A lot of medical debt stems from unexpected emergency costs

To avoid debt, plan ahead. Make a budget. Do your research. Understand what you can afford.

Sound familiar? This is all very common advice, and it's great if you're buying a car or a house. You don't want to jump into these purchases. Planning things out allows you to manage your debt and avoid a situations where you can't make ends meet.

However, as you can imagine, this advice also underscores just how problematic medical debt can be, because you often can't use any of it. Medical expenses tend to be wholly unexpected. No one plans to go out and break an ankle playing basketball at the gym or have an arm crushed in a car accident. These are the types of things that spring on you suddenly, in the span of just a second or two.

Plus, when you get to the emergency room, it's not as if you can always pick and choose your care. Some experts note that out-of-pocket expenses are surprising to people because they'll often get treatment without actually knowing what these costs are going to look like. They don't have any clue what the bills will be until they arrive.

Of course, it's hard to blame them. Doctors often have to act fast. You're in a lot of pain, if you're conscious at all. The last thing you're doing is asking for your insurance paperwork to see if you can afford the treatment. You just get it and sort it out later.

That's why medical debt is a continuing issue. Short of buying insurance, there's little you can do to really plan ahead. If you're facing debt that you can't afford, but which you couldn't avoid, make sure you really look into all of your legal options and alternatives to get life back on track.

Source: Bridge Health, "The Rise of Unexpected Medical Costs and the Impact on American Families," accessed Dec. 30, 2016

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