If you don't pay your dental bill, your dentist will make multiple attempts to contact you before you get sent to a loan collection agency. In the dental industry, that process is known as being "sent to collections."
There are consequences of having dental and medical debt in collections. They are often undesirable and come with a slew of headaches that you wouldn't want. We will explain why it is preferable to not have to go through the dental debt collections process.
What your dentist will do
If you have an unpaid dental bill, your dentist will make multiple attempts to contact you through various means in order to get you to pay your bill.
How your dentist may contact you:
Phone call - They will call you.
Email - They'll attach your invoice to an email.
Paper mail - Some offices still use USPS snail mail.
Depending on your dentist office's financial policy, the number of times they'll contact you and the amount of time you have to pay the bill will differ. Some will be lenient while others may be more aggressive about it.
However, most offices will typically make at least three attempts at contacting you over the course of 30-90 days before they transfer your debt over to a collection agency. Although technically they sell the debt to the loan agency.
What if I'm in the middle of treatment?
If you don't pay, your dentist can refuse to continue treatment. That would not be good if you were in the middle of a multi-step procedure such as crowns, veneers, or root canals.
You'll be left in a temporary state which can get infected if you don't complete treatment for an extended period of time.
What happens when dental bills go to collections
When your dentist sends your overdue account to collections, they've essentially sold your debt to the collection agency.
When your dentist sends your overdue account to collections, they've essentially sold the debt to the collection agency.
You are no longer dealing with your dentist. If you decide to pay the bill or talk it out with your dentist, they can't help you because they are no longer the owner of the debt. You must contact the loan collection agency if you have any inquiries. They may not be as nice or as pleasant as your dentist.
You may have a blemish on your credit score. Depending on the total amount owed, the dental debt collections may show up on your credit report. If it does you will have a marked decrease in your credit score.
Undesired contacts. Some loan collection agencies may be too forward for some people's taste. They will call you, they will mail you, they will constantly remind you that you've an unpaid bill. They will chase you down to the ends of the earth until you finally pay off that bill.
If all of that sounds unpleasant to you, perhaps it may be a good idea to settle your debt.
Can it really impact my credit score?
Yes, medical debt in general can impact your credit score by lowering it. As a rule of thumb, any amount over $500 will most likely appear on your credit report for all of the credit reporting agencies (Experian, Transunion, Equifax).
A decrease in your credit score will make it more difficult for you if you need to use your credit to make a purchase of a large ticket item.
When good credit scores are important:
Applying for a mortgage to buy a home.
Financing the purchase of a new car.
Signing a new apartment lease. Your landlord will background check you.
What you should do
Our recommendation is to pay off your dental bill while your dentist is still contacting you. If you're able to do so, it'll stop your account from going into collections. This will help keep your credit score high so in case you were about to apply for a mortgage, you will not be hampered.
Another reason to do so is because your dentist will often be a lot more lenient than the collection agency. Most offices are willing to work out a payment plan or schedule that is personalized for you. Perhaps smaller payments over a longer period of time may be more feasible for you to do financially.
What if I'm financially unable to pay it?
If you simply do not have the finances to pay your bill, you will be sent to collections. You'll have to dig yourself out of the mess from having a lowered credit score but what can you do?
Alternatively, perhaps you can ask a family member or friend to help you pay off your bill. If they're able to, you can avoid this entire mess.
If you owe your dentist money for treatment that you've received, you should strive to pay what you owe. If you don't, your dentist will make a couple of attempts at contacting you to get the bill paid before they give your account over to collections.
It is certainly much more preferable to deal with your dentist than a debt collection agency. The latter will report you to the credit bureaus and that will impact your credit score.
Although this entire mess could've been avoided if you discussed your finances with your dentist prior to beginning treatment. You should always check with your dental insurance to figure out what the estimated out of pocket costs would be prior to proceeding. At least that is how we handle payment at our dental office.