North Carolina residents who are struggling with medical debt are not alone. According to one 2018 study, over 15% of people have at least one medical bill on their credit report that is past due. A 2019 study that appeared in the Journal of General Internal Medicine reported that more than 137 million people had struggled with financial hardship because of medical issues in the previous year.

Studies have identified two common factors in medical debt. One is that people are more likely to incur it as a result of an accident than chronic illness. The other is that health insurance matters, with 27 being the most common age for medical debt. This is when people are no longer eligible for coverage on their parents’ plans. As people get older, they are less likely to fall into medical debt since they are more likely to be insured.

There are several steps people can take to help reduce the likelihood of medical debt. One is to build up an emergency fund. Another is to try negotiating a bill. A medical bill negotiator or patient advocate may help with this process. People should avoid going to providers who are out-of-network when possible and should look for alternatives to putting charges on a credit card, including a personal loan.

In some cases, the best option for debt relief can be filing for bankruptcy. This can give a person a financial fresh start, and filing for bankruptcy stops all creditor actions, including phone calls, lawsuits and foreclosure on a home. If a person files for a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, it might be possible to keep that home. With a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, a person creates a plan to repay creditors over a period of three or five years.