Are you among the 41% of Americans with medical debt? Here's how to pay it off.

Maurie Backman
The Motley Fool

Americans are used to carrying some amount of debt, whether in the form of a mortgage, auto loan, or home equity loan. But those types of debt are usually voluntary – meaning, consumers make the choice to take them on to cover a specific expense.

One type of debt that's less voluntary is medical debt. Many people wind up owing money on medical bills due to falling ill or getting hurt and not having health insurance that fully covers their costs (or not having health insurance at all). In fact, it's estimated that 41% of U.S. adults have some type of debt caused by medical bills, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation report.

Unfortunately, medical debt can be a huge burden the same way an expensive mortgage or auto loan can be. And while there are, thankfully, new protections in place to limit the impact of medical debt on consumers' credit scores, medical debt remains a problem nonetheless.

If you owe money on medical bills, you may be eager to shed that debt as quickly and painlessly as possible. Here are some steps you can take to make that happen.

1. Talk to your providers about setting up a reasonable payment plan

Many medical providers understand that healthcare expenses can pop up out of nowhere and leave patients unfairly burdened. If you're now sitting on a whopping healthcare bill you can't pay, ask your provider to set up a payment plan that has you making payments that are reasonable based on your income. Often, providers will work with patients who are left footing a large bill when their insurance won't pick up the tab (or they don't have insurance to begin with).

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2. Try to negotiate your bills down

Maybe you got stuck with a $15,000 hospital bill you know will take you years to pay off based on your income. If that's the case, talk to someone in charge and see if it's possible to negotiate that sum downward – say, to $8,000. If you can prove that it will take you a really long time to cover your full bill, the facility you owe money to might negotiate in order to get paid something.

3. Consolidate your debt with a personal loan

A personal loan can be an affordable means of consolidating and paying off debt. With a personal loan, you borrow a lump sum you pay back in installments under a fixed interest rate. You can use personal loan proceeds for any purpose, and that includes paying off medical debt. Often, personal loans come with competitive interest rates – more so than other borrowing products. And if you have good credit at the time you apply for a personal loan, you'll be even more likely to snag an affordable interest rate on the sum you borrow.

In many cases, medical debt is unavoidable. But that doesn't mean you should resign yourself to letting it ruin your finances. Instead, take these steps to make that debt more manageable as you work to pay it off.

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