Have you used CareCredit to help pay for veterinary care? CareCredit is essentially a credit card that can only be used for medical/dental expenses (both human and veterinary). Most of the clinics that I’ve worked in have accepted it as a form of payment, and I’ve seen it make a difference in a few cases where finances were restricting a pet’s care. More often, however, it seems like the people who really need it are denied, while the people who can be approved have access to traditional credit, adequate savings, or pet insurance.

Whenever I’ve had a client ask if I thought they should apply for CareCredit, I say that if they have another way to pay, it’s probably best to go that route. But if CareCredit is the only option, they need to be absolutely sure they can pay off their balances before the card’s interest rate goes through the roof. It looks like CareCredit and some health care providers have not been as up front about the card’s strengths and weaknesses.

According to an announcement by the New York Attorney’s General Office about a settlement that requires significant new protections for consumers who use CareCredit:

GE Capital Retail Bank issues the CareCredit card and contracts with health care providers who offer the card to their patients as a way for patients to finance the cost of treatment. GE pays the health care providers in full within 48 hours of the charge. Approximately 65% of CareCredit card holders apply for the card while they are in a provider’s office. The Health Care Bureau's investigation found that, in this setting, the application process is often rushed and occurs when treatment is set to begin. Consumers reported being pressured into applying for CareCredit and charged the full amount for treatment in advance of receiving services. In many instances, providers failed to inform consumers of the basic terms of the CareCredit card and represented that CareCredit had “no interest,” when it carried retroactive interest of 26.99 % if not paid in full during a promotional period. Other consumers were led to believe that they were signing up for an in-house, no-interest payment plan directly with their provider or a line of credit with 0% interest. Consumers who did complain often encountered difficulty in obtaining refunds.

Of the 90% of CareCredit consumers who choose the "no-interest-if-paid-in-full" promotion, about 25% end up paying a 26.99% interest rate, when the promotional period ends. That is because too often consumers are not given clear information about the terms of the financing and how to avoid paying the interest.

The settlement only affects customers in the state of New York, but I’ve heard that veterinarians elsewhere are starting to drop CareCredit from their list of payment options. The company takes a sizeable chunk in commissions out of the money sent to doctors’ offices, and veterinarians are getting a little squeamish about being associated with a corporation with such a problematic reputation.

What are your experiences with CareCredit?

Dr. Jennifer Coates

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