Dental financing: What are my options with bad credit?

Man smiling at the dentist before his clearningImage: Man smiling at the dentist before his clearning

In a Nutshell

If you need to finance necessary dental work, but don’t have great credit, you may find it difficult to get approved for certain loan and credit card options. But there are other options you can consider, like finding less-expensive care or negotiating costs with your dentist.
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Going to the dentist is probably not your favorite activity, but a big price tag can make dental care feel even more painful.

If you’re having trouble paying for expensive but necessary dental care, you’re likely not alone.

The average annual cost of dental treatment increased by 23% between 1996 and 2015, according to a report published by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. To make things even more expensive, in 2015, 29% of Americans were without dental coverage, and among those who did have it, private insurance only paid 43% of total costs.

If you can’t afford to pay for necessary dental treatment upfront, you may be considering dental financing. But bad credit can make it difficult to get approved for many types of credit, or to get an interest rate and terms that you can afford to pay back.

Let’s look at what your options may be for dental financing with bad credit.

What is dental financing?

If you can’t afford to pay for necessary dental care all at once, you might be considering financing. This could mean borrowing money to pay for your treatment and then making monthly payments until it’s paid off. Financing also typically involves paying fees and interest on the money you borrow.

Here are some options if you need financing for necessary dental work.

Medical credit cards

Medical credit cards may be available to pay for healthcare treatments, including dental procedures. A medical credit card is very similar to a regular credit card, but you can only use a medical credit card to pay for healthcare — and only within a specific network of providers that accept the card. If you’re approved for a medical credit card, you can use it to pay a qualified provider for your medical or dental care. After that, you’ll owe the credit card issuer and make payments to them.

Some medical credit cards may come with a period of deferred interest. If you’re able to pay off the balance within the deferred time period, you can avoid paying interest. But if you can’t pay it off within that time period — or make a late payment — you might have to pay all of the interest that accrued from the start of when you borrowed the money. In that case, the accumulated interest can mean treatment ends up costing you a lot more money than you expected — so make sure this is the right option for you before applying for a medical credit card.

And just as with a regular credit card, the card issuer will typically check your credit history to determine whether they’ll lend to you.

Personal loan

A personal loan can be used to pay for a range of personal expenses, which can include dental work and medical treatment. These loans are typically unsecured loans, which mean the lender doesn’t require any collateral to secure the loan. Because of this, the lender will typically consider many factors — including your credit history — to determine whether you’ll be able to repay the loan.

If you’ve got lower credit scores, you may end up paying higher interest rates or may be denied a loan outright.

Intro 0% APR credit card

Rather than using a medical credit card, you may be considering paying for your healthcare with a regular credit card.

There are credit cards that offer an introductory 0% APR for purchases and balance transfers for a set period of time. After the introductory period ends, the card will have an APR based on your credit and other factors.

If you’re able to pay off the amount you owe within the established time frame — which is usually somewhere between 12 and 21 months — you could finance your dental care interest-free. But you can end up paying interest on any portion of the balance you don’t manage to pay before the end of that period, or you could lose your intro rate if you don’t repay according to the card terms. And keep in mind that each intro APR offering can vary based on the lender and your credit.

As with a personal loan and a medical credit card, a regular credit card issuer will typically check your credit profile when considering you for a card.

Provider financing

Some dentists may also offer the opportunity to apply for payment plans and in-house financing through third-party lenders. The terms and details will vary based on each loan provider. Some lenders may offer loans that don’t require any money down or that has a low down payment. And others may not require a credit check in order to be approved, but watch out for high APRs and fees.

Can I get dental financing with bad credit?

Getting financing when you have rough credit can be challenging. Personal loans and credit cards typically require a credit check, and bad credit may cause a lender to deny your application or charge you a high interest rate.

Bad credit typically means that you have low credit scores. FICO, one of the credit-scoring models, uses 850 for its base score, with scores below 580 considered to be “poor.”

Your dental office may offer financing options, even if you don’t have good credit. Ask your dentist what options are available, how much interest you’ll be charged and whether they’ll check your credit.

But if you don’t qualify for affordable financing, it doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t get the dental treatment that you need.

Alternatives to dental financing

If you don’t think you’ll qualify for dental financing or you’re worried about paying for the care that you need — even with financing — you can consider other options.

Shop for less-expensive care

If your dental treatment is not an emergency, you might be able to save money by taking some time to shop around for cheaper alternatives. You can get a quote from a different dentist and see if their services are less expensive. If there’s a dental school nearby, it might offer dental clinics where dental students provide care under close supervision of experienced dentists. These clinics can often offer care at significant savings.

Just be sure that the provider participates in your dental insurance plan, if you have dental coverage.

Negotiate your bill

If you can pay only part of the bill, you might be able to negotiate the total cost with your dentist before committing to the treatment. Do some research first to find out the local going rate for the treatment you need. You can use the Fair Health Consumer Database to get started. If your dentist is charging you more, try to negotiate a lower bill by citing these average costs.

If you’re uninsured, you may also want to ask about discounts. Some dentists may offer a discount to help their uninsured patients afford the cost of care.

Ask friends and family for help

It can be uncomfortable to ask, but if you’re struggling to find financing and you really need dental care, turning to friends and family may be an option worth considering. They may be able to lend you money. Or, if they have good credit, they may be willing to co-sign on a personal loan or low-interest credit card, which may increase your chances of being approved.

Bonus tip: Tax break

If your necessary dental treatment is really expensive, you just might be able to claim a tax deduction for it. Federal tax law allows you to take a deduction on your taxable income for certain medical and dental expenses — as long as it exceeds a set percentage of your adjusted gross income for the year.

Just keep in mind: You’ll have to qualify for the medical expense deduction and itemize deductions on your federal income tax return to get this tax break. But if your dental care is very expensive, this deduction may be available to you.

Bottom line

Taking care of your dental health is important, but it’s also expensive — even when you have dental insurance. If you need to finance treatment to preserve your dental health, financing may be an option if you can get approved for it.

But before you commit to funding your dental care with a line of credit, confirm that you really need the treatment (getting a second opinion may help). And be sure to understand all the terms, conditions and interest and fees associated with your dental financing before you commit to it. Financing almost always comes with a cost, and if you have bad credit those costs can be quite high.

About the author: Erica Gellerman is a personal finance writer with an MBA in marketing and strategy from Duke University. She’s also the founder of The Worth Project: a weekly money newsletter you actually want to read. Her work has b… Read more.