Seven Ways to Keep Medical Bills Under Control

1. Know Your Options. Most hospitals offer financial aid or charity programs. Don't be afraid to ask about them. If the person at the front desk can't help you, ask to speak with the hospital's billing department.

2. Negotiate, Negotiate, Negotiate. Even if you don't qualify for charity, call the manager of patient accounts in your provider's billing office and ask for a discount. If you can't get a discount, ask about an affordable payment plan.

3. Don't Wait! Deal with medical bills as soon as possible, even if you can't afford to pay them at once. Hospitals often turn over unpaid bills to collection agencies, which can report the delinquent charges to a credit bureau. Don't let your hospital bills affect your credit!

4. Review Your Bills Closely. Mistakes are common! It's worth it to take the time to go over every statement with care--and challenge the costs you feel are incorrect or don't understand. Studies show that a high percentage of medical bills contain errors; it's unlikely the error will be in your favor.

5. Don't Fall Into the Credit Trap. Use caution with credit cards--especially medical cards that transfer your debt away from the provider and onto the card. Medical debt itself carries no interest--but a credit card does. Don't be rushed into signing up for anything you don't understand.

6. Avoid Financial Traps. Pay important bills (like your mortgage) first. Avoid using a home equity loan to pay expensive medical bills. This type of loan can put your home at risk if you are unable to pay.

7. Have an Advocate. Don't be too embarrassed to ask for assistance when negotiating your bills. There are professionals who can help: