Legal Corner: Can my unpaid medical bills lower my credit score? - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

Legal Corner: Can my unpaid medical bills lower my credit score?

(Source: KPLC) (Source: KPLC)
SOUTHWEST LOUISIANA (KPLC) -

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Question: Our family home is now in a flood zone. Our neighbor across the street flooded during Hurricane Ike, but we did not. Our neighbor who flooded is not in a flood zone. What can we do to lower our flood insurance cost & correct the elevation with our flood zone. It makes no sense!

There are many ways property owners, businesses and communities may mitigate, or reduce, their flood risk and receive additional consideration to help reduce insurance costs, as illustrated in these informational videos and materials: Elevation Ratings, Addressing Flood Risk, Flood Insurance for Businesses: Impacts of Recent Legislation. The first step to mitigating risk is to learn the property’s elevation rating by obtaining an elevation certificate. Although elevation certificates may not be required to purchase flood insurance on certain buildings, it is an option of the insured to obtain one to better understand the true flood risk of a property and possibly lower flood insurance premiums. Homeowners Guide to Elevation Certificates; A fact sheet explaining what an elevation certificate is, who needs one and how to get one. Elevation Certificate training - find various training opportunities to learn more about elevation certificates. NFIP Elevation Certificate and Instructions - an administrative tool of the NFIP used to provide elevation information necessary to ensure compliance with to community floodplain management ordinances, to determine the proper insurance premium rate or support a request for a letter of map amendment (LOMA). The Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012: Elevation Ratings - a short video explaining what it means for a policy to be elevation rated, what an elevation certificate is, how to get an elevation certificate and who needs one. NFIP Flood Insurance Manual: See Section 7 for Lowest Floor Guide and Section 8 for Certifications. Converting Vertical Datums - a fact sheet that discusses the importance of ensuring the same vertical datums are used when working with elevation data from flood maps and elevation certificates. Property owners also have great opportunity to mitigate their risk and help receive consideration for lower rates by building or re-building to higher standards, as indicated: Rebuilding in an AE zone - scenario showing cost effectiveness of building above the BFE. Rebuilding in a VE zone - scenario showing cost effectiveness of building above the BFE. Build Back Safer and Stronger: What You Need to Know (English and Spanish) - a tri-fold brochure explaining how rebuilding higher and mitigating flood risk can reduce flood insurance premiums and reduce the chance of future flood damage. Click here for more.

Question: Do u need a license to throw a cast net?

Yes, a valid basic fishing license is required to possess fish in Louisiana waters or to use the following gears in pursuit of fish: Bow and arrow, a barbed or barbless spear, frog gig/catcher, scuba gear, hook and line, cast net with a radius not to exceed 8 feet, 6 inches, crabbing on a refuge or wildlife management area. Major Changes for 2017 Freshwater Fisheries Marine Fisheries: 1. Changes in crappie (black crappie and white crappie) size limit and creel limit on Eagle Lake, on the Louisiana/Mississippi border: size limit is now 11 inches total length with a 30 fish daily limit. 2. Changes in largemouth bass minimum length limit on the lower Sabine River, on the Louisiana/Texas border: size limit is now 12 Inches total length. Please refer to the LDWF website for current information: 1. The recreational minimum size limit for the harvest of greater amberjack has been changed to 34 inches fork length. 2. The recreational minimum size limit for the harvest of gag and black grouper has been changed to 24 inches total length. 3. The recreational season for the harvest of gag grouper was modified to be open from June 1 through Dec. 31 of each year. 4. Crab traps (These regulations shall become effective Nov. 15, 2017, and shall be applicable to license year 2017 and thereafter.) A minimum of 3 escape rings shall be placed on the vertical outside walls flush with the trap floor or baffle, with at least 2 rings located in the upper chamber of the trap; minimum ring size shall be 2 and 3/8 inches in inside diameter, not including the ring material; Traps placed in Lake Pontchartrain would no longer be exempt from escape ring requirements. 5. During 2017, the use of crab traps will be prohibited statewide for 30 days beginning on the third Monday in February. New regulations appear in red text throughout the pamphlet. 1. The way recreational licenses are issued when purchased via mobile device and internet has changed.

Question: Can my unpaid medical bills lower my credit score?

Yes. Doctors or hospitals don't usually report debts to credit reporting agencies. Instead, they turn their unpaid bills over to a debt collector, and it is the collection agency that reports them. The damage done by medical collections can be significant. In fact, just one collection account can cause a good credit score to drop 50 to 100 points. And, while that score should steadily improve over time (assuming no new negative information, that is), collection accounts, including medical debts, can remain on your credit report for 7 years plus 180 days from the date of the original delinquency. That’s true of unpaid and paid accounts, though there are a few emerging exceptions. You have many different credit scores, not just a single one. Even among the widely known FICO scores, there are many different versions. The newest version of the FICO score, FICO 9, ignores paid collection accounts, and medical collection accounts carry less weight under that model. VantageScore 3.0 also ignores paid collection accounts of all types. But most lenders still use older versions of credit scores that do not give medical collections any special treatment. For that reason, you should assume that if you find a collection account on your credit report, it will likely be viewed negatively when you apply for credit, insurance or employment. Keep an Eye Out for Medical Debts. Medical debts impact more Americans’ credit than you may think. According to a 2014 report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a whopping 52% of all debt on credit reports was related to medical expenses and 43 million Americans had unpaid medical debt on their credit files. One survey by Credit.com found that 10% of those who reviewed their credit reports discovered a collection account they didn’t know about. That’s why it’s critical that you review your credit reports annually, and monitor your credit scores on a regular basis. (Think of it as a checkup for your credit health.) You can get a free credit report snapshot and two free credit scores on Credit.com. How to Maintain Healthier Credit: So, what can you do about your medical debts? Here are few steps you can take: 1. Stay on top of your medical bills: Thanks to co-pays, deductibles and other insurance quirks, many medical debts go unpaid simply because a person doesn’t know they owe. Make sure to follow up with your health care provider or insurance company after doctor or hospital visits to see if you have a balance. Even if you have good health insurance, don’t assume everything will be taken care of. (Something else important to note: Under a settlement that 31 state attorneys general negotiated with Equifax, Experian and TransUnion back in 2015, the three major credit reporting agencies agreed not to report medical debt until 180 days after it was incurred. The change is meant to give people more time to resolve medical bills with health care providers and insurance companies.) 2. Review your EOBs: Read your explanation of benefits carefully and contact the provider and/or your insurance company quickly if a bill is not being taken care of. 3. Ask for an itemized bill: This will help you verify that you’re being charged correctly and provide an opportunity for you to negotiate payment with the health care provider. 4. Negotiate with collectors: If you are contacted by a collection agency about a medical bill, ask them not to report it if you pay it right away (assuming you believe you owe the bill). Some won’t report if the bill is resolved quickly.

Again, having a collection account updated as “paid” generally does not help your scores, unless a lender is using one of the newer credit score versions. So aim for removal of the item if possible. Some agencies will work with you, others won’t. If you feel the situation is highly unfair - you never got a copy of the bill, for example - you can try two things: One is to file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The other is to contact the original provider and try to get them to pull it back from collections so you can pay them directly. If they do, the account will usually no longer be reported. If you are contacted by a collection agency and you don’t believe you owe the bill, you have the right under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act to ask the collection agency to validate the debt. You also have the right under the Fair Credit Reporting Act to dispute it with the credit reporting agencies reporting the account. Click here for more information.

Disclaimer: The information furnished in this answer is general and may not apply to some situations. All legal situations are unique. No one should rely to their detriment on these answers. Anyone with a potential legal problem should seek the advice of a licensed attorney before taking any action or inaction. The answers provided are not intended to be specific legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is created between the SWLA Law Center and the viewers of KPLC TV.

Copyright 2017 KPLC. All rights reserved.

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