Legal Limit for Late Fees on a Medical or Dental Bill???

Hi! I have a question about late fees from my dentist... can someone provide advice?

I have a dental bill from early fall 2008 from my dentist for ~$27 after insurance paid their portion. I was laid off from my job shortly thereafter and have been unable to pay the bill.

My dentist has known me for ~25 years, so I called his office manager and explained why I could not pay the bill. She seemed understanding at first, but that soon changed dramatically. I had hoped to be able to pay it by now (I have always paid all my bills on time until now), but not having prescription drug coverage has eaten my meager savings and then some. I have not been able to find full-time work yet and unemployment benefits do not even cover my mortgage and food. My credit cards are now maxed out.

The dentist has started charging me $25.00/month late fees for the past several months... my balance is now over $150. I was very surprised by such a high late fee and feel this an ethical breach of conduct/contract. I was not given notice of the late fee prior to being charged- there are no signs in his office indicating that there is a $25/mo late fee nor was anything ever said/sent prior.

I fully intend and now am able to pay the $27 bill... While going through some old school papers recently, I found a savings bond that I had won in junior high school. With that, I can pay the original $27 bill but not the late fees. And...

I have done a little research and believe this high of a late fee may be illegal according to Georgia Usury Law - SB157 passed in May 2004 (??? 16% is the maximum interest that can be charged for amounts under $3000).

However, I do not know if the Georgia Usury Law applies to late fees for a dental bill? Can anyone guide me on what to say in a letter to my dentist if it does? Even if it does not, a $25/mo late fee is disproportionally high to the amount I owe- that is a 455% increase.

I did some research on late charges for rent in GA and judges have ruled - for example- that a $10/day late fee was exorbitant and illegal for a $300/mo rent. My situation seems similar, albeit for a dental bill.

Please help! I have no problems ethically paying for a reasonable interest or late fee, but this is not the case. I fully understand that my dentist has creditors and employees to pay, but I feel he is taking advantage of me in this situation.


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