit card interest rate (often an APR of 20% or more). Be sure to understand all the terms and conditions of the loan before you sign the agreement. 

Best for: Those with debt from multiple sources and good credit.

3. Medical Debt Counseling

If you need someone to help you navigate your financial situation, consider working with a medical billing advocate and counselor.

An experienced advocate can go through your bills, review your budget, and create a personalized plan for you. They can also work with your medical service provider or doctor’s office to develop a debt management solution that allows you to pay off your debt quickly and in the most effective manner.

Best for: Those with chronic health conditions or significant and recurring medical costs.

4. Payment Plan

Many hospitals, dentists, and physicians can work with a low or no-interest payment plan. This is a simple and quick solution for those who cannot pay off the entire bill amount at once.

The terms you negotiate with the medical provider directly will determine the minimum amount you can pay. Typically, you will make equal payments over a few months until you can cover the entire bill.

You may also want to ask if there are any fees or billing charges associated with your payment plan to better understand its affordability.

5. Medical Credit Cards

Some providers may also offer you medical credit cards. Many of these cards offer an interest-free period of up to 12 months, so it may be a good way to access necessary medical services at the right time.

Be aware that if you do not manage to pay off the entire amount within the interest-free period, you will have to pay standard interest rates (often 20%+) on any balance that remains on your card after that, making it even more expensive and get you deeper into credit card debt.

If you pay late or miss payments, it may also impact your credit score and raise your interest rate on your credit card to the “default” APR of 29.99% or higher. Know all the costs associated with your medical credit card if you opt to go this route.

Best for: Those who have a solid plan to clear the balance during the interest-free period.

Alternatives to Medical Debt Relief Programs

Other than the debt relief options listed above, there are also many alternatives you may want to consider.

Medical Bill Forgiveness

If you have a financial hardship and can prove it, you may be eligible for medical bill forgiveness. If you qualify, your provider may forgive your medical debt entirely.

You may have to provide proof and documents such as tax returns to check eligibility. It is challenging to prove that you have no means to pay off your medical bills, but in certain situations, it may be possible.

You can also send in applications to non-profit organizations such as the Patient Advocate Foundation and CancerCare for financial assistance.

Income-Driven Hardship Plan

Many nonprofit hospitals and for-profit healthcare providers offer income-driven hardship plans. If you have high medical bills and low income, you may be eligible for financial assistance.

Like other negotiated hospital and dental office payment plans, this type of plan can break up the amount you owe into smaller, more manageable monthly payments. Sometimes, your entire debt may also be forgiven through charity care.

To be eligible for an income-driven hardship plan, you must first apply for and be approved for Medicaid.


A last resort option for medical bill debt relief is bankruptcy. Medical bills can be eliminated by bankruptcy because they are unsecured debts.

When you file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you can discharge your medical bills and other unsecured debts, but only after you have used your assets to pay off, or pay down, your other debts first. Chapter 13 bankruptcy is another option if you can stick to a negotiated, court-approved repayment plan that usually lasts three to five years.

It is important to remember that bankruptcy is a permanent and serious decision. It has a major, long-lasting impact on your credit score and is not always easy to qualify for. Bankruptcy should only be considered when you have exhausted all of your other options.

When To Look For Medical Debt Relief

If you have trouble with unpaid medical bills, it may be time to look into options for medical bill debt relief. These programs are right for you if:

  • You owe large medical bills.
  • You are unable to pay off your medical debt.
  • Your medical debt is in collections.
  • You are receiving multiple debt collection calls

Brad Reichert, a debt expert and the founder and managing director of Reichert Asset Management LLC, offers more advice about how to approach medical debt:

“If you have health insurance, make sure you understand your coverage and appeal any denied claims–sometimes, older medical bills can be reduced or even completely covered through insurance, if they are resubmitted as a medical insurance claim,” explains Reichert. You can also investigate whether you qualify for government assistance programs, such as Medicaid or state-specific programs, which may help cover outstanding medical bills,” he adds.

How Your Credit Score Is Affected by Medical Debt Relief

Unpaid medical debts only appear on your credit report after being in collections for a year. If the amount of the original debt was under $500, it will also not appear on your credit records, nor will it affect your FICO scores. This, however, may not help people with large, unpaid debts.

It is important to take care of your medical bills as soon as you receive them to avoid a negative impact on your credit score. If you are unable to pay your debt on time, your bill may go to collections.

In general, very few people will get their debt forgiven. If you have serious medical debt, you will have to pursue more rigorous options like medical debt settlement, medical debt forgiveness, or even bankruptcy. Your credit report will be impacted more or less severely, depending on which program you choose. 

For example, if you opt for a payment plan or medical debt consolidation or are approved for medical debt forgiveness, these strategies may not impact your credit.

Debt settlement may impact your credit, but if you have a very large debt, it may be better to settle it and pay the reduced balance off instead of letting it become uncontrollable.  

Medical Debt Relief Can Help Ease the Burden of Medical Debt

Resolving your medical debt will give you the peace of mind you deserve. Fortunately, there are many financial assistance programs to help ease the burden. If you plan to work with a company offering medical debt relief programs, it is crucial to compare their fee structures and reviews.