Missed appointment charge hurts credit

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Dear Debt Adviser,
Is it legal for a doctor’s office to report an unpaid “missing appointment charge” to a collection agency and then the agency reports it to the credit bureau? This happened to my son.
— Mary

Dear Mary,
It sounds like it may be time for your son to take responsibility for his actions. He missed the appointment and didn’t call. On a good day, that’s rude. In business transactions, it’s more damaging. The counselor in me can’t help pointing out what might be the root of a problem and not just dealing with the symptomatic aftermath!

Nevertheless, I’m glad you wrote because I believe many people are not aware of how unpaid medical bills can potentially damage your credit history. Let’s explore how this might happen.

It is true most medical providers do not report payment history to the major credit bureaus. Doctors, in particular, see themselves as skilled practitioners of the medical arts, not business people. However, if a medical bill goes unpaid long enough for the medical provider’s administrative staff to sell or turn over the debt to a collection agency, most collectors do report accounts to the credit bureaus. And they are perfectly within their rights to do so. My advice to your son is to work out a payment plan with his medical provider before the account is placed for collections. Most providers are more than willing to negotiate a fair payment plan. My advice to you is to stay out of it. It’s his bill, his doctor and his life.

My guess is that your son knows he blew off the doctor and expected no one would call him on the missed visit. Every doctor I visit has a prominent sign posted or includes in the forms he or she has patients fill out, that there will be a charge for missed appointments unless they are notified by a certain time in advance.

If your son thinks he doesn’t owe his doctor anything at all because he did not receive any services, despite the fact he took an appointment away from someone else and didn’t use it, he is mistaken. My understanding is that as long as the provider has posted in the office or has otherwise communicated in writing to the patient that a charge will be made for missed appointments, the charge is legitimate.

Not paying the bill on the principle that a missed appointment charge is unfair doesn’t work in the adult world, and it may not work out so well for his credit. In your son’s case, the unpaid account sounds as if it is legitimate. Therefore, disputing it as inaccurate with the credit bureaus will not make it go away. It will remain on his credit report for seven years from the first date of delinquency.

I recommend that your son quickly pay the collector what he owes. The longer he dodges the bill the more he will owe. If the debt goes to court he will be looking at legal fees and a public record on his credit. I hope he learns from this experience that being responsible is good for his credit, wallet and professional relationships.

Good luck!

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