Home > Managing Debt > Should You Ever Pay Your Medical Bills With a Credit Card?

Comments 3 Comments
Advertiser Disclosure


Since the Affordable Care Act, the large majority of us have health insurance, which means we all have to figure out how we’ll cover co-pays, deductibles and bills for expenses not covered. While paying a co-pay with cash isn’t unheard of, you may find it more convenient to pay with a credit or debit card.

Increasingly, you’ll be asked for a co-pay when you make a scheduled health care visit (there are exceptions; certain checkups and procedures require no co-pay). In that case, a credit card may be your best bet. That should give you some time to come up with the co-pay if it’s not in your regular budget. And if you have a rewards card and will be able to pay the card off in full, some of the pain of an unexpected bill can be mitigated by a small reward. (Or, if you anticipate a large expense — think pregnancy or knee replacement — a balance-transfer card might be useful if it has a low- or zero-interest promotional rate.)

Especially in the case of non-routine care, you may also be faced with co-insurance, the amount you have to pay after insurance pays. That can be stickier, because sometimes insurance doesn’t pay as quickly or as much as you might hope, and you may be getting a bill that you have reason to believe you won’t ultimately owe. What then? Do you pay it?

It actually happened to me recently when, after nearly six months, I worried that a still-unpaid bill might be sent to collections, thus doing serious damage to my credit score. I truly believed insurance would eventually cover the expense (I had appealed a denial) … but also that the account was close to being turned over to collections. And so I put it on a credit card at the beginning of a billing cycle, to maximize the time between when I charged it and when I would have to pay it, hoping that insurance would come through and pay its share of the bill.

Eventually insurance did come through. The medical provider told me I’d be issued a refund in 4-6 weeks. Instead, I paid the provider the appropriate amount for my co-pay with a check, and successfully disputed what I charged to my credit card with the credit issuer (and thus had the charge removed).

If you’re hoping to use a credit card to buy time on a bill you don’t think you should have to pay, here’s what to know:

  • Paying carries its own risks. Once the bill is paid, health care providers may be less motivated to help you get insurance to pay. In addition, if you’ve already paid the “retail” rate, you lose the ability to negotiate a lower price. If you’ve ever looked at a bill and seen how much the “negotiated rate” your insurance company pays compared to the full retail rate, you’ll understand why it’s such a big deal to potentially lose that ability.
  • But not paying the bill is also risky. Your credit report can reflect late payments (most health care providers do not report to credit reporting agencies, but a few do). If your account is sent to collections, your credit score is likely to suffer. You could lose a good credit score that you’ve worked hard to build, and you could either not be approved for credit or you could end up having to pay more in interest if you do qualify. If you’re concerned about how a medical bill could be impacting your credit, there are many ways to check your credit scores for free, including through Credit.com.

For me, paying and timing it so that I had nearly two billing cycles to continue to fight with my insurer bought me time to resolve it. Disputing it (even if insurance had not eventually paid) would have resulted in a bit more time while the credit card issuer investigated. And all of that time was interest-free. (I should add that the reason I filed a chargeback is because I know that under federal law the provider couldn’t drag its feet and take “4-6 weeks” to issue a refund to my card after they agreed I was due one. It wasn’t just a stall tactic.) Most important to me, it prevented a huge hit to my credit for a bill I actually did not owe.

More on Credit Cards:

Image: iStock

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

  • Pesos

    If you’re in a position where you absolutely can’t pay the bill even after insurance you can try to submit a financial application. The State and Federal government as well as charities help fund hospitals so that people can get care that they need. And a lot of hospitals write off a lot of bills to receive tax cuts, but these are reserved for seriously ill people.

  • heavyw8t

    Another option is a Care Credit account if it is not a recurring event. When I had a medical emergency, (for my dog) I needed to do something, and quickly. I went for the Care Credit account, which allowed me to pay over 6 months with 0% interest. And as is my SOP, I paid it off in 4 months instead of 6 just to make sure I wouldn’t have to eat any interest. In your example it was a billing snafu so no matter what path you had gone down the circumstances would not have changed, but for the readers who may be one step back from there at the point where they are just incurring the expense, Care Credit is a great option. My bill was not huge ($600) and I was extended a $3000 credit line. It’s nice to have in my wallet for an emergency.

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      Good to know it worked well for you.

Credit.com receives compensation for the financial products and services advertised on this site if our users apply for and sign up for any of them.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team