It’s no secret that medical expenses can be very costly in the United States. Since 2011, average family insurance premiums, even for people with employer-provided plans, have increased by 20 percent.
With out-of-pocket health care costs and insurance premiums skyrocketing, many people are turning to credit cards designated for medical expenses like CareCredit to help them pay for health care expenses over time.
But before you sign up for CareCredit to cover your next medical bill, here’s what you need to know.
A warning about those 0% financing offers
CareCredit is a credit card you can use at any of more than 200,000 health and wellness providers in the United States — from doctor’s offices to drugstores like Rite Aid.
Why turn to CareCredit instead of a regular credit card for medical expenses?
The biggest draw is the company’s frequent 0% financing specials for six to 24 months on qualifying purchases $200 or more, when you make the minimum monthly payments and pay the full amount due by the end of the promotional period.
The opportunity to put approved medical expenses on a 0% credit card and breathe easy for up to two years has huge appeal. But there’s one big caveat everyone should understand when it comes to CareCredit — deferred interest.
When you sign up for the CareCredit financing on a purchase of $200 to $999, deferred interest rate applies. This means that if you don’t have the full purchase paid off by the end of the promotional period, you will be charged retroactive interest at an APR of 26.99% from the date of your original purchase on the card. (We give an example of how the math works out below.)
Unfortunately, this is something customers could easily forget about, and it doesn’t help that the minimum monthly payment shown on your statement isn’t necessarily enough to get the entire balance paid off on or before the end of the special financing period. You should do the math yourself to make sure you’re paying enough each month to make the most of interest-free financing.
How CareCredit works
Now that you understand the risk that comes with a CareCredit account, let’s cover some of the details of what the company offers.
For larger purchases of $1,000 or more, CareCredit offers terms of up to 60 months with a reduced APR and fixed monthly payments until paid in full.
$200 to $999: Borrow at 0% for 6, 12, 18, and 24 months. Variable rate of 26.99% applies after promotional period ends.
$1,000 to $2,499: Borrow at 0% for 24, 36, or 48 months with an APR of 14.9%.
$2,500 and up: Borrow at 0% for 24, 36, 48, or 60 months with an APR of 16.9%.
How to apply
You can apply online on the CareCredit website or by phone at 1-800-677-0718. You can also apply at most health care providers’ offices if they are part of the network that accepts CareCredit to pay for services.
Like most credit card applications, you will need to supply your name, address, date of birth, Social Security number, net income and housing information. But unlike most credit card applications, you will also need to specify your doctor’s name and how you plan to use your CareCredit credit card if you aren’t applying in a doctor’s office. Once approved, you can use your CareCredit credit card again and again at participating health care providers.
CareCredit approvals are usually immediate, so you can find out right away if you can pay for your medical services with CareCredit. Synchrony, the bank that issues CareCredit, did not respond to phone and email requests for information on the credit standing needed to qualify for CareCredit.
What can CareCredit be used for?
As mentioned earlier, there are more than 200,000 enrolled providers that accept CareCredit in the United States. These include many different types of medical and health care providers and procedures, such as:
- LASIK and Vision
- Primary and Urgent Care
- Weight Loss
- Health Care Specialists
You might even be able to use CareCredit to pay for veterinary care for your four-legged family members, if your veterinarian participates and accepts CareCredit in their office.
Fine print alert
While there’s no application fee or fee for using the special financing offered by CareCredit, there are still some things you need to watch out for.
The first, which we covered previously, is the high interest rate charged if you don’t pay your balance off in full by the end of the promotional period. The interest rate of 26.99% is very high, and as mentioned, it will be charged in arrears from the time you made your purchase.
For example, if you charge $1,200 to your CareCredit at 0% for six months and only pay the minimum payment each month (between $39 and $33), your balance will be $982 at the end of the six-month period, plus accrued interest of $152, totaling $1,134. If you continue making only the minimum payment, it will take you 96 months (eight years) to pay off your balance and cost you $2,693. However, if you paid $200 a month, you’d pay off the $1,200 bill within six months at no extra cost.
The late payment fee for CareCredit can be up to $38. Plus, paying late even once may result in you losing your promotional 0% interest rate.
Who is CareCredit best for?
Because of the fact that CareCredit will charge interest from the time of your purchase if your balance is not paid in full by the end of a promotional period, the only time you should use CareCredit to finance your medical costs is if you are 100 percent certain you can pay it off within or before the end of that time frame.
This might be a good idea if you have already saved up the cash for a medical procedure and you can continue earning interest on it in your savings account. By earning interest on your savings and paying 0% interest with CareCredit, you can actually save money on your medical bill. This could still be risky: You never know if something might happen that could cause you to no longer be able to afford to pay off your CareCredit balance as you had planned.
Alternatives to CareCredit
Ask the billing department for a payment plan
Many health care providers offer patients no-interest payment plans, but you may not know about it unless you ask. Tell the billing department what you can afford to pay monthly and see what your options are for spreading out the cost of your treatment.
Use your emergency fund
If you know you incur a lot of medical bills or don’t want to rely on credit when they come around, make saving for medical expenses or adding to your emergency fund part of your regular budget. That way, if an emergency happens, you’re much less likely to go into debt paying for it.
Open a credit card with 0% financing for purchases or balance transfers
There are many credit cards available with 0% interest rates from six months to 21 months that don’t require you to pay off your purchase in full to avoid interest from back when you first made the purchase. Even if you can’t pay off the entire purchase before the end of the 0% interest period, you could try doing a balance transfer to keep your interest rate low, but even if you leave your balance on that credit card, it probably has a lower interest rate than the 26.99% offered by CareCredit. Here are some of your best options for a 0% credit card.
Take out a personal loan
If you can qualify for a personal loan with a low interest rate, you’ll have fixed monthly payments, and you may be able to extend them longer than the terms offered by CareCredit. We’ve rounded up some of the places you can get the best personal loan rates online, and you can read about them here.
Don’t get caught at the checkout counter at your doctor’s office and end up making the wrong decision. Make sure you’ve carefully considered your options before you decide if you want to sign up for CareCredit to pay for your medical costs.
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