Avoid medical credit cards, Consumer Reports says

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By Capper's Editors

Beware of hospitals bearing credit cards.

That’s the conclusion you could draw reading a recent Consumer Reports investigation of credit cards designed for paying off medical debts. The cards, which may be recommended to patients by doctors and which are often cobranded with hospitals, can offer seductive zero-interest rates – that later soar up to a nightmarish 27.99 percent.

The higher rates can go into effect retroactively if a payment is missed or a debt is not paid off within an allotted time, according to the consumer group, which cites the charges of Chase HealthAdvance’s zero-interest plan as an example.

Consumer Reports recommends patients steer clear of the cards. If credit is the only option, the group says that using a regular credit card is a smarter choice. Negotiating with a hospital, seeking financial assistance and checking an itemized version of your medical bill are among the group’s other recommendations.

To read more advice on paying a medical bill, visit www.ConsumerReports.org/cro/money/credit-loan and click on “Medical debt” on the left-hand side of the Web page.

Published on Oct 16, 2008