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Featured, Health, News

Facing a Medical Debt Lawsuit? Take These 10 Steps First

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

If you’ve ever been sued by a debt collector or service provider over medical debt, you know how stressful it can be. If you couldn’t afford to pay the original debt, you likely still can’t afford it. And if you want to defend yourself, you’ll have to face the additional time and cost of going to court.

You should know that you’re not alone. According to staff attorney Chi Chi Wu of the National Consumer Law Center, when you look at debt collection items on credit reports in America, “half of those items are from medical debt. Not credit cards. Not auto loans. Medical debt.”

You may be tempted to ignore the suit because you know you can’t pay, but Wu advises against inaction.

“Always show up,” she said. “Never ignore a lawsuit. If you ignore it, the debt collector or service provider on the other side automatically wins by default.”

What happens when you show up, though? Here are the steps to take if you’re facing a medical debt lawsuit.

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As low as 3.49%

24 to 60

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1. Find out where the debt comes from

You can’t properly address your lawsuit if you don’t understand where the debt comes from. If you look back at your past bills, you should be able to find a date of service and itemized list of services rendered with associated costs.

You may be in debt because you’re uninsured, but even insured patients can end up in this boat, thanks in part to a rise in high-deductible health plans. Mistakes can happen as well. If a patient visits an in-network hospital, but is unknowingly seen by an out-of-network doctor, he or she can be charged out-of-network fees. Doctors are independent contractors, so while the hospital may be affiliated with your insurance company, that doesn’t mean your service provider is in-network.

2. Don’t ignore the lawsuit

In many consumer debt cases, people don’t have an attorney. Hiring an attorney to advise you can be a wise move, however. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune either, Wu says.

Most lawyers will provide a free consult before taking you on as a client. In this consult, they may be able to help you find your bearings so you can represent yourself.

Wu recommends seeking help from the Legal Services Corporation, a government-supervised nonprofit that provides legal representation at a low cost to lower-income households. You can also seek help from nonprofit legal assistance firms in your area.

If you’re uninsured, one way to keep the case from going to court is to contact the doctor or debt collector immediately to negotiate your bill down to Medicaid/Medicare prices — which are often two to three times less than that of the gross price you were billed. When a provider refuses to negotiate down to these lower rates, it’s called “discriminatory pricing,” and your legal counsel may recommend using this as a defense in court.

3. Prepare for court

The first thing you must do is prepare an answer to the lawsuit, including any defenses or countersuits that you want to raise. This will involve filing paperwork at the court, mailing paperwork and showing up on your initial court date. Again, it’s advisable to get a lawyer to help you through this, or at least to get a consult. The National Association of Consumer Advocates has a helpful video explainer on preparing to defend a medical debt lawsuit.

It’s important to make this initial court date. It is very unlikely the judge will grant you a continuance that would move the court date further out.

There are some exceptions to this. If you are being sued in a state in which you no longer reside, it’s easier to mount a defense if you can’t appear in court. In fact, appearing could work against you, demonstrating to the court that you have no problem traveling from state to state.

If you’ve been served in a state outside of your own, it’s very important to get legal representation.

This is because you must answer the suit, but you must also do so in a way that does not imply you are submitting to that court’s jurisdiction over you. This process is one that is best handled by someone trained in law.

After you answer the suit, the court will set a date for the discovery part of the trial. You’ll have to file more paperwork with the court before this date so you are able to present evidence that you aren’t liable for the debt.

4. Understand wage garnishment

If you’re found liable for the debt, or you fail to answer the lawsuit and the judge rules against you, the court may issue an order giving the lender or collection agency the ability to garnish your wages. By federal law, they cannot leave you with less than 75% of your income, or $217.50 per week — whichever is greater. State law may protect you even further.

Medical debt collectors are able to garnish your wages, but they cannot garnish Social Security benefits, disability insurance payments, unemployment insurance payments, VA benefits, pension distributions, child support payments or public assistance benefits. If you have any of these forms of income, it’s wise to set up a different bank account where those funds are deposited, and keep all garnishable wages in another account.

You should do this because a court order can go after your bank account balances, too. While that doesn’t make it legal to take money that came from any of these protected sources, separate bank accounts will make the incidence of errors smaller — saving you headaches and potential victimization.

5. Know Your Rights

When it comes to medical billing and debts, you do have rights as a patient. Make sure you understand them so you can lower or eliminate your bill before or after you’ve been sued.

Were you served properly?

Sometimes wages are garnished before the plaintiff is even aware that there’s a lawsuit. This happens most commonly when you’re improperly served. Examples of using “improperly served” as a legal defense include papers being only mailed to you and not delivered in person, papers being left at an incorrect residence or papers being mailed to an old address. Being “improperly served” does not mean the papers were left with a family member or friend at your residence and they forgot to tell you about it. If that happened, you’re still on the hook.

If you have been improperly served, or if you find out that the court mistakenly started garnishing wages because you have the same name as an actual plaintiff, you should contact a lawyer immediately to figure out what can be done to address your specific situation.

6. Get low-cost or free help from financial assistance programs

In 2016, about 58% of community hospitals in the U.S. were not-for-profit, according to the American Hospital Association. This gives them tax-exempt status, but also obligates them to give back to their communities. Under the Affordable Care Act, these hospitals must provide some type of financial assistance program to low-income patients. Even if you aren’t from a low-income household, you should apply, as some hospitals extend their programs far beyond the poverty line. Many hospitals also extend this program to insured patients.

These hospitals have an obligation to let you know about their financial assistance programs within four months of when your bill has been issued.

You have until eight months after the initial bill was issued to apply for financial assistance. You have the right to do this even if the debt has been sold to a third-party collector, and even if that collector is the one suing you in court.

7. Be aware of discriminatory pricing

We’ve already touched on the fact that you can try to negotiate your medical bills down to Medicaid/Medicare prices. If you are being sued in court and are uninsured, discriminatory pricing can serve as a defense. If you qualify for the hospital’s financial assistance program, they legally must reduce your bill to the amount generally billed to insured patients.

8. Look out for balance billing

Balance billing happens when your hospital or medical provider bills you instead of or in addition to Medicaid or Medicare. It’s a forbidden practice, and you are not responsible for any amounts due when this happens.

You may be able to identity balance billing if you receive an “Explanation of Benefits” from your insurer that states the amount they covered and the amount you still owe. If this does not match the bill your medical provider sent you, there is cause for concern. Additionally, if the bill you receive does not show any payment from your insurance when you are, in fact, on Medicaid or Medicare, it may be a sign that you’re a victim of balance billing.

9. Stop lawsuits before they begin

If something about your bill doesn’t look quite right, there are ways to reduce it to a fair amount.

First of all, make sure the hospital didn’t make an error that resulted in a larger bill. One way this could happen is if something they did caused you to have to stay in the hospital an extra night, inflating your costs beyond what they should have been originally.

Another good avenue to pursue is to have your bill examined by a medical bill advocate. They’re familiar with coding and laws that you’re not. You may find one in your community by asking around, or you can start your search with the National Association of Healthcare Advocacy Consultants.

Debt collectors, hospitals and other medical providers don’t want to take you to court. It costs them money, and the odds of them actually getting a full payment are very low. They are almost always willing to work with you before launching a lawsuit. Negotiate. Apply for financial assistance. Set up zero-interest payment plans directly with your health care provider.

Keep the lines of communication open so no one ends up with the additional costs of litigation.

10. Weigh bankruptcy

At any point in this process, you can choose to file for bankruptcy. Filing for bankruptcy may alleviate the medical debt. Just be cautious. Bankruptcy is not a decision that should be made lightly, as it will remain on your credit report for up to 10 years and make it difficult to qualify for new credit.

There are two types of bankruptcy: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. Chapter 7 requires you to sell off all your assets to settle what you can of your debt obligations. If you don’t have any or many assets, that aspect of it doesn’t matter much. What will matter is that the debt will essentially disappear after you file.

If you file for Chapter 13, you do not have to sell off any assets, but the debt won’t disappear either. Instead, you’ll be put on a three- to five-year payment plan in order to settle.

This may make sense if the court has already issued an order against your wages, but at any other point in your case, it would make more sense to try to set up a payment plan with the medical service provider or debt collection agency directly. Their last resort is wage garnishment. Don’t let it get that far. Know your rights so you can negotiate with them effectively rather than damaging your credit through bankruptcy.

Bottom line

Being served with a medical debt lawsuit can be a scary experience. However, understanding your rights and getting assistance from a patient advocate should help make the experience a bit less harrowing.

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Featured, Personal Loans, Reviews

Marcus by Goldman Sachs Review: GS Bank Takes on Online Savings, CDs, and Personal Loans

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Marcus by Goldman Sachs savings account

A very high interest rate and no fees make this one of the best savings accounts out there.

APY

Minimum Balance Amount

1.70%

None

  • Minimum opening deposit: None. However, you’ll need to deposit at least $1.00 if you want to earn any interest
  • Monthly account maintenance fee: None
  • ATM fee: N/A
  • ATM fee refund: N/A
  • Overdraft fee: None

This is a great account for almost anyone. However, before you click that “Learn More” button below, there are a couple of things to know.

No ATMs. First, Marcus by Goldman Sachs doesn’t offer ATM access to your savings account. You’ll either need to deposit or withdraw money by sending in a physical check, setting up direct deposits, or by moving the money to and from your other bank accounts via ACH or wire transfer.

No checking account. Second, Marcus does’t offer a corresponding checking account. That means you can only use this account as an external place to park your cash from your everyday money flow.

Keeping a separate savings account does have its benefits. For example, it’s harder to tempt yourself to withdraw the cash if you’re a chronic over-spender. But, it also means that there might be a delay of a few days if you need to transfer the money out of your Goldman Sachs online savings account and into your other checking account.

How to open a Goldman Sachs online savings account

It’s really easy to open an online savings account with Marcus by Goldman Sachs. You can do it online or over the phone as long as you’re 18 years or older, have a physical street address, and a Social Security Number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.

You’ll be required to sign a form which you can do online, or by mail if you’re opening the account over the phone.

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How their online savings account compares

Marcus’ online savings account can easily be described with one word: outstanding.

You’ll get a relatively high interest rate with this account, which is among the best online savings account rates you’ll find today. In fact, these rates are currently over seven times higher than the average savings account interest rate.

Even better, this account won’t charge you any fees for the privilege of keeping your money stashed there. It’s a tall order to find another bank that offers these high interest rates with terms this good.

Marcus by Goldman Sachs CD rates

Sky-high CD rates, but watch out for early withdrawal limitations.

Term

APY

Minimum Deposit Amount

6 months

0.60%

$500

9 months

0.70%

$500

12 months

1.85%

$500

18 months

1.85%

$500

24 months

1.85%

$500

3 years

1.85%

$500

4 years

1.85%

$500

5 years

1.90%

$500

6 years

1.90%

$500

  • Minimum opening deposit: $500
  • Minimum balance amount to earn APY: $500
  • Early withdrawal penalty:
    • For CDs under 12 months, 90 days’ worth of interest
    • For CDs of 12 months to 5 years, 270 days’ worth of interest
    • For CDs of 5 years or over, 365 days’ worth of interest

Marcus’ CDs work a little differently from other CDs. Rather than having to set up and fund your account all at once, Goldman Sachs will give you 30 days to fully fund your account.

Once open, your interest will be tallied up and credited to your CD account each month. You can withdraw the interest earned at any time without paying an early withdrawal penalty, but heads up: If you withdraw the interest, your returns will be lower than the stated APY when you opened your account.

If you need to withdraw the money from your CD, you can only do so by pulling out the entire CD balance and paying the required early withdrawal penalty. There is no option for partial withdrawals of your cash.

Finally, once your CD has fully matured, you’ll have a 10-day grace period to withdraw the money, add more funds, and/or switch to a different CD term. If you don’t do anything, Marcus will automatically roll over your CD into another one of the same type, but with the current interest rate of the day.

How to open a Goldman Sachs CD

Marcus has made it super simple to open up a CD. First, you’ll need to be at least 18 years old, and have either a Social Security Number or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.

You can open an account easily online, or call them up by phone. You’ll need to sign an account opening form, which you can do online or via a hard-copy mailed form. Then, simply fund your CD account within 30 days, and you’re all set.

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How their CDs compare

The interest rates that Marcus offers on their CDs are top-notch. In fact, a few of their CD terms are among the current contenders for the best CD rates.

If you’re interested in pursuing a CD ladder approach, Marcus is one of our top picks because each of their CD terms offer above-average rates. This means you can rest easy that you’ll get the best rates for your CD ladder without having to complicate things by spreading out all of your CDs among a handful of different banks.

The only downside to these CDs compared with many other banks is that you can’t withdraw a portion of your cash if you need it. It’s either all-in, or all-out. However, once out, you’re still free to open a new CD with the surplus cash, as long as it’s at least the $500 minimum deposit size.

Marcus by Goldman Sachs personal loan

Personal loans offered by Marcus have low APRs, flexible terms, and no fees.

Terms

APR

Credit Required

Fees

Max Loan Amount

36 to 72 months

6.99%-28.99%

Not specified

None

$40,000

Marcus by Goldman Sachs® personal loans can be used for just about anything, from consolidating debt to financing a large home improvement project. They offer some of the best rates available, with APRs as low as 6.99%, and you’ll not only be able to choose between a range of loan terms, but you can also choose the specific day of the month when you want to make your loan payments.

While there are no specific credit requirements to get a loan through Marcus, the company does try to target those that have “prime” credit, which is usually those with a FICO score higher than 660. Even with a less than excellent credit score, you may be able to qualify for a personal loan from Marcus, though, those that have recent, negative marks on their credit report, such as missed payments, will likely be rejected.

Applicants must be over 18 (19 in Alabama and Nebraska, 21 in Mississippi and Puerto Rico) and have a valid U.S. bank account. You are also required to have a Social Security or Individual Tax I.D. Number.

No fees. Marcus charges no extra fees for their personal loans. There is No origination fee associated with getting a loan, but there are also no late fees associated with missing payments. Those missed payments simply accrue more interest and your loan will be extended.

Defer payments. Once you have made on-time payments for a full year, you will have the ability to defer a payment. This means that if an unexpected expense or lost job hurts your budget one month, you can push that payment back by a month without negatively impacting your credit report.

How to apply for a Marcus personal loan

Marcus by Goldman Sachs offers a process that is completely online, allowing you to apply, choose the loan you want, submit all of your documents, and get approved without having to leave home. Here are the steps that you will complete to get a personal loan from Marcus:

  1. Fill out the information that is required in the online application, including your basic personal and financial information, as well as how much you would like to borrow and what you will use the money for.
  2. After a soft pull on your credit, and if you qualify, you will be presented a list of different loan options that may include different rates and terms.
  3. Once you have chosen the loan you want, you will need to provide additional information to verify your identity. You may also be asked for information that can be used to verify your income and you will need to provide your bank account information so that the money can be distributed.
  4. You will receive your funds 1 – 4 business days after your loan has been approved.

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How their personal loans compare

Marcus offers low APRs and flexible terms with their personal loans, but their main feature is that they have no fees. If you are looking for a straightforward lending experience with no hidden fees or costs, Marcus will be perfect for you since you won’t even have to worry about late fees if you happen to miss a payment.

While Marcus offers some great perks, you may be able to get a lower rate if you choose to go with another lender, such as LightStream or SoFi. Both of these lenders offer lower APR ranges and they don’t charge origination fees, though, LightStream will do a hard pull on your credit to preapprove you.

LendingClub and Peerform both have lower credit requirements than Marcus, but they also charge origination fees and, being P2P lending platforms, you will need to wait for your loan to be funded and you run the risk that other users might not fund your loan.

Overall review of Marcus by Goldman Sachs‘ products

Marcus has really hit it out of the park with their personal loans, online savings, and CD accounts. Each of these accounts offers some of the best features available on the market, while shrinking the fees down to a minuscule, or even nonexistent, amount. Their website is also slick and easy to use for online-savvy people.

The only thing we can find to complain about with Marcus is that they don’t offer an equally-awesome checking account to accompany their other deposit products. Indeed, it seems like Marcus has turned their former hoity-toity image around: Today, they’re a bank that we’d recommend to anyone, even blue-collar folks.

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Featured

How to Buy a Home Through an Estate Sale

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

When a person dies, someone has to distribute or sell their assets. If the deceased has a property that hasn’t been willed to someone, or that their heirs don’t want, it will often be sold at an estate sale. In some cases, owners will hold estate sales themselves if they need to downsize or move.

A person’s estate includes their house and everything in it, meaning furniture, antiques and the property itself are up for grabs in an estate sale. If you’re looking for a house, you might be able to score a decent deal on one through an estate sale.

What is an estate sale?

Estate sales are typically initiated by the owner’s heirs or relatives. They may have inherited the home but have chosen not to live in it, or they’re selling the property to pay off their loved one’s debts. An estate sale may include the home the person lived in or owned and/or their valuables.

Buying an estate sale home vs. a probate sale home

An estate sale is held by an owner’s heirs or loved ones, or a company or real estate agency they’ve hired to handle the process. A probate sale happens when the decedent, or person who has died, passes away without a will. A probate court administrator will handle the estate and sale of the property, and the proceeds from the sale will be used to pay off creditors and any other outstanding accounts.

Probate courts publicize a person’s death so that anyone who has a claim to the proceeds of the estate can file that with the court. It’s worth looking out for probate home sales because the selling prices can be lower than market value.

If you’re in a hot real estate market and the house is being sold in a bidding process, be prepared to pay market value (at a minimum), as bidding can be competitive. You’re also less likely to negotiate for a lower price at a probate sale.

5 tips for purchasing a home from an estate sale

Follow these tips before getting a mortgage for an estate sale home:

  1. Keep an eye out for estate sale listings and treat them as open houses. Check local classified ads and online real estate sites. You can also contact local estate sale companies or probate courts to ask about recent listings. Estate sales are held over a few days (often a weekend), so go back a couple of times if needed. Test the water pressure, take measurements (but be subtle) and spend plenty of time in each room absorbing all the details. Look for foundation cracking or settling so you can ask questions after touring the home.
  2. Don’t judge a house by its listing photos. Remember that the seller may be a grieving relative or a court administrator, neither of whom are going to be super motivated to stage the home the way a traditional seller would. Even if the online photos are lackluster, reserve judgment until you see the property in person — the house might have more charm than you think. Be realistic about your budget and timetable, though, if you think the home needs more repairs or improvements than you can handle.
  3. Get preapproved. Get preapproved for a mortgage before you start looking at houses. Preapproval will help you move faster when you’re ready to buy, and it may give you some leverage in price negotiations.
  4. Move quickly on inspections and use due diligence. Schedule a home appraisal and inspections as soon as possible because these will affect your loan application and your offer. If a home inspector finds serious problems with the home, you’ll likely want to reduce your offer accordingly. Your mortgage lender will require you to take out lender’s title insurance, which protects the lender from financial loss if any ownership claims arise after closing. The lender will also order a title search for any liens, ownership disputes or judgments against the property. In addition, consider buying an owner’s title insurance policy to protect your investment if ownership is disputed later on.
  5. Budget for renovations. Be realistic about what you need to change to make the home livable. If the dated wallpaper, crown molding and kitchen backsplash make you feel like you’re in a time warp, build those renovations into your budget. Look beyond the low selling price to account for all of the costs you’ll need to cover with your mortgage.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

By clicking “See Rates”, you will be directed to LendingTree. Based on your creditworthiness, you may be matched with up to five different lenders in our partner network.