People with medical debt are turning to online crowdfunding for help

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For the last few weeks, FOX66 and NBC25 have been telling you stories of how one medical emergency can upend your financial well-being. We know how big of a problem medical debt is: here in our viewing area, we have $230 million of it according to the nonprofit RIP Medical Debt.

That's why we are working with RIP Medical Debt to eliminate $1 million of your medical debt. However, when a charity can't step in and help, people often turn to their neighbors.

It’s human nature: you see someone suffering and want to help, but when you see your best friend hurting, you do everything in your power to make it go away.

At least, that’s what happened when Shannon Persky found out her friend was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“Just to see her on a daily basis and everything she's gone through I care a lot for her,” Persky said, “I asked a whole bunch of people in our community to help and they made this all possible.”

Persky and others from the Gladwin Co. community put together a fundraiser, dinner and silent auction for Savannah Celestino, a nurse who survived breast cancer.

“I didn't expect so many people to come, let alone a half an hour into it and everybody that's donated and the hard work everybody's put into it to pull it all together makes me emotional,” Celestino said.

Her next step is digging herself out of the medical debt the bills left behind. However, this traditional, in-person assistance isn’t the only kind of help Celestino is receiving.

“A girlfriend I graduated with… she found out through a Facebook post that I had been diagnosed with cancer and almost immediately, without even letting me know she set up a GoFundMe account and shared it on her Facebook page and then just from her page, that had gotten shared over and over again,” Celestino said.

Here’s how digital crowdfunding like GoFundMe works: people can set up campaigns to fund anything from weddings to funeral expenses. Others can go online and securely donate to your cause, through the online platform. Medical needs are a top category for several crowdfunding platforms, including Plumfund. Plumfund’s CEO and co-founder Sara Margulis spoke with us via Skype from Florida.

“Crowdfunding is a natural fit for that and it's just an extension of what humans would naturally do, reach out and help each other in times of need,” she said.

Here’s the interesting thing: Margulis first created Plumfund as an extension of her first business, Honeyfund, which helps couples raise money specifically for their honeymoon.

She figured Plumfund will be the next step in their lives: raising money for baby needs, first houses, things like that.

“The more people started using Plumfund, the more naturally this medical crowdfunding category grew until now it is the largest category on our site,” Margulis said.

However, just because people are starting campaigns doesn’t mean they’re successful.

The online publication Nerd Wallet did a study in 2015 and found only 11 percent of medical campaigns, across five crowd-funding sites, were fully-funded, meaning they reached their financial goal.

We asked Margulis, how can someone make sure their campaign is a success? She said first, campaigns started by family or friends on your behalf tend to be more successful. Next, you want to make sure potential donators know exactly why you’re asking for money.

“That can often be very hard for people, challenging to be raw and honest about the hardship they're facing but it really is what creates that need to give and do something helpful, she said.

One more thing to consider before donating: there have been cases of donation fraud across the country. GoFundMe’s website says fraudulent campaigns make up less than on tenth of one percent of all campaigns. Still, Consumer Reports says you need to be careful when giving money. Do your best to make sure you know the person on the other end of the transaction is legitimate.

One way you can make sure your donations go where you intend them: donate to the charity we are working with, RIP Medical Debt. They are a 501(c)3 nonprofit.

While you can't pinpoint who receives your donation, you will know that your money is going to help pay off medical debt for families in mid-Michigan. You can donate securely by clicking the button below:



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