In a recent post, “The Costs of Owning a Pet,” we cited wide-ranging estimates of first-year and ongoing average costs of dog and cat ownership.
In this post, as part of our ongoing Pet Care Costs series, we offer ideas for how to pay actual vet bills “in real time”—particularly for those clients who might experience financial hardship if faced with a relatively substantial vet bill.
If you are among those clients, you’re not alone.
The Impact of Vet Bills on 2,000 Pet Owners
In a 2022 Forbes Advisor survey of 2,000 dog and cat owners, 42% of surveyed pet owners said a vet bill of $999 or less would require them to go into debt.
A bill of $499 would cause 28% of those pet owners to incur debt.
Only 12% answered “none of the above” amounts, ranging from $1 to $5,000+, would require them to borrow money to pay the bills, with another 5% declining to answer.
While it’s certainly not our place as veterinarians to intrude into the financial affairs of our clients, we do encounter clients every day who tell us they’re struggling financially and having a hard time paying for their pets’ medical care.
Our hearts go out to them and to their pets—our patients. We hope by sharing some of the solutions they’ve found, we can help other clients find ways to pay for the veterinary services their pets need when they need them.
Keeping up with exams, vaccines and parasite preventives are the best veterinary care strategies for minimizing potential future costs for treating undetected, advanced illnesses.
Barring unforeseen screening test results that might indicate a need for further testing or treatment, these preventive care costs are predictable. Your veterinarian can provide written estimates for what you can expect to pay for these services in the coming months.
Be prepared to cover these predictable costs with readily available funds, either as part of your general household budget or by regularly setting aside savings designated for veterinary care.
Should your pet get sick or hurt, the additional costs for diagnosis and treatment could cause emotional upset and real financial hardship if you find yourself unprepared to pay unexpected vet bills.
We assure you, we’ve encountered these situations many times before. Based on the solutions other clients have found to raise the money needed to pay their vet bills, we offer these suggestions for your consideration.
Ideally, you have regularly set aside some easily-accessible cash in a savings account, either as part of a general-purpose emergency fund or in an account designated specifically for veterinary care.
Having the cash on hand when you need it is the best way to keep from going into debt because of an unexpected vet bill. Replenish and keep building the account when you’re able to keep yourself prepared for future needs.
Selling Personal Property
Selling personal property—like collectibles, jewelry, electronics, clothes, musical instruments or antiques—to raise cash is easier now than ever before with such online advertising options as eBay, craigslist and Facebook Marketplace—to name only a few.
You might consider implementing this strategy to liquidate assets now to build your veterinary care savings account before your need for cash is urgent.
At Brownsburg Animal Clinic, we have for many years accepted CareCredit, a credit card especially designed to cover veterinary care costs. (CareCredit offers cards to pay for medical and dental care for humans, too.)
CareCredit is different from most “regular” credit cards in a number of ways, offering more favorable terms for veterinary care charges as explained on the company’s website. Also on this page, you’ll find information about the payment terms offered and how to apply for the card.
If, after visiting the CareCredit website, you believe CareCredit is a good option for you, we suggest you go ahead and apply for your card before you need it. Once you’re approved, you can use the card to pay any invoice at our clinic. Please note, we apply a $5 transaction fee to CareCredit charges of less than $50.
0% APR Credit Card
You may consider opening a new credit card account to be used primarily, if not exclusively, for veterinary expenses. Many cards are available with introductory promotions of 0% finance charges for an initial period of time.
Pay attention to when the introductory period ends and do your best to clear the debt before the higher interest rate kicks in. Otherwise, you may find yourself saddled with high-interest credit card debt that takes you years to repay.
Existing Credit Card Accounts
If you prefer not to open a new credit card account, you can rely on credit cards already in your wallet to pay vet bills so long as you have available credit to cover the charge. You may request an increase in your credit limit if needed.
A NerdWallet survey report, published in October 2022, revealed that 24% of Americans took out personal loans within the previous year, borrowing an average of $5,046.
If you have an acceptable credit history and a dependable source of income, you may qualify for a personal loan from an online lender, bank or credit union.
Personal loans are typically unsecured, requiring no collateral. They often have lower interest rates than credit cards.
Borrowers make a set monthly payment over an agreed-upon number of months. Some lenders tack on fees, like origination or late fees, to payment amounts.
Most lenders offer online applications and will usually approve or reject your loan request promptly. If you qualify, you could have the money available within as little as a week.
Interest rates vary by lender, and the rate you’ll be offered depends on factors such as your credit score, income and debt-to-income ratio.
Search online for “best personal loans” to shop for the most favorable terms currently available.
Loans and Gifts From Family and Friends
Asking your family and friends to help you pay your vet bills can be an easy quick-fix for you, but accepting their gifts and loans can potentially complicate your relationships. The wisdom and feasibility of this option depend on the personalities, relationships and resources available to the people involved.
If you accept money from family and friends, make sure all involved clearly understand the terms. Is it a gift? A loan? If it’s a loan, what’s the plan for repayment? When will you begin paying the money back, by how much, over what period of time? Will you pay interest?
To minimize the risk of damage to your personal relationships, get all these answers in writing before you accept the money, and do your best to honor any commitments you make to repay it.
Paycheck Advance or Loan From Your Employer
Your employer may be willing to give you an advance on your salary or a loan. You may arrange to repay the advance or loan in the coming months through payroll deduction.
The Worst Ways to Raise Cash
When you are under the emotional stress of having a sick or injured pet and facing a vet bill you can’t immediately pay, you may feel desperate to raise quick cash.
Options like payday loans, loans against your car title and other loans that don’t require a credit check are among the riskiest and most expensive ways to borrow money. Avoid them if you possibly can.