Dental financing: What are my options?

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, there are a range of options to explore and consider that include personal loans and medical credit cards. But if you don’t have great credit and approval seems difficult, you might consider other options like finding less-expensive care or negotiating costs with your dentist.
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Going to the dentist’s office is probably not your favorite activity, but a big price tag can make dental care feel even more painful. Thankfully there are a variety of dental financing options that can help relieve that pressure, depending on your current credit standing and other factors.

If you’re having trouble paying for expensive but necessary dental care, you’re likely not alone. Many Americans have lost their dental coverage during the pandemic and cite the high cost of dental procedures as a concern.

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

What is dental financing?

If you can’t afford to pay for necessary dental care all at once, dental financing may be an option. Dental financing can come in the form of personal loans, medical credit cards or even payment plans directly from your dental provider. Keep in mind that financing typically involves taking on additional costs, often in the form of fees and interest that you’ll owe in addition to the amount borrowed, so be sure that you understand the loan terms going in.

Types of dental financing

Several dental financing options may be available to you.

Personal loans

A personal loan can be used to pay for a range of expenses, including dental work or other medical treatments. 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 and credit scores — to determine whether you’ll be able to repay the loan. It’s also important to note that some lenders could only offer loans for cosmetic dentistry, so be sure that you understand how your procedure is classified before shopping around.

If you’ve got lower credit scores, you may end up paying higher interest rates or may be denied a loan outright. If you decide a loan is right for you, learn more about the process of applying for a loan.

Here are three lenders to consider that specifically offer loans for medical procedures, including dental.

  • LightStream LightStream offers no-fee loans for medical expenses from $5,000 to $100,000. But with no preapproval process (and a required hard credit check), consider LightStream only if you have good to excellent credit.
  • Upstart With Upstart, you can apply for prequalification for loans that range from $1,000 to $50,000 (in most states). Upstart’s loans have an origination fee of up to 8%.
  • OneMain Financial OneMain allows you to apply for prequalification for personal loans ranging from $1,500 to $20,000. Note that OneMain’s loans come with relatively high APRs, along with origination and late fees, so be sure to shop around and compare all of your options.

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.

As with a regular credit card, the card issuer will typically check your credit history to determine if your application is approved. 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 it.

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.

Intro 0% APR credit card

You may want to consider paying for your dental procedure with a regular credit card instead of a medical credit card, though as with any use of a credit card to pay off a large amount, there can be risks involved.

There are regular 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.

Do dentists offer financing directly?

Some dentists may 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 have 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 lower credit scores 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 credit scores toward the lower end of the score range. For example, FICO, one of the primary credit-rating companies in the U.S., uses a range of 300 to 850 for its base FICO® Scores, 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. You may also still be eligible for some of the other options listed above, though the terms on the offers available may not be as favorable the lower your credit scores.

But if you don’t qualify for affordable financing, it doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t get the dental treatment that you need. We have some alternatives to dental financing below.

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 after being approved for financing — there are other options that you can consider.

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 to see if their services are less expensive. If there’s a dental school nearby, it might offer care at significant savings through dental clinics where dental students provide care under close supervision of experienced dentists.

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.

Next steps

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 or loan, confirm that it’s a necessary treatment (getting a second opinion may help). Additionally, 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.

Keep in mind that if your necessary dental treatment is really expensive, you just might be able to claim a tax deduction for it as long as you qualify for the medical expense deduction and itemize deductions on your federal income tax return.

Finally, if you’re in a financial position to do so and don’t need dental care right away, starting to work toward building an emergency fund is always a good idea for when any unexpected bill, dental or otherwise, comes your way.

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.