Changes to credit score may help debtors with unpaid medical bills

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – More Americans seem to be having trouble paying their bills.

A recent study shows more than a third of U.S. adults (35 percent) have at least one debt in collections, and that can mean taking heat from debt collectors.

“There are a very large number of debt collectors located in the Buffalo and Western New York area,” said Assistant State Attorney General James Morrissey, and that has led to stepped up enforcement by state regulators.

Morrisey says many of those collectors can be abusive, but laws such as the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) are designed to protect consumers from debt collectors that go too far.

“You have the right not to be threatened over the telephone. The debt collector cannot call before 8:00 a.m., or after 9:00 p.m. But the single most important thing is you have the right to be free from harassment of that debt collector.”

But the loan landscape may be changing. Many of the consumers targeted by debt collectors who see Scott Laughlin at the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Buffalo are saddled primarily with either student debt, which is reaching pandemic proportions in the U.S., or unpaid medical bills.

“Many people that have things that go to collections for medical purposes didn’t even realize they got it,” said Laughlin.

For that reason, the top agency that determines your credit score, known as FICO, is now considering a change in the weight it gives unpaid medical bills, or medical bills that are in collections.

Laughlin said they will be given less weight because “a medical collections account, they could have a small balance.” He asked, “Why should it affect the same as a negative mortgage that somebody might owe thousands, and hundreds of thousands of dollars?”

FICO predicts the change could raise a consumer’s credit score by as much as 25 points and that, says Laughlin, could give the economy a boost.

“They are probably getting better credit card offers and not getting predatory offers. There are a number of different things. Twenty-five points can really make a difference.”

Laughlin adds a 25-point boost, in some cases, could mean the difference between getting a mortgage with a low interest rate or one that is unaffordable.

The law has also changed to allow folks living through tough times to pay back student loans based on their income, and Laughlin says, “that can get their payment down to, I believe, it is $5 or $10 a month, based on their income and ability to pay it back. So it can be quite a difference.”

Consumer Credit Counseling Service is cutting consumers with troubled student loans some slack next month. For the month of October, the service is cutting their fee in half from $50 to $25 to help Western New Yorkers get their student debt under control, and work out a repayment plan.

You can call to make an appointment at 716-712-2060.

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