This church will pay off about $4 million in medical debt in its community. Here’s how it happened

Posted at 1:29 PM, Jun 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-27 15:29:19-04

Four times a year, Northview Church in Indiana does what it calls the Dollar Club.

The premise is simple: A dollar by itself doesn’t go a long way, but a bunch of dollars, together, well, that’s something.

So every fiscal quarter, the pastors across Northview’s seven campuses in Indiana — averaging about 10,000 people on a typical Sunday — asks its congregations to donate a dollar. They then pool all the money and put it to work. The church typically raises between $6,000 and $10,000, and the money has gone to support foster families, help with medical bills, and so on.

But in May, things were different. Northview asked their congregations for a little more this time, $3 or $4 rather than the typical one. They had a special opportunity, they said.

A few weeks later, they revealed their plan. They were going to partner with a charity and alleviate medical debt in their community. And though they didn’t know it at the time, they would help alleviate upwards of $4 million in debt.

How $30,000 becomes $4 million

After Northview revealed their plan to help relieve medical debt in their community, even more people reached out to donate — something that Executive Pastor Jason Pongratz told CNN had never happened before.

The church has now raised $30,000, the most in church history. But how do you take that and alleviate a few million dollars in debt?

That’s where RIP Medical Debt comes in. RIP Medical Debt was founded in 2014, and they’ve helped more than 250,000 people get out of debt, basically by buying back debt for pennies on the dollar. Yes, you can buy debt.

CEO Craig Antico broke it down like this: When people don’t pay debt, after a while it gets placed with collection agencies, and the debt accumulates. RIP is able to buy the debt at a reduced rate from hospitals, doctors, and even investors — who typically purchase debt at reduced rates, say 15%, and will require the debtor to pay them maybe 30%, turning a profit for the investor.

The problem is that not every hospital sells their debt, so if one hospital dominates a region, and it doesn’t sell, Antico can’t buy, even if there’s a lot of debt in the area.

Antico uses data to find where the need is the greatest. In wealthy areas, there isn’t necessarily a lot of need, which is another reason why the broader the area, the better. When organizations only want to alleviate debt in one specific zip code or area, it’s not always possible. Northview expanded their reach to seven area codes in Indiana — everywhere they had a campus.

Recipients don’t have to apply for their debt to be abolished, and they don’t know they’re going to get this help. They just get a letter saying their debt is gone, so the church won’t know who exactly the money helped unless they come forward.

Typically, the ratio of amount spent to debt relieved is 1:100, so donating $1,000 could alleviate $100,000. But Antico said he found some debt in Indiana that was cheaper than normal, so the $30,000 Northview raised could help eradicate $4 million of debt, maybe more.

It was all about being a good neighbor

John Smith, a paster at Northview’s Fisher campus, was in the car when he heard about a group of people donating some money to help with debt on the radio. He didn’t quite catch the name at the time, but he said he felt nudged by God to pursue the story.

A few Google searches and phone calls later, he sent the idea to the lead staff, who loved it.

Smith said Northview tries to think about what would happen if the church packed up and left Indiana. Would anybody notice? Would anybody care?

“We always think about what does it mean to be a good neighbor,” said John Smith, a pastor at Northview’s Fisher campus.

That’s their goal with every Dollar Club, and Smith said every part of it is driven by their relationship with Christ. And though this one was technically his idea, he’s not taking the credit.

“It turned into something much bigger, not because of me, but because I said ‘yes,’ ” he said.