How Do Dental Credit Cards Work

Woman paying for dental expenses with credit card
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 © Dan Dalton / Caiaimage / Getty

Dental procedures can be expensive, sometimes topping several thousand dollars. One in three adults has no form of dental benefits coverage at all, according to the American Dental Association, which means millions of Americans have to figure out another way to pay for dental care. Those with dental coverage may still end up 50 percent of the costs or the full cost for cosmetic procedures. Dental credit cards are a way to finance dental expenses that may not be covered by your insurance.

A dental credit card requires a credit check.

Because dental credit cards are a credit product, you’ll have to qualify to be approved. The credit card issuer, not the dentist office, will review your credit history to determine whether you have any serious delinquencies or high balances. If you have poor credit, you may not be approved. Unfortunately, if your dental credit card application is denied, you’ll have to seek another way to finance your dental expenses.

Your account history will likely be reported to at least one of the major credit bureaus and included in your credit report. That means your account usage and payment history will impact your credit score.

Dental credit cards have limited use.

Dental credit cards are similar to store credit cards––they can only be used for dental expenses and only when the dentist office accepts dental credit cards as a payment method. In some cases, you may only be able to use your account for certain types of expenses or for a specific dental office. When it’s time to make payments, you’ll send your payment to the credit card issuer rather than the dental office. You may be able to mail your payment or pay over the phone or online.

Deferred interest promotions could end up costing.

Many dental credit cards offer a zero interest promotion. If you pay off your balance before the promotional period ends you won’t pay any interest on your balance. However, if you have any balance remaining after the end of the promotional period, all the accrued interest will be added to your account. This lump-sum of interest dates back when you first charged the balance to your credit card.

The APR on dental credit cards can be high, so paying interest on the balance increases the cost of your dental care. To completely avoid paying interest on a dental credit card, make sure you pay off the balance during the promotional period. Don’t miss any payments; a late payment could cause you to forfeit your deferred interest promotion earlier than scheduled. Ask your card issuer for the date by which you need to make your final payment to avoid interest.

Some dental credit cards have fixed repayment periods from 6 to 36 months. Rather than requiring a minimum payment, these credit cards have a fixed monthly payment that ensures you pay off your balance by the end of the repayment period.

Choosing a dental credit card.

When you’re considering a dental credit card for your dental expenses, it’s important to pay attention to the credit card terms and pricing. Make sure you understand the details about the deferred interest promotion, particularly the time frame that you’ll need to pay off your balance to avoid paying interest and any actions that could end the promotional period prematurely.

Pay attention also to the APR, which is the interest rate applied to your balance. If you don’t have a special interest promotion, the APR is especially important in your decision.

Read the fine print that comes along with the dental credit card so you know what you’re signing up for. Request the credit card disclosure from the dental office even if they don’t volunteer this information for you.

Options outside of dental credit cards.

As an alternative, you may be able to finance your dental procedures through your dental office. Many dental offices allow patients to prepay their dental work in installment payments. Once you’ve paid in full, you can schedule your procedure. Doing it this way keeps you from creating a new credit card balance that you have to repay.

If your dental office doesn’t offer payment plans, consider using a major credit card. Use one that doesn’t have a balance and a low interest rate. You can shop around for a zero interest promotion to repay your balance with no interest. Unlike dental credit cards with deferred finances, you won’t get hit with interest retroactively if you don’t pay off the balance in full in a certain amount of time.

For emergency dental procedures, taking out a home equity loan or using a home equity line of credit may be another option. Keep in mind that you’re using your home to finance your medical expenses and risk losing your home if you default on your home equity loan payments. Consider this option as a last resort.