Unexpected medical expenses happen. You may have a high-deductible health plan or short-term medical insurance where the benefit kicks in after you pay thousands of dollars in up-front out-of-pocket costs. Or you may be uninsured and do not qualify for any form of public assistance. If you have medical debt, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), a federal consumer protection law, offers some protection and breathing room from the steady stream of phone calls, letters and emails you can expect from collection agencies.
Here are six things you need to know about your rights under the FDCPA when you are unable to pay a medical bill:
1) If you question whether you owe all or part of the bill, you can dispute the debt in writing with the collection agency. You have 30 days from when you are notified of the collection to dispute the debt.
2) Once notified of your dispute, the agency must stop collection activity until it gives you proof that the debt is genuine. If it cannot or will not do so, the debt must come off your credit report.
3) The FDCPA limits how and when a debt collector can contact you. They can only call during certain times of the day and can not use third parties to contact you. They must cease communications if you send a letter requesting it.
4) The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) administers the FDCPA. Its website provides sample letters that can be used to dispute debt and request a cessation of communications.
5) Collection agencies must be truthful and are not permitted to harass, intimidate or threaten.
6) If you feel that a collection agencies have violated any of these protections, you can file a complaint with the CFPB.
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