The only thing worse than a root canal is getting the bill after it’s all over. With all that Novocain in the dentist’s office, you’d think someone could develop a shot to numb the mental anguish that occurs when it’s time to pay up.
If you have dental insurance, that reduces some of the financial burden. But there are usually limits on expensive procedures like root canals and crowns.
I got a crown a few years ago, and the cost was $1,200. My insurance paid 50%, so my cost was $600. Thank goodness for insurance, but $600 is still a major expense that was unexpected.
Unfortunately, many Americans would have to pay the entire $1,200. According to the National Association of Dental Plans, at the end of 2018, around 66.7 million Americans had no dental coverage.
Here’s the deal: Whether you have insurance or not, going to the dentist isn’t cheap. So you need to learn about payment strategies, including credit cards, ahead of time. That way, you’ll choose the approach that’s optimal — and cheapest — for your situation.
[Read: Best Low-Interest Credit Cards.]
Should You Use a CareCredit Card?
You’ve probably seen signs at the dental receptionist’s desk that show what types of credit cards are accepted. Often, you’ll see a mention of CareCredit as an option to pay for dental care.
There are both short-term (six to 24 months) and long-term (two to five years) options. CareCredit advertises that you don’t pay interest if you pay off the balance within the promotional period.
I know this sounds good, but if you choose to use CareCredit, proceed with your eyes wide open. A CareCredit card is a deferred-interest product, but many consumers mistakenly believed that CareCredit is an interest-free credit card. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it. It just means you need to understand how deferred interest works.
Here’s an example: Let’s say you use your CareCredit card to pay for a $3,000 dental bill. You qualified for a 24-month 0% annual percentage rate promotional period. You do your best to pay it off, but there’s still $1,000 left after two years.
With a regular credit card, you start paying interest on the remaining balance after the intro period ends. But with deferred interest, if you haven’t paid off the entire balance, you’re charged interest back to the purchase date. The current APR is 26.99%, so the deferred interest can add a lot to your debt. There are also long-term plans with lower APRs that you can consider.
Using CareCredit works best for those who know they can pay the balance in full during the interest-free period. If you can pull that off, this could be a good option for you.
How to Use a 0% Intro APR Credit Card for Dental Work
If you have good to excellent credit, you might qualify for a credit card with a 0% introductory APR on purchases. Unlike CareCredit, a regular credit card with an introductory period doesn’t make you pay deferred interest.
You get to pay down your balance without interest charges during the intro period, which generally ranges from 12 to 21 months. But you don’t have to worry about deferred interest if you still have a balance when the 0% APR ends. You’ll start paying interest at the regular purchase APR, but only on the remaining balance.
[Read: Best 0% APR Credit Cards.]
How to Pay for Dental Care with Bad Credit
If you have bad credit and you can’t qualify for a 0% APR credit card, don’t give up and swear off dentists until you win the lottery. It’s a tough situation, but you still have some dental financing options to consider.
— Ask if the dental practice has payment plans for patients. If not, ask if it would create a custom payment plan for you. This might not work out, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. To help you negotiate, you can research local services and average costs via FairHealthConsumer.org.
— Look for cheaper care, such as at a dental school.
— Check out the resources from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for local, state and federal programs that can help with financing dental expenses.
— Ask family members if they can help out with a low-interest loan. If you go this route, put the agreement in writing so everyone knows the rules for repayment.
— Consider getting a personal loan, which will most likely be a cheaper dental financing option than using a credit card. With bad credit, you’re probably looking at an APR of more than 20% on your credit card. Plus, you’d be dealing with compound interest, so a credit card balance would grow very quickly.
If your best option turns out to be a personal loan, take time to shop for the best rates. With a personal loan, you’ll be making fixed monthly payments. As long as you pay on time, you’ll also be building your credit history.
While bad credit does limit your options, if you have the money and time to travel, medical tourism is another option to consider.
What Is Medical Tourism?
In the U.S., the average cost for a dental implant is $2,500. According to the Medical Tourism Association, you can get the same procedure in Mexico for $975.
As travel restrictions are being lifted, medical tourism is becoming a dental financing option. If you have an adventurous spirit and the funds to travel, medical tourism is a way to cut dental costs.
But before you decide to hop on a plane, you have to do careful research to make sure you choose the right country and provider for the type of dental work you need. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a section on medical tourism. It’s an excellent resource to learn about safety issues, vaccinations needed and guidance on pre-travel consultations with your doctor.
Bonus tip: If you’ve been using rewards credit cards, don’t forget to check your accounts and see whether it’s possible to pay for most of the trip with rewards. You might be able to finance your airfare and your hotel stay with miles or points you’ve earned.
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