Is a Pet Healthcare Credit Card Really Worth It?

There is no greater struggle for a pet parent than weighing your sick pup’s care versus your household finances. Pet insurance is there for those large expenses.

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A credit card for your health and your pet. By: CareCredit/Facebook
A credit card for your health and your pet. By: CareCredit/Facebook

Like many of you out there, I was only vaguely aware of the concept of a pet healthcare credit card.

A credit card for your pet? It seemed a little, well, weird. So I did some digging to find out what it’s all about.

First, it sounds a lot like pet insurance, so I needed to figure out what makes the CareCredit card different. Pet insurance is just like people insurance — you pay a little every month and have that insurance there in case your pet has a major medical expense.

CareCredit is a line of credit that can be used to cover costs that pet insurance doesn’t cover. (You can use it for your own health expenses, too.)

Think of it as a Visa card that will only get accepted at medical or veterinary facilities. So you could have eye surgery and use your CareCredit card to pay for it, and then swing by the local veterinarian’s office to pick up your pup’s flea medicine and use your CareCredit card to pay for that.

CareCredit can’t be used at the local grocery store, however. It’s just for medical expenses. And there are some serious downsides…

What It Covers

It’s a credit card, and it covers everything medical: supplies, bills, cosmetic surgery and so forth.

But unlike insurance, eventually you are responsible for the full balance of your purchase. A credit card is really designed to help you make a large purchase on the spot and then have you pay it off later, and CareCredit is no different. It has terms, financing — and the dreaded interest rate (up to 26%!).

It does offer several options as far as terms, where you have anywhere from 3 months to 2 full years to pay off the balance with no interest.

If you don’t pay that balance off in the time frame specified, though, you’re going to be hit with interest charges on the total balance that you originally paid.

Just as with any credit card, you have to pay at least the minimum monthly balance to keep your account in good standing, and this is a line of credit so it will affect your credit report. Read the fine print.

Advantages

  1. A CareCredit card covers everything medically as long as your healthcare provider or veterinarian accepts it. It can be used cosmetically, surgically, for equipment, for medications purchased at your veterinarian and so forth. Insurance, on the other hand, covers only what your policy specifies for people or pets and usually isn’t an option for cosmetics or optional treatments.
  2. Another advantage is that having the card makes it so that you have an option to pay a large sum of money for a procedure and then pay it off in increments.
  3. A third advantage is that this card covers medical and veterinary expenses for yourself and your pet.

Disadvantages

  1. Some of the cons of the CareCredit card are easy to spot right off the bat: It is a credit card, so your interest rate is going to depend on your credit. Late payments will go on your credit report, which affects just about every financial aspect of your life.
  2. CareCredit advertises its special financing options as a reason for signing up, but if you don’t pay off the balance in full within the term period, you will be charged interest on the original payment amount — not the balance remaining.
  3. Lastly, and this isn’t really a disadvantage per se, but CareCredit isn’t much different from any other credit card in your wallet. It has interest, fees, a credit limit and so on. The only difference is the special term length with no interest, and purchases are limited to medical needs.

CareCredit vs. Pet Insurance

You have a few options out there when deciding how to prepare for medical expenses for your pets:

Let’s take a brief look at pet insurance just to have a comparison.

Pet insurance is just that — health insurance for your pet. Like your own health insurance, you’d pay a monthly fee and have it there in case of medical emergency, trauma, disease and so forth.

Unlike CareCredit but very much like regular health insurance, pet insurance won’t cover every cost. Some things such as cosmetics, domestic abuse and diseases that are preventable may not be covered. (If your dog contracts heartworm because you neglected to give him his monthly dose of heartworm meds, that would be considered a preventive illness.) You will have a deductible that you can choose upon signing up.

Many pets struggle with medical problems, especially as they age. But all breeds have genetic tendencies toward certain illnesses that can manifest at any time.

My Big Regret

A few years ago when I struggled to take care of my pup Gypsy and her many medical issues, I regretted that I had not signed up for pet insurance.

By the time I knew it was even an option, pet insurance companies looked at Gypsy, screamed and slammed the door in my face. (I wasn’t surprised; she really was a walking insurance nightmare.)

After all was said and done, the medical costs were staggering. It took me years to pay off all the bills.

Not only was this difficult for someone who, like many of us, lives on a tight budget, but it was also a painful reminder of her last days that I couldn’t shake until the bills were paid. Gypsy contracted her illnesses late in her life, but if I had signed her up even in middle age I would have paid a deductible and then insurance would have covered the many thousands of dollars that followed.

There is no greater heartbreaking struggle for a pet parent than looking at your sick pup and trying to weigh her care versus your household finances. Pet insurance is there for those large expenses and functions. (Curious about the cost? Get a FREE, no-hassle quote.)

The Pitfalls of “Saving Up”

There is always the option of saving money for a rainy day — but if you’re anything like me, it’s hard to do.

Other life expenses always come up as well as that inevitable weakness for a good pizza. Realistically it would be difficult to save enough money to cover the potential medical issues that may arise. Gypsy was a special case, and her care broke the $10,000 mark over the course of her 2-year illness.

After looking at all the options, I strongly advise pet caretakers to look into pet insurance. With the varying companies out there is it easy to do some comparison shopping and find the right provider and policy to fit your needs.

CareCredit is a good idea, but in my mind it is not different enough from any other credit card to really make a difference. If you’re in a pinch, try asking your current credit card company to increase your limit.

And as for saving money for a rainy day? Well, I really meant to, but this new pizza place opened up last week…

Go get your FREE quote now from Embrace Pet Insurance.

Melissa Smith

View posts by Melissa Smith
Melissa Smith, discussions manager for Petful, has been researching and writing about pet behaviors for several years. A longtime pet lover, she lives in Massachusetts with her teenage son, their cat Harrison and the spirit of their German shepherd named Gypsy. Melissa is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in multimedia design and hopes to adopt as many needy animals as she can.

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