Q: I’ve missed the deadline for paying a big medical bill. A couple of weeks ago, I was informed that the debt has gone into collections.

How much more time do I have before the debt starts affecting my credit? And, what if you recently started building credit for yourself? Will it still affect you dramatically?

A: By the time a bill goes to a collection agency, it has already begun to affect your credit.

Late payments have a severe impact on your credit score, but once a collections agency has informed the credit reporting bureaus that it is pursuing this debt, your credit score falls further.

Sometimes, hospitals and medical offices will have a claims or collections department to handle recent bills that are late in being paid. If this is the case, you should contact them now and make some sort of payment arrangement.

Even if you can only pay a few dollars each month, getting on a payment plan will help your credit history and score.

Because you have just started to build your credit history, having a big bill go to a collections agency can dramatically lower your score. You want to do what you can to keep your score as high as possible, so you’ll have more financial and loan options and opportunities.