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Ask Dave

Can I negotiate?

Bill had a judgment filed against him for an old, unpaid medical bill. He asks Dave if he can negotiate the debt, which is now $700 more than the original amount. Dave tells him it's possible, if he doesn't have $3,200, and explains the ins and outs of dealing with collectors.

QUESTION: Bill in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, had a judgment filed against him for an old, unpaid $2,500 medical bill. He asks Dave if he can negotiate the amount, which is now $3,200, with the lawyer. Bill says he has contacted the lawyer several times for a statement of the account, but all he has received is a payment booklet. Dave says he might be able to negotiate and walks him through some of the steps involved.

ANSWER: I would just call him and pester him. If you don’t have $3,200, just let him know you don’t have $3,200 and offer him whatever you’ve got—$2,000 or $2,500 as a settlement. Ask him to call his client and see if they’ll take that. Let him know that you won’t pay that on the debt, but that you’ll pay it as settlement in full if the debt is cleared.

Here’s the problem you’ve got. When you call you’re probably getting a paralegal and not the lawyer, unless it’s a small operation. If you are talking directly to the lawyer, then he’s probably running a debt collections or debt lawsuit machine. You’re one of thousands of widgets coming down the assembly line. For you, this is very personal. For him, you are one of thousands of widgets. So you have to do something to get his attention and wake him up. He probably gets a piece of whatever he collects. So if he gets a third of $2,000 or $2,500, it might make his house payment this month.

Chances are pretty good he’s working for the hospital that brought suit against you. Medical debts usually aren’t sold. If it were somebody else, it would be a debt buyer. Now, there are some debt buyers buying medical, but it’s such a difficult collection that it’s not a good market for the debt buyers. You could try talking to the hospital, too, if you can. But I doubt you’ll get them to wake up. I’d try this guy first and see if I could shake him out of his doldrums. But if that doesn’t do any good, call the administrator of the hospital and let them know that you’ll bring $2,000 to $2,500 down there today if they’ll accept it as payment in full.

You just have to do something to get off the conveyor belt at this point.