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Tips to Tackle Your Medical Bills Head-On

By Nicole Bustamante

If you’ve ever mapped out your monthly budget, you’ll know that it comes down to three simple elements: your income, your fixed expenses, and your variable expenses. In other words: how much money do you have coming in, and how much money do you have going out—both recurring expenses and those that change month to month?


For many, it’s the variable expenses that can really throw your budget out of whack. Even if you have an emergency fund set aside, an unexpected car or house repair can leave you in a precarious financial position. Another common and often unavoidable expense? A visit to the doctor’s office that results in a sizeable bill you weren’t planning for.


If you’re staring down a mountain of medical debt, you’re not alone. A 2016 survey found that nearly one in four Americans had trouble paying a recent medical bill. Ultimately, there are a number of negative consequences that can result from putting off bill payments of any kind, but we know that it’s not exactly the easiest thing to tackle. 


Read on for a breakdown of what the typical medical bill payment process is, what happens if you pay late or don’t pay at all, tips for handling medical costs, and what to do when you’re faced with a large (and looming) medical bill. 


Typical Bill Payment Process


When it comes time for your medical provider to generate a patient statement, it means that you will be getting a bill for any services not covered by your insurance (if applicable). At this point, it is crucial that you look closely at your bill and make sure that you aren’t being charged for a treatment or service you didn’t receive.


Once you’ve ensured that the bill is accurate, you may be thinking: “great, but I still can’t afford this!” If you don’t have the money to pay off your medical bill upfront, you may be tempted to charge it to your credit card. But using a credit card to pay off a medical bill in full or in large installments that you can’t immediately pay off can lead to a long cycle of debt, ever-increasing interest payments, and negative effects on your credit score.


Instead of charging the bill to a high-interest credit card, you can use Zip to make your payments more manageable. With Zip, you can split any payment (online or in-store) into four installments—and that includes medical bills. Just follow these simple steps:


1. Search for your medical provider’s online payment portal in the Zip app and log into your account.

2. Tap “Pay with Zip” and enter your total bill amount.

3. Use your Zip virtual card at checkout.


Pro tip: Only use Zip for bills that are not set up on autopay. Installments are required every two weeks, as with any Zip purchase, and you’ll get reminders ahead of installment due dates so that you stay on top of every payment.


Another strategy to consider in the face of a steep bill is discussing a payment plan with your medical provider. If you are paying off a very large bill, you may be able to work out an interest-free payment plan, or you can ask for a prompt pay discount where your provider gives you a discount for paying off the bill in full within 30 days. You can also apply for financial assistance through your provider. These options may require some extra paperwork—but if you truly don’t have the means to pay, putting in a little extra effort may make a huge difference.


What Happens if You Miss a Medical Bill Payment


If you pay your medical bills late, you are likely to face late fees and increased interest charges. The exact terms depend on your medical provider, so you’ll want to go back through all the documents you signed before your visit to see what you’re dealing with. A silver lining to these fees is that they can typically be used as a point of negotiation when discussing a payment plan with your provider.


If you do not pay your medical bills, they will eventually end up going to a collections agency. It can be tempting to ignore the looming dollar signs when you aren’t required to pay your bills off immediately, but it’s best to fight that temptation. We’ve outlined a few ways to do just that with the tips and tricks below.


5 Ways to Stay on Top of Your Medical Expenses


Knowledge is the most powerful tool you have when it comes to managing your finances. So if you’re reading this article, you’re already on the right path! When it comes to paying your medical bills specifically, keep these tips and tricks in your back pocket.


  • Be proactive.
Stay in touch with your medical provider consistently to stay ahead of your payments. You can give them a call every few months to ensure that you don’t have any outstanding bills that you may have missed.


  • Know what your insurance coverage encompasses.
When it comes to medical bills, it’s essential that you are aware of what your insurance covers and what it does not. If you’re not sure exactly what you’re paying for, request an itemized medical bill. Compare that with your insurance company’s Explanation of Benefits (EOB) that outlines all services they cover, and confirm that everything you’re being charged for is accurate. 


  • Keep track of out-of-pocket expenses.
Be aware of what expenses are considered “out-of-pocket” by your insurance provider. While out-of-pocket expenses are not covered by your insurance plan, after you hit your deductible (more on that below) or out-of-pocket maximum, your insurance company may pay in part or in full for any additional medical expenses during that premium year.


  • Take time to understand your deductible.
According to, a deductible is “the amount that you will have to pay annually for your healthcare (such as surgical procedures, blood tests, or hospitalizations) before the health insurance pays anything.” If your plan comes with a high deductible you will likely pay a lower monthly premium, but this comes with a bit of risk. For example, if your deductible is up to $10,000 and you get into an accident that requires surgery, then you will be responsible for paying the first $10,000 out of pocket. 


  • Consider in-network versus out-of-network providers. 
Understanding who you can go to for medical support is another crucial way to keep medical costs down. In-network medical providers meet certain criteria set by your insurance plan, and therefore their services are covered under the terms of your policy. Out-of-network providers are just the opposite, meaning that they are not covered under your insurance plan and, therefore, you will have to pay for their services in full.


Download the Zip app to check out the better way to pay and start splitting your payments in 4 anywhere you shop.

Get started with Zip today

Zip’s editorial content is not written by a financial advisor. It’s intended for informational purposes and should not be considered legal or financial advice. Consult a professional to learn what financial products are right for you.

About the author
Nicole Bustamante

Nicole Bustamante is a writer and journalist passionate about storytelling and the art of fashion. She has written for The Zoe Report, Angeleno Magazine, Modern Luxury Interiors California, and more in addition to writing for her personal blog.