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Disturbing new statistics on medical debt

Many Wayne County residents spend their lives with strict financial priorities and goals in place. They pay their bills on time, avoid carrying credit card debt and add to their savings each month. The possibility of ever filing for bankruptcy is probably the furthest thing from these individuals' minds. But staying well-informed financially means having at least a basic understanding of one's legal rights and options should the unexpected occur.

One unexpected expense many Americans struggle with is medical debt. Given the sudden nature of many serious illnesses and the astronomical medical and hospitals bills that can accrue, it's virtually impossible to save up in anticipation of such an event. But debt collection firms don't distinguish between this and any other type of debt; over 30 million people in this country dealt with debt collectors in 2010 on the basis of medical debt alone. And a recent study of bankruptcy filings from seven years ago found that almost two-thirds of them were related to health care or medical debt.

Especially for Wayne County residents who have always been frugal and diligent about finances, the kinds of financial challenges that can come with medical debt are particularly shocking. Perhaps due to some lingering stigma about bankruptcy, they may turn to options like debt negotiation companies which promise to eliminate debt without bankruptcy. These programs must be faced with caution as many of them are for-profit companies trying to sell some kind of product or service. For some, their bottom line is their own financial interest, not necessarily that of the participant.

While it's true that bankruptcy will affect a filer's credit score and may present some other challenges, many Wayne County residents do find that the truly fresh start it provides is worth the trade-off. A legal professional can help answer questions about whether it is the right option for a situation involving medical debt.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "How to escape the medical care debt trap," Steve Trumble, July 22, 2014

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