>>These are your AARP Top Tips for dealing with medical debt. It’s one of the biggest financial problems faced by older Americans. You may not be able to avoid medical debt, but a little knowledge can help you manage it. Here are four things to know. Initially, medical debt can be more forgiving than other kinds of debt, like mortgages, credit cards and loans. Banks are in the business of making money by providing credit, and don’t take kindly to late payments. Hospitals and doctors, though, don’t normally charge interest and are more likely to give you some time before charging late fees or sending the debt to collection agencies. Hospitals can help reduce your burden. If you owe a hospital money, it might have a program to help you pay it off. Ask if you qualify. In fact, the law requires nonprofit hospitals to provide financial assistance to low-income people. If you communicate in good faith with them, hospitals are more likely to give you more time. Don’t replace debt with debt. For example, don’t take out a home equity loan or reverse mortgage to pay off a medical debt. It might put your home at risk. And don’t use your credit card to pay off medical debt. You’ll lose your ability to negotiate over repayment. If your income is low enough, you might qualify for Medicaid, which can help repay medical debt in some cases. If your debt goes to collections, know how it works. Yes, debt collectors can take you to court and garnish wages if they win. But it’s illegal for them to harass, oppress or abuse you, make threatening phone calls, or make false claims. If you ask them to stop contacting you, they have to comply. For more tips on savings and planning, visit www.aarp.org/money.