Paying for healthcare can be a headache. Even with health insurance, a lot of expenses might not be covered. If you don’t have the cash available to pay out of pocket for healthcare, medical equipment, and services, one option to consider is a healthcare credit card.
Healthcare cards are special-purpose credit cards you can use for medical procedures, equipment, elective surgery, alternative therapies, deductibles, and sometimes even veterinary care for your pets. Many banks and finance companies offer healthcare financing, with different options and requirements.
We’ve researched three of the best-known healthcare cards, so you can compare them side-by-side: Alphaeon Credit, CareCredit, and United Medical Credit.
In This Article
Pros and Cons of Healthcare Cards
Healthcare cards work differently than standard credit cards. There are some unique benefits to using a healthcare card for your out-of-pocket costs, but there are disadvantages you should watch out for too.
- Convenience: Your healthcare provider may be able to sign you up in their office with instant approval.
- Deferred interest: Most cards let you borrow a certain amount without paying interest, as long as you pay on time.
- Flexibility: Many cards will let you pay for future purchases after the initial loan amount.
- Ease of access: Some cards are easier to get if your credit score is low. Others will let you apply with a co-signer.
- Big penalties: Those “zero percent financing” terms are deferred interest, not free interest. If you’re late with one payment or don’t pay off the whole balance during the promotion period, the interest kicks in. And it’s not just interest on your payments going forward — you’ll be charged the maximum rate, all the way back to the original date of the loan. This could mean your loan costs you much, much more than it would on a regular credit card.
- Complicated agreements: What if you make additional purchases after the first loan? Are they deferred interest, too? What if you pay off the initial loan on time but not the extra purchases? Each finance company has different terms, and you need to make sure you understand them before you borrow money.
- Limited options: Some healthcare cards are only accepted by providers in their network. If you’re starting a long course of treatment, make sure you’re happy with your provider. Finding a new one who accepts your card might be a hassle.
What Can You Use A Healthcare Card For?
Different card companies have different limits on where they can be used and what types of products and services you can buy.
You can only use Alphaeon Credit for a limited number of services. Your provider must be part of the Alphaeon network, and Alphaeon only enrolls board-certified doctors in certain specialties.
You can use Alphaeon with enrolled providers for:
- Bariatric (weight-loss) surgery
- Plastic surgery
- Some orthopedic services
- Some wellness services.
Your provider must be enrolled in CareCredit to accept your card. The national network of CareCredit providers and retailers has over 200,000 locations. CareCredit works with a wide variety of providers and services for you or your pet, including:
- Cosmetic procedures
- Day spa services
- Healthcare specialties like allergy testing, cord blood storage, physical therapy, prosthetics, sleep clinics, and treatment for spider veins and varicose veins
- Hearing testing and hearing aids
- Primary care or urgent care
- Vision and LASIK services
- Weight loss surgery
United Medical Credit
United Medical isn’t a lender and it doesn’t work directly with healthcare providers. It is a brokerage that matches customers with loans from a large network of banks and medical lenders. You may or may not have to use an enrolled provider, depending on the lender you’re matched with. If your lender requires the doctor to enroll, they’ll contact the doctor to help make that happen.
United Medical can match you with financing for many different kinds of services, including:
- Bariatric (weight loss) surgery
- Cosmetic procedures and plastic surgery
- Fertility treatments
- General healthcare costs
- Hearing aids
- Vision and LASIK services.
United Medical has a resource list of medical associations where you can find a doctor for the services you need.
What Are the Payment Terms?
When you use an Alphaeon Credit card, your loan is made by Comenity Bank, which is best known for providing store credit cards for retail clothing stores, home stores, and other specialty lenders. Alphaeon cards have a lot of restrictions on where and how you can use them.
- Promotional offerings:
- Zero percent financing with on-time payments and early payoff during the promotional period
- Structured payments by payment amount or by fixed interest rates
- Joint accounts for authorized users after the account is opened, with both account holders equally responsible for the balance
- No application fee
- No prepayment penalties.
- Financing options:
- Value: Vary from $1,000 to $25,000
- Time: Six months to 84 months (seven years)
- Interest: 8.99% to 28.99%
- Learn about the different types of terms available.
- Your agreement: See a standard agreement on Alphaeon’s website. Your specific interest rate and other terms may be different, based on your credit history and approved loan amount.
CareCredit is owned by Synchrony Financial. Synchrony used to be called GE Capital. In 2014, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau took action against GE Capital for deceptive and discriminatory business practices. GE Capital paid millions of dollars in penalties and refunds. Synchrony Financial now offers specialty credit cards for different businesses, like Amazon, Walmart, and Cathay Pacific Airways.
CareCredit offers short-term loans with deferred interest and long-term loans with fixed interest rates. You can keep using your card after the initial purchase, but check your agreement carefully to make sure you know the interest rates and payoff times on new purchases.
- You can open a joint account with both owners equally responsible for the balance.
- The account can stay active as long as you use it at least once per year.
- Financing options: There are short- and long-term loan options —
- Short-term loans include:
- Loan amounts of $200 or more;
- Payoff periods of 6, 12, 18, or 24 months;
- Zero percent interest with on-time payments and payoff during the promotional period.
- Long-term loans include:
- Payoff periods of 24, 36, 48, or 60 months;
- Minimum loan amounts of $1,000 for up to 48 months, or $2,500 or up to 60 months;
- Reduced interest rates of 14.9% to 16.9%;
- Fixed monthly payments until the loan is paid in full.
- Short-term loans include:
- Learn more about CareCredit financing options.
- Your agreement: Download a standard agreement from the CareCredit website. Your specific interest rate and other terms may be different, based on your credit history and approved loan amount.
United Medical Credit
Again, because United Medical isn’t a lender itself, it works a bit differently.
- Financing options: The specific terms of your loan depend on the lender you’re matched with. You may be approved for the whole amount you requested or for a partial amount.
- Your agreement: United Medical Credit doesn’t have a standard loan agreement. Your interest rate and other terms of your agreement will depend on the lender you’re matched with.
How Do You Apply?
You can only apply for Alphaeon Credit through a healthcare provider. If your provider offers financing, you can apply in their office. If not, the Alphaeon online application process will refer you to a local provider. You should receive an answer within 7 to 10 business days. If you’re declined, you can reapply in 30 days.
Your healthcare provider may offer you financing through CareCredit, meaning you can apply in their office. You can also apply online at carecredit.com or by phone at (800) 677-0718. You’ll find out right away if your loan has been approved.
United Medical Credit
United Medical will match you with a lender based on your location, credit history, and the type of services you want to finance. You can apply online to get started, and you’ll find out within one business day if your application is accepted by a lender. If you’re declined, you can apply with a co-signer, who will be a joint owner of the account and have equal responsibility for the balance.
How to Make a Healthcare Credit Card Work for You
Healthcare cards have some unique advantages, but just like any loan or credit card, it’s important to understand your agreement before you sign it. You should also shop around to make sure you’re getting the best interest rate and the most favorable terms. Think through the risks and benefits of the loan term and payment requirements. Are you facing any life changes that could affect your income or make it harder for you to keep your money organized?
Deferred interest agreements depend on very strict payment schedules. You must make minimum payments before they’re due and pay off the whole loan balance before the promotion period ends. Some healthcare cards offer a flat payment schedule with the same amount due every month. Others show you a minimum amount due, but those minimum payments won’t pay off the whole balance. Know which type of payment you’re making. If a late payment will slam you with retroactive interest, be sure you can make those payments on time and in the right amounts.
Your interest rate and due dates may be different for new payments than they are for your original loan. Check your statements and bank records carefully to make sure your payments are being applied correctly. You should also make sure your payments are going to the correct address. Misdirected payments may be counted as late.
See more information about healthcare cards at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
If your health insurance doesn’t cover medical services or supplies you need, healthcare credit card are one payment option. Easy access and zero interest up front can make healthcare cards an appealing option.
The key to making a healthcare card work for you is understanding your options and comparing plans to find the right fit. You need to know where you can use each card, their payment terms, and how to apply. We’ve made that easy with a point-by-point comparison of Alphaeon Credit, CareCredit, and United Medical Credit.