Connect with us

Credit Cards

How to Audit Your Medical Bills

Published

on

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice. See Lexington Law’s editorial disclosure for more information.

Medical issues are challenging to deal with on their own, but then come the medical bills. Unfortunately, medical bills are the leading cause of bankruptcy in the United States. Medical bills can often be astronomically high, causing many people to fall into debt when trying to pay them off.

However, many Americans don’t realize that they should always be reviewing their medical bills to verify the charges are valid. This is especially true for people who are worried about paying their bills. An audit from Equifax found that hospital bills exceeding $10,000 had, on average, $1,300 in incorrect charges.

You may not need to check your bill thoroughly if you had just a simple consultation, but there are more likely to be errors if you had a more complicated visit, such as a surgery. Keep reading for a comprehensive guide and tips on how to audit your medical bills.

What to Do When Reviewing Your Medical Bills

Take these steps when auditing your medical bills:

Ask for an Itemized Copy

Your medical provider will likely send you a summarized version of your medical bill. This is a condensed version of your statement that groups charges into categories, so it doesn’t provide you the level of detail and insight you need to review your bill thoroughly.

If you receive a summary bill, reach out to the relevant parties and get the itemized version instead. You have the right to ask for an itemized bill, either from the billing department at the medical facility or online. Please note that even a small procedure can result in a multipage statement, so you’ll have a lot of reviewing to do.

Once you have the copy, review it for any suspicious items. This can include:

  • Double billings: Does a line item show up twice when you don’t think it should? For example, two doses of morphine when you’re sure you were only given one. You can compare charges to your medical records to verify or disprove items on your bill.
  • Non-procedural or non-medical-related items: Some hospitals have been caught trying to charge for things like hospital bed rentals, surgical equipment and other reusable supplies. Hospitals aren’t legally allowed to bill these items to patients, and you can dispute these charges immediately.
  • Unused items: Items such as slippers, toiletries and over-the-counter medication can cost hundreds of dollars if the hospital supplies them. For example, a simple over-the-counter painkiller, such as Tylenol, can cost as much as $15 for one pill. Dispute any false claims and, if you can remember to do so, bring your own slippers.
  • Mistaken identity: Mistakes happen on medical bills from time to time. A fellow patient with a similar name or insurance number could have all their medical treatments added to your invoice. Don’t fall victim to mistaken identity, and make sure your charges match your treatment.
  • Refused treatments: At some point during your medical care, you may have refused certain medications or treatments. If you did, make sure they don’t appear on your final bill.
  • Other: Watch out for any other charges that seem incorrect in any way, such as incorrect medication names or dosages, incorrect dates, the wrong name or address, wrong insurance information, wrong surgery minutes, incorrect room classification, and so on.

If there are any codes or words on your bill that you don’t understand, take the time to look them up. You should be able to find explanations online. Some useful resources include this Medical Dictionary, the Medicare code lookup tool and this ICD code reference tool. An ICD code ensures you were billed for the correct diagnosis.

Check Your EOB and Medical Records

Next, check your Explanation of Benefits (EOB) and your medical records. Compare these to a copy of your medical bill. You can get your EOB from your insurance provider. Your EOB will automatically come via mail or email and show what portion of the charges are being paid by the insurance provider. The statement will say “Not a bill” at the top.

You can get your medical records from your health provider. You will likely have to fill out a form requesting a copy of your medical records, and you may be charged a processing fee for the request. The cost can vary for each provider, but states usually limit how much a provider can charge. Ask up front what that fee will be.

Talk to Your Physician

Hospital stays are often traumatic, and it’s unlikely you remember every procedure or medication ordered by the doctor. It’s entirely within your rights to call your doctor and ask them to verify each item. Another sound strategy is to ask for a written copy of the original order. Hospitals can’t bill you for procedures not ordered by your doctor in writing. Compare the written copy of the original order to your medical bill and dispute anything that doesn’t match.

Keep Records of Everything

Keep records of everything, including receipts, dates of services and payments, healthcare visits and provider names. This will help you avoid confusion as you sort through all the details. It will also make any disputes easier as you have all your proof organized. Additionally, if you end up in small claims courts, records will be necessary for your lawsuit.

Hire an Auditor

If you have tried to dispute your bill to no avail, it’s time to take action. You can request an internal audit from the hospital and consider hiring your own auditing service to secure a second opinion. Escalating things to this stage usually uncovers errors in the billing and results in reduced costs.

What Should You Do Next?

Challenge the Charges in Question

The first step in challenging your medical charges is to contact the medical facility’s billing department and try to speak to someone who may reduce your expenses.

Many Americans don’t realize that medical charges are negotiable. Even if you can’t have items removed, you can ask for them to be reduced. Hospitals can ultimately charge whatever they want for medical costs, but you can compare your fees to what is considered standard. Use the FairHealth tool for comparison. If your charges are double or triple the standard, bring this up in negotiations.

You can also file an appeal with your insurance company.

Work With a Patient Advocate

If challenging the charges on your own doesn’t result in anything, you may consider hiring a patient advocate. An advocate will negotiate on your behalf, and they have the experience to garner results. Usually, advocates only charge you if they’re successful in getting a reduction in your bill, and their charges are typically a percentage of what you saved on the bill.

File a Formal Complaint

Some cases of medical price gouging are downright illegal. If you believe yours to be an unlawful situation, you have every right to file a formal complaint with your state’s attorney general’s office. Creating a record of abuse can also help protect your credit from further unfair damage.

Protect Your Credit

When your medical debt is sent to collections, you have a period of 180 days before it appears on your credit report. This means you have some time to work things out before your credit is impacted.

Ultimately, you need to make sure you take care of your bills in one way or another. Negotiate what you can, pay what you can and communicate with billing staff so they know what you’re doing. This can delay them from sending the billing to collections. Even if the medical debt isn’t fair, it can end up being sent to collections and ruining your credit.

Be proactive in auditing your medical bills quickly and acting as soon as you suspect anything is wrong. If you’ve already had medical bills show up on your credit report, you can still work to improve your credit score. Consider using credit repair services from Lexington Law. We’ll help you address any unfair and unverified negative items on your credit report. Get your credit score back on track today.


Reviewed by John Heath, Directing Attorney of Lexington Law Firm. Written by Lexington Law.

Born and raised in Salt Lake City, John Heath earned his BA from the University of Utah and his Juris Doctor from Ohio Northern University. John has been the Directing Attorney of Lexington Law Firm since 2004. The firm focuses primarily on consumer credit report repair, but also practices family law, criminal law, general consumer litigation and collection defense on behalf of consumer debtors. John is admitted to practice law in Utah, Colorado, Washington D. C., Georgia, Texas and New York.

Note: Articles have only been reviewed by the indicated attorney, not written by them. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client or fiduciary relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website owner, authors, reviewers, contributors, contributing firms, or their respective agents or employers.

Source link

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Credit Cards

Do I need a rainy day fund?

Published

on

Hand holding pen and using calculator.

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice. See Lexington Law’s editorial disclosure for more information.

When it comes to your finances, not every day can be rainbows and sunshine, and unexpected expenses can pop up more often than you’d like. While budgeting is an essential part of financial planning, sometimes setting aside money for unplanned expenses can go right over your head. To avoid going into debt over small inconveniences, setting aside money and putting it into a rainy day fund is crucial.                      

In this article, we’ll go over what a rainy day fund is, how it differs from an emergency fund and how much you should be saving. We will also give you tips on how you can save for those stormy days. 

What is a rainy day fund?

In 2019, 15 percent of adults said they would use a credit card a carry a balance to cover a $400 unexpected expense. Source: Federal Reserve.

The purpose of a rainy day fund is to have money set aside that is readily available for life’s unexpected financial situations that tend to occur outside of your normal living expenses. Whether you need to buy a new phone or have to pay for an unexpected car repair, a rainy day fund can help you cover the costs of these unplanned and inconvenient situations. 

If not accounted for, these costs can disrupt your monthly budget, which can in turn increase your chances of going into credit card debt. According to the Federal Reserve, 37 percent of adults said they could not or would not pay for a sudden $400 expense with cash or a cash equivalent, with 15 percent saying they would use a credit card and carry a balance to cover the costs (and 12 percent wouldn’t be able to pay by any means). 

Having a financial cushion such as a rainy day fund can help individuals afford the costs of these expenses and avoid racking up unnecessary debt.

Rainy day fund vs. emergency fund

Though they may seem similar, emergency funds and rainy day funds are not the same. Emergency funds are meant for larger financial emergencies and act as a financial safety net when things like a job loss or a sudden medical expense occurs. 

Should an emergency like this happen, you would have money to cover everyday expenses, such as rent, groceries, car payments and other recurring bills. Many experts recommend having at least three to six months’ worth of living expenses saved in an emergency fund, but this amount can differ depending on your circumstances. 

In simple terms, emergency funds are used for great financial hardships, while rainy day funds are used to cover smaller, unforeseen expenses. 

How much should you have in a rainy day fund? 

Saving for a rainy day fund can look different for everyone depending on their needs and lifestyle but having at least $500 to $1,000 saved is usually recommended. This amount should be able to cover smaller expenses that come up and help put your mind at ease whenever they occur. 

On average, you should aim to have $500 to $1,000 in your rainy day fund. Source: Lexington Law.

When forecasting your rainy day budget, consider any long-term expenses that could pop up. Do you have a pet that is nearing old age that may need to be taken to the vet any time soon? Maybe you have children and want to budget for those impromptu doctor’s office visits. Whatever your situation, a rainy day fund can be the umbrella that protects you from any unexpected financial storm. 

Where should I put my rainy day fund? 

Your rainy day fund should be liquid, meaning it is easily accessible to you and can be pulled out at any given moment, without any additional fees. Money market accounts, high-yield bank accounts and traditional savings accounts are all great options that can keep your money safe and accessible. Your rainy day fund should be kept separate from your other accounts, such as your emergency fund. Avoid tapping into your savings, as this money should only be used when small inconveniences arise. 

4 quick tips on saving for a rainy day fund

Saving for a rainy day fund can be fairly simple. Since these accounts are for smaller expenses and don’t require a hefty amount of cash, you can likely save up enough money within a year. Here are four quick saving tips to help get you started: 

1. Tighten up your budget 

As with any savings account, you want to take a hard look at your budget and see if you can afford to cut down some of your spending. For example, you can save money by eating out less and cooking at home more. You can also limit your coffee runs to only once a week as opposed to every day. This type of spending adds up, and by tightening up your budget a bit, you’ll be able to quickly put that money into your rainy day savings. 

2. Set up automatic transfers 

Automatic transfers are an easy way to put cash aside without even having to think about it. Set up an automatic transfer from your checking account to your savings account and determine a monthly amount that is feasible for your budget. Transferring $50 every month will put your savings account at $600 in one year.

Another option is a swipe-and-save feature, which most banks offer. Each time you swipe your debit card, your bank will automatically transfer $1—or any amount you choose—into your savings account. Though this may seem like a small amount, you’d be surprised how fast it can add up. 

3. Save your change

Saving your spare change and cash may seem old school, but it’s an extremely effective way to save for your rainy day fund. Extra cash from a birthday or holiday can go straight into a savings jar. Eventually, you can build up your cash savings and add it to your rainy day fund whenever the time is right.

4. Open a dedicated rainy day savings account

As mentioned, a high-yield savings account is a great option for storing your rainy day fund. Not only are these funds easily accessible, but you’re also able to earn interest on each deposit you make. Shop around for accounts that will make the most sense for you—keep interest, deposit requirements and fees in mind. If you don’t have to tap into your rainy day fund often, you can end up earning more money than you would in a traditional savings account. 

Though it’s impossible to prepare for all of life’s unexpected events, setting up a rainy day fund can help give you peace of mind should any financial storms come your way. Keep educating yourself on how to prepare for these life events to ensure that you keep your credit health in good standing. 


Reviewed by Anna Grozdanov, Associate Attorney at Lexington Law Firm. Written by Lexington Law.

Anna Grozdanov was born in Sofia, Bulgaria but moved to Arizona with her family. Ms. Grozdanov grew up in Arizona and went on to graduate Magna Cum Laude from the University of Arizona with a B.A. in both Philosophy and Psychology. Ms. Grozdanov finished her first year of law school at Pepperdine University School of Law in California, but returned to Arizona where she graduated from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. Since graduating from law school, Ms. Grozdanov has worked in Estate Planning, Estate Administration, Probate, and Personal Injury. She has extensive experience advising and working closely with clients and applies these skills at Lexington by helping clients achieve their credit repair goals. Ms. Grozdanov is licensed to practice law in Arizona. She is located in the Phoenix office.

Note: Articles have only been reviewed by the indicated attorney, not written by them. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client or fiduciary relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website owner, authors, reviewers, contributors, contributing firms, or their respective agents or employers.

Source link

Continue Reading

Credit Cards

How minimum monthly credit card payments affect your credit

Published

on

credit card monthly payment

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice. See Lexington Law’s editorial disclosure for more information.

Many people don’t hesitate to pay just the minimum payment on their credit card. This is especially true if the total balance is high or the cardholder is confused about the credit card lending terms and doesn’t understand the impact of paying the minimum balance. But, making just the minimum payment can have a greater impact on your credit score than most people realize.

Learn how lenders calculate the minimum payment, what it means for your debt and how making a minimum payment affects your credit.

What are credit card minimum payments?

Your credit card minimum payment is the least amount of money your lender will accept toward your credit card balance each month. You need to pay the minimum payment by its due date to avoid late penalties and other fees and to keep a consistent payment history. The minimum payment amount is displayed on your credit card bill and often ranges from one to three percent of your total credit card bill. 

How is a minimum payment calculated?

Your lender calculates the minimum payment based on your total balance and any outstanding interest charges. 

Each credit card lender has a different method for calculating its minimum monthly payment. The two primary methods are formula and percentage.

Formula

Many of the major credit card lenders use a formula to calculate your minimum payment. The formula picks an amount and adds one to two percent of your monthly balance. For example, let’s say your lender picked $35 as the minimum payment amount, plus two percent interest, and you spent $500 in new charges for the month. In this scenario, your minimum payment would be $35 plus $10 ($500 x 2%) for a total of $45.

If your total balance is less than the minimum payment, then your whole balance is due. Following the previous example, if your lender charges $35 plus two percent interest but your credit card balance is $20, you will owe $20 for that month, plus any fees and interest from the previous month.

Percentage

Other lenders—typically credit unions and financial institutions—use a simpler, percentage formula to calculate the minimum monthly payment. This method is most common for high-risk borrowers with poor credit. The percentage can range from four to six percent.

For example, if you had a $1,000 credit card balance with a lender that charges six percent, you would owe a minimum payment of $60 plus any additional fees ($1,000 x 6%). 

Some lenders will include any past-due fees in the minimum payment. 

What happens if you make only the minimum payment on your credit card?

Making the minimum payment on your credit card is better than paying nothing at all. As long as you always make the minimum payment, you should not receive negative items on your credit report, as it relates to your payment history. 

However, making only the minimum payment means you may see greater charges for interest, resulting in you paying more over time.

Take a look at this example: Let’s say you have $5,000 in credit card debt and your lender offers an 18 percent interest rate with a minimum payment of two percent of the balance. In this scenario, your minimum payment is $100 per month, which can look very tempting. But, it will take you almost eight years to pay off your balance and you will pay a total of $4,311 in interest—almost doubling what you originally owed. 

Your minimum payment is generally a small portion of your total debt, and most of that payment goes to interest. As a result, you are slowly progressing toward paying off your principal amount, and you could end up paying minimum payments for many years.

Additionally, your credit card utilization may be high if you make only minimum payments. Credit utilization is the amount of credit extended to you by the lender versus the amount you owe. If you maintain a high credit card balance while only paying the minimum payment, you are at risk of having high credit utilization month after month. 

Several factors determine your credit score, but credit utilization accounts for 30 percent of your overall score. So, maintaining a high utilization ratio can negatively impact your credit score. 

Finally, when you maintain a high credit card balance and a routine of only paying the minimum payment, you may fall behind on payments. When you make late payments or miss the payment entirely, having a negative payment history can also lower your overall credit score. 

What should you do if you can’t afford to pay in full?

If you can’t pay your credit card in full, don’t panic. Approximately 47 percent of Americans have credit card debt, so it’s quite common—but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay off credit card debt. Follow the steps below to tackle your debt efficiently and in a way that works for you. 

Pay as much as you can

As mentioned before, it’s essential to always make at least the minimum payment on time. This will help you avoid negative items on your credit report for late or missed payments. However, whenever possible, try to make more than the minimum payment. This will help you pay down your principal debt faster and pay less interest over time. 

Come up with a repayment strategy

If you have multiple credit cards with debt or various types of debt, it’s crucial to have a repayment strategy. 

There are two popular debt repayment strategies: the avalanche and the snowball. The snowball method recommends you pay off your debt from smallest to largest (like a growing snowball). This method is meant to give people positive reinforcement because they feel motivated as they knock out several of their small debts quickly before moving on to the larger debts. 

The avalanche method is a more systematic approach—you list all your debts and their interest rates and pay the one with the highest interest rate first. This method aims to save you money in the long run by getting of higher-interest debt first. 

Decide which approach fits your style. Both of these methods are highly effective in their own way. 

Budget

A budget is the first step to taking control of your financial health. Without a budget, you may not know where your money is going or where you can save. Often, a budget can highlight unnecessary spending. There are plenty of free apps, such as Mint, that allow you to have an automated look at all your spending and build a budget. 

Talk to your credit card issuer

You can reach out to your credit card issuer if you’re going through financial hardship to see what they can do for you. Some credit lenders will offer to lower your interest rates, which will help you tackle your principal debt much faster. Some financial hardships can include the loss of a job, an injury or a medical incident. Ultimately it will be your lender that decides if your situation merits help. 

Consider a balance transfer

There are a lot of credit card options out there. If your credit card has a high-interest rate, you may consider a balance transfer. Some credit card lenders offer a low-interest promotional rate when you transfer a credit balance to them. During this time, you can make a significant dent in your debt. However, you should know that some balance transfers come with a one-time fee, so make sure to consider this as well. 

Care for your credit

Your credit is your door to many financial opportunities. A healthy credit score can help your chances for approval for auto leases, mortgages, personal loans and more. It can also help you get a much lower interest rate and better borrowing terms when you receive financial products.

Improving your credit takes work. While focusing on your credit card’s impact on your credit score, make sure your overall credit profile is accurate. Errors and inaccuracies can greatly hurt your credit score and put a dent in your debt-relief goals. Professional credit repair companies can help you navigate the challenges of credit reporting inaccuracies.

The first step toward establishing a healthy credit history is making sure all items are listed fairly and accurately—professional credit repair is an easy, effective way to get your credit score back on track.


Reviewed by Shana Dawson Fish, Associate Attorney at Lexington Law Firm. Written by Lexington Law.

Shana Dawson Fish is an Arizona native whose family migrated from Guyana. Shana graduated from Arizona State University in 2008 with her Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice & Criminology, and in 2012 she graduated from Arizona Summit Law School earning her Juris Doctor. During law school, Shana was a Judicial Intern at the United States District Court for the District of Arizona and the Maricopa County Superior Court. In 2016, Shana was awarded a legal defense contract and represented clients as a Trial Attorney in juvenile proceedings. Shana has experience in litigating numerous trials and diligently pursuing the rights of her clients. As a Trial Attorney, Shana identified the needs of her clients and also represented debtors in bankruptcy proceedings. Shana is licensed to practice in Arizona and is an Associate Attorney in the Phoenix office.

Note: Articles have only been reviewed by the indicated attorney, not written by them. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client or fiduciary relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website owner, authors, reviewers, contributors, contributing firms, or their respective agents or employers.

Source link

Continue Reading

Credit Cards

What is an escalated information request?

Published

on

escalated information request

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice. See Lexington Law’s editorial disclosure for more information.

When you discover an error on one of your credit reports, such as an inaccurate address or a record of a late payment that you know you paid on time, you can begin the credit dispute process to hopefully correct the error. This is one of your rights as a consumer, according to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

But what happens if your credit dispute or challenge fails? If you are like many consumers, the process may not initially yield favorable results. This is where an escalated information request comes in. Read on to learn what your options are following a dispute rejection.

What are the steps involved in the credit dispute process?

There are four main steps in the credit dispute process.

First, you send your dispute letter to whichever of the three credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion—shows the error on your credit report. In your letter, identify the information that you want to dispute, explain why you’re disputing it and provide any relevant evidence that supports your case. Ask that they remove or correct the information in question. (You can use this sample letter from the FTC if you’re not sure where to start.)

Second, you may reach out to the data furnisher that provided the inaccurate information to the credit bureaus, such as a creditor or another financial institution.  Data furnishers should conduct a reasonable investigation to verify the accuracy of the information they’re reporting to the bureaus if someone submits a dispute, and this could help you as well.

Third, wait for the credit bureaus and data furnishers to respond to your dispute. They typically have 30 to 60 days to investigate your claim. However, there is the possibility that they might deem it “frivolous,” which might happen if your dispute is inaccurate or if you repeat the same claims without adding new evidence.

Once you get a response, review the results of the investigation. If your dispute is accepted and the information is confirmed to be inaccurate, your report should be updated accordingly. If your dispute is rejected because it’s considered frivolous or the information on your report is seemingly verified, you have a couple of options—you can either let the issue drop, or attempt to escalate your dispute.

What do I do if my dispute is rejected?

Denial isn’t the end of the line. When a credit dispute is rejected, it is up to you to continue your efforts to ensure you have a fair and accurate report. Before resigning yourself to defeat, you may follow the steps below to escalate your information request.

1. Send additional letters

Draft another set of letters to the credit bureaus and a new one for the creditor in question. Outline the following:

  • Your disappointment with the initial credit dispute decision
  • Information about the account and the nature of your dispute
  • Detailed information about the dispute (include supporting documents)
  • And, for the bureaus, a list of the incorrect items on your credit report and how they should be corrected

At the end of your letters, you may document your intention to escalate your claim to the appropriate authorities if needed. Then you may mail your letters and supporting documents to the credit bureaus and relevant creditors with a return receipt requested.

2. Wait for responses

It may take up to 60 days to receive responses. Keep copies of your letters, emails and any phone calls between yourself and the credit bureaus and creditors. Be sure to write down dates, times, names of representatives and a summary of your discussions. In the case that you need this documentation, you will be very glad you kept a record of the events.

3. Review the final decision

If, upon reviewing the final decision you are still not satisfied with the outcome, you may send copies of your escalated information requests and supporting documents to the appropriate authorities, such as the Federal Trade Commission and your state’s Attorney General.

However, you should strongly consider speaking with an attorney to discuss your situation to determine what are your best options. In each of these endeavors, make sure you have enough evidence to prove your case and discredit your claim’s denial.

Protect your rights

Facilitating escalated information requests can be a long and arduous process, especially following an initial credit dispute. However, you have a right to fair and accurate credit reports, and the long-term benefits of accurate credit can make the dispute process worth your time and effort.

Make sure to regularly review your credit reports for errors, and if you find any, take action as soon as you can. You can initiate the credit dispute process yourself, but if you don’t have the time to dedicate to it or if you would rather work with a professional, there are credit repair companies who can help. Contact Lexington Law today to learn more about how we can help you as consumer advocates.

Source link

Continue Reading

Trending