Medical credit cards work like regular credit cards but instead of buying those really nifty shoes you fell in love with while at the mall last weekend, you pay for elective medical procedures or veterinary work. For seniors trying to fund a crown or Lasik surgery, it can seem like a blessing if they’ve had to put off treatment due to lack of finances. With a line of credit offering 0% interest for as many as 24 months, the offers can be particularly enticing for individuals who can’t absorb a big one-time hit. For doctors, dentists and vets, the card allows them to get paid up-front. So it sounds like a win-win.
But, there’s been a lot of focus on the cards recently because if the individual misses a payment or fails to pay it off in time, the interest rate is nearly 27 percent for a CareCredit card (the New York Times ran a story about a woman who ended up paying 33 percent) and the interest isn’t charged for the unpaid balance but instead for the entire amount of the charge. In fact, the people most likely to be offered the card according to a Market Watch article are precisely the people most likely to be unable to make payments due to fluctuating income or an inability to budget for other expenses, making a medical credit card a risky option.
New York’s Attorney General, Schneiderman investigated the application process for CareCredit, a GE Capital company that offers its card nationwide, and found that consumers were pressured into applying for the credit card and often didn’t understand the particulars of the card and thought they were getting credit in-house. New York came up with a settlement with the company but other states are also pursuing medical credit card companies for how older people are struggling with the results of getting credit with them.
The MarketWatch article referenced above offers some alternatives to the cards such as reverse mortgages, withdrawing money from an IRA or 401(k) (there’s no penalty for withdrawal if the withdrawal is for a medical procedure) and working with your medical provider for other options.