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The Wrong Call

A study finds that medical debt collectors often have the wrong information

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the most debt collection complaints it receives have to do with credit cards. The runner-up? Medical debt collection. And as one study recently found, those medical debt complaints have plenty of merit.

As The New York Times reports, the study was conducted by the advocacy group United States Public Interest Research Group (US PIRG). Researchers there analyzed more than 17,000 medical debt collection complaints that were filed with the CFPB over the course of three years. What US PIRG found was that more than 60 percent of the complaints made one of the following claims: that the debt wasn’t owed, that the debt had already been paid, or that the debt wasn’t verified. The complaints ranged from the mundane (a collector made a mistake) to the ridiculous (one debt collector falsely portrayed himself as a doctor to get a consumer to call him back). The bottom line, though, was that medical debt collectors are often barking up the wrong tree about the debt consumers owe.

If you’re called by someone asking about medical debt, first identify who exactly is calling you. If it’s someone from the doctor’s office, you can often negotiate with that person. Ask for a discount for paying in full or for a monthly payment option. They want their money and are often willing to talk options. If it’s a debt collector, ask for verification (in writing) that you actually owe what they’re claiming. If they’re harassing you, file a complaint with the CFPB and send a letter — samples from the CFPB are here — asking them to stop. To keep abreast of any medical debt you might not know you have, be sure to heck your credit report regularly at annualcreditreport.com.

Chris O'Shea

Chris O'Shea