Best ways to pay for emergency medical expenses

young girl getting medical treatment

Emergency medical expenses are a fact of life. At some point either you or a family member will require sudden yet vital treatment that results in a big bill. Even if you’re insured, the deductible and out-of-pocket costs can be overwhelming. 

Concerned? You’re not alone. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that two-thirds of the respondents were very worried about being able to afford unexpected healthcare obligation. 

But fear not. There are ways to deal with an especially large emergency medical expense. Here are a dozen.

1. Negotiate with the provider

Don’t simply accept the amount of the first bill you receive. Healthcare providers can be surprisingly flexible. Explain that you think the sum is too high, and ask them to reduce it. They may discount it on the spot or take a few days and get back to you with a number. Another option they may propose is a short payment plan where you send the balance owed in a few installments.

2. Tap your savings

Ideally you will have enough cash in the bank to tap into and send. It can be depressing to use money that you’ve set aside for something else, such as a vacation or special treat, but it is the responsible thing to do. If you don’t pay, the provider may send the debt to collections – or even sue you for the balance due.

3. Charge it to an existing credit card

Many people use the credit card they have in their wallet to pay for emergency medical expenses. These products are great, but the resulting debt can be troublesome. If you do charge the bill, create a plan to pay delete it quickly. Know how much you can send every month, stick to it, and avoid charging again until you’ve achieved a zero balance.

4. Open a 0% APR card with a sign-up bonus

If you have a good credit rating, you may be able to qualify for a credit card that offers a 0% APR for over 12 months. Many have healthy sign-up bonuses, too, so you’ll get a large amount of cash, miles or points after spending a certain amount within a fixed time frame of opening the account (such as $3,000 in 3 months). You’ll have a long time to pay the bill with no finance fees, and financially come out ahead with the bonus. 

5. Use a third-party healthcare credit plan

There are several different companies that healthcare providers contract with to help their patients pay for expensive medical costs. These are short-term financing arrangements where you send payments for anywhere from a few months to two years. Depending on the company, the loan may be free of interest as long as you pay your bill within the agreed-upon time period. If you don’t interest will be added and often at a very high rate, so be careful.

6. Apply for an unsecured loan

You may also take out a personal loan from a bank, credit union or online lender. You’ll have to qualify, of course, but they can be a fine way to take care of the bill. Make your payments on time you’ll protect (and possibly improve) your credit rating. Interest rates vary, so conduct your research and identify the loan with the lowest rate.

7. Ask a friend or family member for a loan

To totally avoid the financial obligation from appearing on your credit report, you may turn to a friend or family member for a loan. Just be sure to create a binding contract, complete with how much you’ll pay each month, how you’ll pay (cash? check? electronically?) and by when (the first of the month, perhaps). Treat these loans with great respect. If you renege, you risk harming an important relationship.

8. Use your home equity

If you’re a homeowner you may have built up equity. In that case, you may be able to get a home equity line of credit, and use the money to pay your medical bills. The interest rates are typically much lower than credit cards and unsecured loans, and if you use an online lender, approval is swift. Be prudent with these loans, though, and make sure you can and will make all the payments. They’re backed by your property, so if you default you could lose your home.

9. Sell unnecessary items

Look around and see if you can identify anything that you don’t need but that also has value. Plenty of people have all kinds of things laying around their home or yard that they can sell. Use an app like Letgo, community boards such as Nextdoor and Facebook Marketplace, or host a good old-fashioned garage sale. Whatever the case, apply all of the proceeds directly to your medical bill.

10. Augment your employment

If you’re in a position to take on more work, look into the different income-bearing opportunities that may be open to you. Drive for a ridesharing company, babysit or walk dogs, give violin lessons… whatever it is, send the money you earn to the bill until it’s paid off.

11. Pare down expenses

When was the last time you took a deep dive into your budget? Do it now. You may find that you’re overspending on things you don’t need. If you can shave down a few hundred dollars a month, you can dedicate that money to the bill. By living as frugally as possible, you may be able to avoid having to use savings, borrow money, work harder, or sell anything.

12. Crowdsource

Finally, if you don’t mind making your situation public, consider creating a profile and posting it to GoFundMe, a free crowdsourcing platform. Explain what happened and why you need the money. If your situation is compelling, others will give to your cause. 

As you can see, there are many methods with which to take care of an unexpected emergency medical bill. Pinpoint those that make the most sense for you, and delete that pressing debt – before it adds even more stress to your situation.