US Charities Are Helping People Cancel Excessive Medical Debt. 1 in 3 Americans Is in ‘Collection’ for Medical Debt Valued at $1-Trillion
Having debt in collections isn’t just bad for Americans’ budgets or bank accounts. It can also lower households’ credit scores,
which can have a deep, long-lasting effect on their finances and make
it harder and more expensive for them to access credit, like getting a
mortgage or borrowing for a small business. Credit report information
can even be used to determine eligibility for jobs, access to rental housing, and insurance premiums.
Without access to credit, it’s hard to take the first steps toward building wealth. Wealth is not just for the wealthy.
When a family can’t rely on savings for home or car repairs, to cover
their bills during an illness or job loss, or to help children pay for
their education or job training, it can affect them—and their
Having debt in collections can result from unpaid bills, including
medical bills, utility bills, parking tickets, or membership fees. When
debt is more than 180 days past due, it enters collections and can be
reported to credit bureaus. According to our new analysis, 71 million
American adults had debt in collections reported on their credit records
in 2017, putting their financial futures at risk.
How did we arrive at this estimate?
According to 2018 data from the US Census Bureau, 252 million adults (ages 18 and older) live in the US. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
finds about 28 million, or 11 percent, are “credit invisible,” meaning
they lack a score from a major credit bureau, so they don’t use
financial tools like credit cards or have a mortgage.
But most American adults—224 million, or 89 percent—have a credit
file. Using our random sample of credit file holders, we estimate that
31.6 percent of them, or 71 million US adults, have debt in collections
reported in their credit files.
Where do these people live?
Communities are only as strong as the people who live in them. The economic health of states, counties, and cities depends on residents’ financial health and stability. When many residents are dealing with financial challenges, the effects can ripple throughout a region.
Adults with debt in collections are concentrated
in the South. The states with the highest share of residents with debt
in collections are Louisiana (46 percent), Texas (44 percent), South
Carolina (43 percent), and West Virginia (42 percent). (To view data on
Americans with any debt in collections on our interactive map,
click “Medical debt” in the top menu and view the left side bar. For
county-level information, click “download data” at the bottom of the
The counties that have the most residents with debt in collections
are also predominantly in the South, including Allendale County, South
Carolina (68 percent); Frio and Zavala Counties, Texas (66 and 65
percent, respectively); and Tensas Parish, Louisiana (65 percent).
Links for Christian churches that have recently raised enough money to abolish $15 million in medical debt: