Editorial Policy

Credit Cards Can Ease Agonizing Dental Bill

Erica Sandberg

January 25, 2013

QDear Erica,

I have one credit card with a $5,000 limit and another card with a $500 limit. Money is tight around here, but I never use my cards at all and just pay with cash. I have managed to live, but it's hard. My credit is perfect. Now I find out that I have to have oral surgery and do not have the spare money to pay. I have health insurance but not dental insurance. The estimated surgery bill is $4,600. What choice do I have? I feel I'm forced to go into debt. What will this do to my credit? Should I split it up a little? I'm in pain in more ways than one and need your help. — Leigh

AHi Leigh,

Ouch! Anyone who has experienced dental pain understands the importance of swift treatment. Do not delay making an appointment because of the cost or impact on your credit.

Before I explain your reimbursement options, I urge you to contact the dentist's office to explain your situation. Ask for a reduced price or one determined by a sliding scale based on income. Trust me, you aren't the only person without insurance or a big bank account. Maybe they can cut you a deal.Ask Erica

Or, you might look elsewhere for the work you need done. Conduct an online search for dental colleges in your area. Many offer low-cost or even free services. There's nothing to be scared of, either, as everything the dentist-to-be does is supervised by an instructor. The trouble with these schools, though, is that there is often a waiting period to get an appointment, which may not work for  you if you need to be seen right away.

Assuming you do have to go to your own dentist (cost break or no cost break), yes, you're going to have to pay somehow.

Charging the bill is perfectly fine, as long as you can meet the minimum payments. To get an idea of how much the minimum payment will be, use this calculator. As your balance declines, the minimum requested amount will also go down, so it should get easier eventually. Can you afford that sum? You say money is tight, but perhaps you can swing it by budgeting even further.

Adding such a debt to your $5,000-limit credit card will affect your credit score because you'll be very near your credit limit (and I suggest just adding it to just the one card rather than separating it over both cards — why complicate things?). Still, if you pay on time and can increase the amount you send every so often so you can get the debt down faster, you should be fine. In fact, this kind of responsible activity can actually boost your credit score.

Another option to consider is a health care credit account. Many medical offices take these products — and even promote them. They are available to people with great credit (like you!) and allow customers to pay for their treatment over a set period of time, with no interest added to the balance. Remember, though, that if you fail to pay off your entire balance in that pre-arranged time frame, a high financing rate will apply.

Now get on the phone and arrange for the soonest possible appointment. If you don't, the problem can intensify, and your bill may become even more agonizing.

Got a question for Erica? Send her an email.