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Guide to Refinancing Your Mortgage to Lower Your Payments, Consolidate Debt

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.

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According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, mortgage lending between August and October 2016 was up nearly 50 percent over last year, “unusually large number likely due to a high rate of mortgage refinancing.”

There are many reasons you might consider refinancing your mortgage. For one, interest rates are continuing to creep up after several years of historic lows, driving many borrowers to refinance in hopes of locking in a lower rate now.

You may also have a long list of home repairs that need to be addressed. Cashing out on a refinance could provide you find the money you need to get the job done. You might also consider a mortgage refinance to help consolidate some of your high interest debt from credit cards or student loans.

But is any of this a good idea?

Today we’ll explore when refinancing a mortgage is a smart decision, and when it’s mathematically unwise. We’ll do this by looking at the cold, hard numbers and walk you through the process if you decide it is an avenue you’d like to pursue.

Refinancing to Lock in a Lower Mortgage Rate

Rates

As of this posting, the national average interest rate is at 4.15%. While that number is higher than it has been in the recent past, rates are still much lower than the average 6% rate you would have secured before the 2008 recession or the 10% average rate you would have had to pay in the 1980s.  If you originally financed or refinanced your mortgage prior to the recession, exploring refinance options could be a good path for you.

Fees

However, before you decide on interest rates alone, you need to be aware of all the associated fees that come along with a refi. These fees usually include escrow and title fees, document preparation fees, title search and insurance, loan origination fees, flood certification, and recording fees. These alone can easily add up to $4,700 or more, according to Trulia.

Do the math

Because each situation will have varying interest rates and fees, it’s important to run your own numbers before making a definitive decision. While we can’t run your numbers for you, we can take you through the mathematical process through an example. You can do the same by using your own, real-life numbers and this calculator from myFICO.

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Source: MyFICO

Let’s say you’re refinancing a 30-year mortgage with a 5.4% interest rate. You have been paying your mortgage for 10 years at this point. But today, you still have $205,285.94 to pay off. If you continue to pay on your current mortgage, you will pay it off in 2036 but you will have paid a staggering $255,377.71 in interest fees over the lifetime of the loan.

So you are considering a refi loan. Let’s say you prequalify for a 3.5% fixed mortgage refi rate over an additional 30 years.

If you decide to refinance to a 30-year mortgage, it will be like starting the clock over even though you already paid 10 years into your original loan. So, factoring in the total interest you paid over that 10 year period on the original loan and the interest you will accrue over the 30-year span of the new refi loan, you will pay a total of $251,720.

By refinancing, it looks like you will pocket $3,657.71 in savings. So refinancing is definitely the better option, right?

Hold your enthusiasm. Remember those fees that come along with a refi? Before you can actually refinance your existing mortgage, you could face an estimated $5,077 in fees, MyFICO’s calculator shows. With the additional interest and fees combined, you’ll end up paying  $256,797 over the lifetime of the loan — about $1,000 more than you would if you just stayed put.

That makes this particular refinance over $1,000 more expensive than continuing with your current mortgage. Plus, if you refinance, you’ll be paying on a mortgage for an additional ten years before you own your home outright.

Refinancing to Lower Your Monthly Mortgage Payments

House building, insurance, housewarming, loan, real estate, home concept

If you already have a low interest rate and are thinking about refinancing exclusively for lower monthly payments, think again. While the amount due monthly will go down, the amount you pay over the life of your loan will go up.

In our example above, refinancing to a lower rate of 3.5% would dramatically decrease your monthly mortgage payments before taxes —  from $1,403.83 per month to $922 per month. However, as we demonstrated using myFICO’s refi calculator, you’d end up spending $1,000 more over the course of the loan as a result.

Refinancing simply to lower your monthly payment is especially dangerous if you are in the first 5-7 years of paying off your current mortgage. That’s because interest charges are not spread out evenly over the course of your loan — they are front loaded. That means for the first 5-7 years, you’re paying more toward interest and very little toward the principal loan balance. In the meantime, you’re building very little equity. If you refinance during this time frame, you’re starting the clock over and delaying the opportunity to establish equity.

Suggest: Let’s back to our first example one more time. In this case, the homeowner is 10 years into their existing mortgage and has been making monthly payments of $1,403.83. By this time, roughly $477.89  goes toward the principal loan balance each monthly. But if they were to restart the clock and refinance to a new 30-year mortgage, only $325 of their monthly mortgage payment would go toward their loan principal.

Refinancing to Make Home Improvements

home improvement repair kitchen remodel

If you’re looking to refinance so you can cash out a portion of the new mortgage for home improvements, you may be onto a good idea. If you have a 20-year-old roof that needs to be fixed and no cash on hand, refinancing at at a lower rate could make more financial sense than using alternative financing options.

When you use a cash-out refinance, your financial institution will give you a new mortgage. Part of your monthly payment will go towards the amount you still owe on the home, while another part will go towards paying off the cash they give you at closing. You can usually only take 80%-90% of your established equity out as cash when using this method.

Another option is to take out a home equity line of credit (HELOC). This operates similarly to a credit card; the financial institution offers your a line of credit up to a specified amount, but you only have to pay on it if and when you choose to borrow. Because a HELOC is secured by your home, interest rates are much lower than on credit cards and may even be lower than the interest rate on a cash-out refinance. However, HELOC interest rates are typically variable, which could get you in trouble further down the line if you’re borrowing a lot of money for home repairs like a new roof.

Either way, you should be cautious. Making an upgrade for the sake of functionality is one thing, but making an upgrade for the sake of luxury is another. It’s inadvisable to make a lavish kitchen upgrade in the tens of thousands, even if you are under the illusion that it will build home value further down the line. If the luxury is something you really want, save up for it. Don’t finance it.

Refinancing to consolidate existing debts

Desperate young couple with many debts reviewing their bills. Financial family problems concept

Cashing out to pay off credit card debt

You may also be tempted to cash out a refinance in order to pay off other debt. Historically, homeowners have used this method primarily to pay off high-interest credit card debt. With interest rates so low, doing so may seem like a good idea. Rolling your credit card debt into a mortgage with 3% interest is better than paying it off with an average of 15%-25% interest — isn’t it?

It may seem like a good idea, but too often this method doesn’t change the root cause of the issue. If you had a spending or cash flow problem prior to the refinance, you’re likely to end up in credit card debt again, but this time you’ll have a bigger mortgage on top of it.

A better way to refinance your credit card debt could be applying for a balance transfer. Many credit cards include an initial offer of 0% interest on balance transfers for a certain amount of months. Zero percent is better than any interest rate you’ll find in the housing market. Though these cards come with balance transfer fees, those fees can be as low as 3%, and you only have to pay them once. Because there is a deadline on the 0% interest period, you’ll be more likely to find the motivation to pay the debt off quickly, building better financial habits along the way.

There are rare instances where rolling your credit card debt into a mortgage refinance can be advantageous. For example, if you’re a dual-income household and you lose a spouse without adequate life insurance, you may find yourself in a financial quandary.

In this scenario, if you have credit card debt in your own name and suddenly can’t afford to pay the monthly bills, refinancing your mortgage and cashing out a portion to pay off your high-interest debt may be one of the few feasible options.

Cashing out to pay off student loans

Recently SoFi, an online market lender, rolled out a new product that allows you to refinance your home and cash out a portion of the new mortgage to pay off your student loans. Let’s say you owed $30,000 on your home and had $20,000 in outstanding student loan debt. You would take out a $50,000 mortgage refinance with $20,000 of it paying off your student loan debt.

This can potentially be a smart idea. If the interest rate on the refinance is less than the interest rate on your student loans, you stand to save some money. If you ever sell your home, the sale will take care of the portion that went to pay off your loans.

The danger is you will lose all the benefits that come with federal student loans, such as income-based repayment and pay-as-you-earn options, as you will be swapping your Federal loans for a private loan issued by SoFi. For this reason, the vast majority of people who will benefit from this product will be those who already carry private student loans with relatively high interest rates.

How Should You Shop?

 

Before you start shopping, you’re going to want to arm yourself with knowledge. First, find out what competitive interest rates look like in your area. You can do so by using this tool from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

It’s good to know what the best rates are, but it’s even better to know if you’ll qualify for them. About six months before you plan on applying for a refi, get a free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit reporting bureaus to make sure everything on your report is accurate and up to date. Your credit report will be used to determine your credit score when you start submitting applications.

Many conforming loans will be backed by Fannie Mae’s Refi Plus program. To qualify for the lowest interest rates in this program, you will want to have a credit score of 740+. You can still qualify with a lower credit score, but the further down you are on this list, the higher your interest rate will be:

  • 740+ Best rates
  • 720-739
  • 700-719
  • 680-699
  • 660-679
  • 640-659
  • 620-639
  • Below 620 Worst rates, and you may have trouble even qualifying.

To find out which credit score range you fall into, pull your scores from several different sources using several different scoring models.

Variable vs. fixed rates

Another thing to consider before you shop is whether you prefer a variable or fixed rate. Variable rate loans are stable for one month to five years or more, after which the interest rate will adjust based on an index. Since rates are low at the current moment, the odds of your interest rates shooting up after five years is extremely high. Unless you know with certainty that you can afford your monthly payments when they rise, or you aren’t planning to stay in the home for long, taking this route is risky.

Because rates are so low, fixed is likely the way to go. The rates will be higher than the offers you receive for initial variable rates, but they will stay consistent for the entirety of your loan. When interest rates inevitably go up again, yours won’t if you lock in the fixed rates today.

Shop around — including your current lender

As with most shopping endeavors, the best way to find the best price is going to be getting quotes from several different lenders in your area.
There are two primary criteria you will want to examine. The first is obviously interest rates. The second is fees, which can eat into your savings.
When you start shopping, it’s easy to take the path of least resistance: your current lender. Typically, they will offer you lower fees than their competitors, but their interest rates may be potentially higher. Get outside quotes to use as leverage for negotiations in this arena.
Another possibility is your lender offers you the smallest fees and lowest interest rates among their competition, but the rate is still higher than you’d like it to be because of your credit score. While doing so doesn’t have a 100% success rate, you can try to negotiate for a lower rate based on customer loyalty.

When you’re applying, don’t forget to look at online marketplace lenders such as SoFi. Many times they have lower fees and involve less paperwork.

How Long Does the Process Take?

Clock time deadline

Many lenders will want to see if you are pre-qualified before you begin the full application process. This can be misleading because getting pre-qualified often takes mere minutes, and the interest rates you are offered are based only on a soft pull of your credit.

The full process of being approved for a loan will take much longer–typically between 30 and 45 days if you submit all of your paperwork in a timely manner. It will require a hard pull on your credit report and score, along with submitting a lot of personal documentation. Remember, just because you are pre-qualified doesn’t mean you will be approved. Once the financial institution has more information, they may adjust or redact their offer.

Paperwork to prepare

To make sure the application and approval process goes as smoothly as possible, gather up these commonly required documents before approaching your lender to fill out any forms:

  • Proof of income, including: past 2-3 months’ worth of pay stubs, employer contact information including anyone you’ve worked for in the past two years, W-2s and income tax documents for the past two years, and/or additional documentation of income for the past two years for self-employed individuals including Schedule C or K and profit/loss statements.
  • Proof of assets, including: a list of all the property you own, life insurance statements, retirement account statements, and bank account statements going back at least three months.
  • Accounting of debts. This includes statements for any outstanding loans or credit card debt you may have. Don’t forget your current mortgage!
  • Proof of insurance. For our purposes today, this generally refers to homeowner’s insurance and title insurance.
  • Know Your Customer information. Financial institutions are required to verify your identity before lending you any money or allowing you to open any type of financial account. Be prepared with your Social Security card, your driver’s license or other state-issued ID, and the addresses you have lived at for at least the past three years, including dates of residence.
  • Additional documents for special situations. If you receive income from disability, Social Security, child support, alimony, rental property, regular overtime pay, consistent bonuses, or a pension, be sure to prepare documentation for these income sources as well.

There may be additional documents required depending on your lender, but checking off this list is a great start.

If you have all necessary paperwork on hand, you can submit it via the internet or postal mail immediately after filling out your application online, over the phone, or in person. The modality of submission will depend on the lender.

Approval

A loan officer will look over your paperwork, which will hopefully end in approval. You will then be sent documents to review. It would be wise to do so with a lawyer, which is an additional fee you will want to calculate into your refinancing equation.

Closing

If you are agreeable to all terms, you will fill out your documentation for closing. You will have to issue payment for closing fees just as you did when you took out your original mortgage. Depending on the lender, you will submit this paperwork in person, through postal mail, or online. After the paperwork is processed, your current mortgage will be paid off and your refinanced mortgage will take effect.

Typically, the entire process takes somewhere between 30 and 45 days. >

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Conclusion

If you’re refinancing solely for lower mortgage payments or in order to cash out for a chef’s dream kitchen, back up and reconsider. But if you’re refinancing for lower interest rates on a mortgage on which you’ve built significant equity, moving forward may be a good option. Be sure to run your numbers and sit down with a lawyer before signing on any dotted lines.

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.

Brynne Conroy
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Brynne Conroy is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brynne here

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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

2.15%

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

2.40%

$500

18 months

2.40%

$500

24 months

2.45%

$500

3 years

2.50%

$500

4 years

2.55%

$500

5 years

2.60%

$500

6 years

2.65%

$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

5.99%-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 5.99%, 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.

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.

Lindsay VanSomeren
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Lindsay VanSomeren is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Lindsay here

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Featured, Health

5 Ways to Keep Medical Debt From Ruining Your Credit

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.

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Your physical well-being isn’t the only thing at stake when you go to the hospital. So, too, is your financial health.

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, more than half of all collection notices on consumer credit reports stem from outstanding medical debt, and roughly 43 million consumers – nearly 20% of all those in the nationwide credit reporting system – have at least one medical collection on their credit report.

Now, you might be inclined to think that, because you’re young or have both a job and health insurance, medical debt poses you no risk. Think again. According to a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, roughly one-third of non-elderly adults report difficulty paying medical bills. Moreover, roughly 70% of people with medical debt are insured, mostly through employer-sponsored plans.

Not concerned yet? Consider that a medical collection notice on your credit report, even for a small bill, can lower your credit score 100 points or more. You can’t pay your way out of the mess after the fact, either. Medical debt notifications stay on your credit report for seven years after you’ve paid off the bill.

The good news is that you can often prevent medical debt from ruining your credit simply by being attentive and proactive. Here’s how.

Pay close attention to your bills

Certainly, a considerable portion of unpaid medical debt exists on account of bills so large and overwhelming that patients don’t have the ability to cover them. But many unpaid medical debts catch patients completely by surprise, according to Deanna Hathaway, a consumer and small business bankruptcy lawyer in Richmond, Va.

“Most people don’t routinely check their credit reports, assume everything is fine, and then a mark on their credit shows up when they go to buy a car or home,” Hathaway said.

The confusion often traces back to one of two common occurrences, according to Ron Sykstus, a consumer bankruptcy attorney in Birmingham, Ala.

“People usually get caught off guard either because they thought their insurance was supposed to pick something up and it didn’t, or because they paid the bill but it got miscoded and applied to the wrong account,” Sykstus said. “It’s a hassle, but track your payments and make sure they get where they are supposed to get.”

Stay in your network

One of the major ways insured patients wind up with unmanageable medical bills is through services rendered – often not known to the patient – by out-of-network providers, according to Kevin Haney, president of A.S.K. Benefit Solutions.

“You check into an in-network hospital and think you’re covered, but while you’re there, you’re treated by an out-of-network specialist such as an anesthesiologist, and then your coverage isn’t nearly as good,” Haney said. “The medical industry does a poor job of explaining this, and it’s where many people get hurt.”

According to Haney, if you were unknowingly treated by an out-of-network provider, it’s would not be unreasonable for you to contact the provider and ask them to bill you at their in-network rate.

“You can push back on lack of disclosure and negotiate,” Haney said. “They’re accepting much lower amounts for the same service with their in-network patients.”

Work it out with your provider BEFORE your bills are sent to collections

Even if you’re insured and are diligent about staying in-network, medical bills can still become untenable. Whether on account of a high deductible or an even higher out-of-pocket maximum, patients both insured and uninsured encounter medical bills they simply can’t afford to pay.

If you find yourself in this situation, it’s critical to understand that most health care providers turn unpaid debt over to a collection agency, and it’s the agency that in turn reports the debt to the credit bureaus should it remain unpaid.

The key then is to be proactive about working out an arrangement with your health care provider before the debt is ever sent to a collection agency. And make no mistake – most providers are more than happy to work with you, according to Howard Dvorkin, CPA and chairman of Debt.com.

“The health care providers you owe know very well how crushing medical debt is,” he said. “They want to work with you, but they also need to get paid.”

If you receive a bill you can’t afford to pay in its entirety, you should immediately call your provider and negotiate.

“Most providers, if the bill is large, will recognize there’s a good chance you don’t have the money to pay it off all at once, and most of the time, they’ll work with you,” Dvorkin said. “But you have to be proactive about it. Don’t just hope it will go away. Call them immediately, explain your situation and ask for a payment plan.”

If the bill you’re struggling with is from a hospital, you may also have the option to apply for financial aid, according to Thomas Nitzsche, a financial educator with Clearpoint Credit Counseling Solutions, a personal finance counseling firm.

“Most hospitals are required to offer financial aid,” Nitzsche said. “They’ll look at your financials to determine your need, and even if you’re denied, just the act of applying usually extends the window within which you have to pay that bill.”

Negotiate with the collection agency

In the event that your debt is passed along to a collection agency, all is not immediately lost, Sykstus said.

“You can usually negotiate with the collection agency the same as you would with the provider,” he said. “Tell them you’ll work out a payment plan and that, in return, you’re asking them to not report it.”

Most collection agencies, according to Haney, actually have little interest in reporting debt to the credit bureaus.

“The best leverage they have to get you to pay is to threaten to report the bill to the credit agencies,” he said. “That means as soon as they report it, they’ve lost their leverage. So, they’re going to want to talk to you long before they ever report it to the bureau.

“Don’t duck their calls,” he added. “Talk to them and offer to work something out.”

Take out a personal loan

Refinancing your medical debt into a personal loan is another move you can consider making, particularly if you can get a lower interest rate than you could with a credit card, and you aren’t able to secure a 0% credit card deal. Peer-to-peer lenders LendingClub and Prosper both start with APRs as low as 6.95%, and LendingClub’s origination fee starts as low as 1%.

Even better, SoFi offers personal loans at a rate as low as 5.99% and has no origination fee (although you do need a relatively high minimum credit score to get a loan, at 680).

MagnifyMoney’s parent company, LendingTree, features a handy personal loan tool where you can shop for the best loan for you.

Bottom line

Dealing with medical debt can be particularly stressful, as you have to worry about money matters along with managing health issues. However, having medical debt does not have to spell disaster. If you follow one or more of the steps above, you should be able to keep your finances healthy.

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