Perhaps your underwriting department used information about unpaid medical bills on an applicant’s credit report when determining whether to offer auto financing and under what terms.

Last week, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau proposed a rule that would remove medical bills from most credit reports. Officials said the proposal would increase privacy protections, help to increase credit scores and approvals and prevent debt collectors from using the credit reporting system to coerce people to pay.

The CFPB said its proposal would stop credit reporting companies from sharing medical debts with finance companies and other lenders and prohibit them from making credit decisions based on medical information.

Officials said the proposed rule is part of the CFPB’s efforts to address the burden of medical debt and coercive credit reporting practices.

“The CFPB is seeking to end the senseless practice of weaponizing the credit reporting system to coerce patients into paying medical bills that they do not owe,” CFPB director Rohit Chopra said in a news release. “Medical bills on credit reports too often are inaccurate and have little to no predictive value when it comes to repaying other loans.”

The CFPB recapped that Congressional action back in 2003 that restricted finance companies and other lenders from obtaining or using medical information, including information about debts, through the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act.

However, federal agencies subsequently issued a special regulatory exception to allow creditors to use medical debts in their credit decisions, according to the CFPB.

The CFPB said it is proposing to close the “regulatory loophole that has kept vast amounts of medical debt information in the credit reporting system.”

Officials said the proposed rule would help ensure that medical information does not unjustly damage credit scores and would help keep debt collectors from coercing payments for inaccurate or false medical bills.

Specifically, the CFPB said the proposed rule, if finalized would:

—Eliminate the special medical debt exception: The proposed rule would remove the exception that broadly permits lenders to obtain and use information about medical debt to make credit eligibility determinations. Lenders would continue to be able to consider medical information related to disability income and similar benefits, as well as medical information relevant to the purpose of the loan, so long as certain conditions are met.

—Establish guardrails for credit reporting companies: The proposed rule would prohibit credit reporting companies from including medical debt on credit reports sent to creditors when creditors are prohibited from considering it.

—Ban repossession of medical devices: The proposed rule would prohibit lenders from taking medical devices as collateral for a loan, and bans lenders from repossessing medical devices, like wheelchairs or prosthetic limbs, if people are unable to repay the loan.

“The CFPB’s research reveals that a medical bill on a person’s credit report is not a good predicter of whether they will repay a loan,” officials said. “In fact, the CFPB’s analysis shows that medical debts penalize consumers by making underwriting decisions less accurate and leading to thousands of denied applications on mortgages that consumers would repay.

“Since these are loans people will repay, the CFPB expects lenders will also benefit from improved underwriting and increased volume of safe loan approvals. In terms of mortgages, the CFPB expects the proposed rule would lead to the approval of approximately 22,000 additional, safe mortgages every year,” they continued.

In December 2014, the CFPB released a report showing that medical debts provide less predictive value to finance companies and other lenders than other debts on credit reports.

Then in March 2022, the CFPB released a report estimating that medical bills made up $88 billion of reported debts on credit reports. In that report, the CFPB announced that it would assess whether credit reports should include data on unpaid medical bills.

Since the March 2022 report, the CFPB pointed out that the three nationwide credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — announced that they would take many of those bills off credit reports, and FICO and VantageScore, the two major credit scoring companies, have decreased the degree to which medical bills impact a consumer’s score.

Despite these voluntary industry changes, 15 million Americans still have $49 billion in outstanding medical bills in collections appearing in the credit reporting system, according to the CFPB.

“The complex nature of medical billing, insurance coverage and reimbursement, and collections means that medical debts that continue to be reported are often inaccurate or inflated,” officials said. “Additionally, the changes by FICO and VantageScore have not eliminated the credit score difference between people with and without medical debt on their credit reports.

“We expect that Americans with medical debt on their credit reports will see their credit scores rise by 20 points, on average, if today’s proposed rule is finalized,” officials went on to say.

Under the current system, the CFPB said debt collectors improperly use the credit reporting system to “coerce people to pay debts they may not owe.”

Officials said many debt collectors engage in a practice known as “debt parking,” where they purchase medical debt then place it on credit reports, often without the consumer’s knowledge.

“When consumers apply for credit, they may discover that a medical bill is hindering their ability to get a loan. Consumers may then feel forced to pay the medical bill in order to improve their credit score and be approved for a loan, regardless of the debt’s validity,” the CFPB said.

The proposed rule can be viewed online.