Should You Use a Credit Card to Pay for Medical Treatment?

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  • Many people struggle to cover their medical costs.
  • While you may have the option to swipe a credit card to pay for medical treatment, there may be a more cost-effective alternative.
  • Look into payment plans, or see if you can negotiate with your medical provider to lower the bill.

There may be other options to consider.

If you've ever had a medical bill wreak havoc on your finances, you're certainly not alone. An estimated 23 million Americans owe more than $250 in medical bills, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. And many people owe a lot more than that.

If you're faced with a medical expense, your first inclination may be to put it on a credit card and do your best to pay it off as quickly as you can. But here are a couple of options to pursue that might cost you less money in the long run.

1. Get on a payment plan

It's not unheard of for patients to receive a medical bill they can't pay in full right away. The good news is that many medical facilities will put you on a payment plan that gives you extra time to pay off your medical bills if you ask for one. And often, you'll be eligible for 0% interest.

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A credit card, by contrast, is going to charge you interest the moment you carry your balance forward, unless you happen to have a 0% introductory APR. And avoiding interest charges on your medical bills could make them far less expensive to pay off.

2. Use your HSA or FSA

If you have money in a health savings account (HSA) or a flexible spending account (FSA), then it pays to use those funds before resorting to swiping a credit card. In fact, FSAs force you to spend down your plan balance every year or risk forfeiting your money, so there's no reason not to swipe an FSA card if there's a balance on it.

Now HSAs are a little bit different. Because HSA funds never expire, and because these accounts allow you to invest money you don't need to withdraw right away, there are benefits to leaving your HSA alone and paying your medical bills out of pocket if you can afford to do so. But if given the choice between dipping into your HSA and racking up credit card debt in the course of covering a medical expense, the former is really your better bet.

Don't assume you're stuck with your bill in full

Getting a large medical bill can be stressful, no matter what payment method you use to take care of it. But before you pay that bill, look it over carefully. It's not all that uncommon for medical bills to contain errors, so it's worth giving yours a close read before handing over money in any form.

Also, you shouldn't hesitate to negotiate medical bills that are a burden to pay. In some cases, your provider might cut you a break, such as if you're paying for a service your health insurance company wouldn't pick up the tab for.

In a worst-case scenario, you can always swipe a credit card to cover medical treatment you need. But before you go that route and rack up interest charges in the process, see if there's a less costly way to tackle your healthcare expenses.

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