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How to resolve a bogus medical bill

Take these steps to make sure it doesn't affect your credit

By Todd Ossenfort

The Credit Guy
'The Credit Guy,' columnist Todd Ossenfort
The Credit Guy, Todd Ossenfort, is a credit expert and answers readers' questions about credit, counseling and debt issues.

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Question for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Credit Guy,
My fiancee got a bill from her doctor, which we believe is bogus. Should we pay the bill or risk the bill going to collections? -- Eric

Answer for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Eric,
Unfortunately, mistakes can happen. That being said, ignoring a bill is never a good idea. I suggest your fiancee call the doctor's office and request to speak to the person in charge of billing. I would not recommend that she states she believes the charges are bogus on her initial call. Instead, she should simply explain that she does not remember receiving the services or tests listed on the bill and would like to request the office to send her verification of the service. She should try and remain polite even if the person from the doctor's office gets offensive.

The physician's office should not have any problem providing verification. However, if the matter is not resolved after her request, and the person is not cooperative and suggests the bill will be placed for collections unless it is paid, just thank them and end the call. Your fiancee will then have a couple of options. If the bill is for a minor amount, she may opt just to pay the bill so she does not have the hassle of trying to correct matters if and when the physician's office turns the bill over for collections.

The other alternative is to keep an eye on her credit reports for a collection account to appear. She could sign up with the three major credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) for their monitoring services or she could purchase reports once a quarter. She can get the first round of reports free at annualcreditreport.com. If and when the account appears, she should file a dispute with both the credit reporting bureau(s) that reported it and also with the collection agency.

She can file the dispute with the bureau(s) online. File a written dispute with the collection agency by certified mail, return receipt requested. The collector will then have 30 days to provide proof of the debt and may not make any attempts to collect the debt until proof is provided. If the doctor's office cannot provide proof, then the collector must cease any collection activity and remove the item from your credit report. However, if the collector can provide proof, then your fiancee will need to pay what is owed.

The bad news, if the debt is indeed legitimate, is once it hits her credit report it will take seven years for the accurate negative item to be removed. So, my only word of caution is if she decides not to pay the bill, be sure she did not receive the services.

One last thought: If you or your fiancee know an attorney who would do you a favor or if you are willing to pay an attorney, she could have the attorney contact the physician's office regarding the bill. Somehow, a legal professional seems to get more attention than the average bear when it comes to these matters.

Take care of your credit!

See related: How to dispute credit report errors, Consumers get new path to dispute credit report errors, How to dispute a credit card bill with a merchant

Todd Ossenfort is the chief operating officer for Pioneer Credit Counseling in Rapid City, S.D. Pioneer Credit Counseling has been a member of the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies since 1997.

The Credit Guy answers a question about a debt or credit issue from a CreditCards.com reader each week. Send your question to The Credit Guy.

Published: January 4, 2010



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