One inescapable truth about life is that, as we age, we will inevitably run into a variety of health issues. We will need to see our doctor more often; we’ll need more medications and more extensive treatments; we’ll likely need a surgery or two; and our medical bills will climb higher, and higher, and higher.

Some elderly people may be able to handle this debt. They have savings and retirement accounts that can help them pay off the debt. However, there are also plenty of elderly people who are not prepared to deal with the crushing medical debt that can accumulate over time.

There are still some things that people of all ages need to know about medical debt. The first thing to know is that about $45 billion worth of medical debt is placed on the credit cards of Americans every year. Often, people will sign up for special medical credit cards to pay this debt off.

While it may seem like a good idea at the time, medical credit cards can be very tricky. For example, medical credit cards usually offer an interest-free period. During this time, everything will seem fine. But once this period passes, you will be saddled with very high interest rates. In addition, financial penalties may be applied for late payments. All told, your medical debt can snowball to a point where you have no way of paying it off.

That’s where a bankruptcy filing can help. A Chapter 7 filing could result in much of your debt being discharged; or a Chapter 13 filing could reorganize your debt, making your regular payments easier to manage.

Source: MarketWatch, “Medical debt snares more retirees,” Matthew Heimer, Oct. 14, 2013