Analysis

How to deal with old medical debt

And more of the week's best financial advice

A medical bill.

Here are three of the week's top pieces of financial advice, gathered from around the web:

How to deal with old medical debt
"Old medical bills plague many Americans, harming their credit scores and holding them hostage to collection agencies," said Beth Pinkser at Reuters. Medical-related debt makes up over half of all collections items listed on credit reports, according to the National Consumer Law Center. If you find yourself "confronted with a doubtful bill," examine it carefully and "contact the insurance company first to make sure the charges are legit." If you need help, consider hiring an independent medical-billing advocate such as CoPatient.com. "Some charge flat fees, but most work on contingency for a percentage of the amount they save you." If the bill is legitimate, you can try to negotiate the balance down with the provider's office. Many providers are sensitive to keeping you as a customer and maintaining their reputation.

Better ways to build your credit score
It's a common misconception that you need a credit card to build a credit history, said Carol Wolf at CBS News. But it's possible to build that history without signing up for a card and the accompanying risk of "falling into high-interest debt." One way is to apply for a bank-issued secured credit card. Unlike a traditional credit card, where the consumer gets a loan from a lender and pays interest on the money borrowed, these cards use your own money as a line of credit. Your payment history on the card is then reported to credit bureaus such as Experian and Equifax. Another popular way to build credit is by being added as a name on an auto loan or credit card of someone with established credit, such as a parent or a spouse. "This creates a history for the person without credit."

Saving money on college tours
For parents of college-bound kids, the cost of visiting prospective schools "can easily add up to thousands of dollars," said Cheryl Winokur Munk at The Wall Street Journal. But these tours don't have to break the bank. First, do your homework online and eliminate unsuitable colleges "without ever setting foot on campus." Most colleges offer virtual tours on their websites, which can help kids decide whether a school is right for them. Once you've narrowed your selection, find out if the colleges have "flyout programs," which can cover "some or all of the expenses of a student's visit." Families planning on staying overnight on a tour should also visit Student​Universe.com, which can be used to find low-cost accommodation.

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