Editorial Policy

Funding plastic surgery on plastic

Erica Sandberg

August 16, 2013

QDear Erica,

This is highly confidential. I plan to get breast enlargement surgery. The price my doctor quoted is $3,800. I want to put it all on my Chase credit card, but my credit limit is $2,000. Can I get a credit limit increase, and do I have to tell them what it's for? I can make the payments. How much should I ask for? I don't use the card so there is nothing on it right now. My credit is good because I keep getting letters for more credit in the mail. Should I get a new card if Chase says no? — Kristina

ADear Kristina,

Don't worry, the bank isn't interested in the salacious details of your desired surgical enhancements. When considering a customer for an increase in their credit limit, they just want to know if the cardholder can financially handle the bigger line.Ask Erica

To start, call your bank and ask if it will let you have a larger line of credit. It may be able to tell you over the phone, and if not, someone will get back to you shortly with a decision. To determine if you qualify, the bank will analyze your history of dealing with them as a creditor, check your current FICO score (or other credit scores), and look at your income situation. If you've been a responsible cardholder over the past few years, and have enough money coming in to support the debt you can get into with the higher credit limit, chances are the bank will agree to extend it.

You're smart to question how much of a raise you should ask for. I would ask for considerably more than what you want to immediately charge because it will keep your credit score from deflating. The reason: your credit utilization ratio, the amount of credit you're using, compared to how much credit you have available (your credit limit). If that figure creeps above 30 percent, your credit score will decline because lenders like to see you staying well below your credit limit. So I'd ask for around $10,000. If the bank consents to that, you'll still be well below the halfway mark if you charge your surgery.

But should you charge the surgery? I like that you say you can afford the payment and that your current card balance is at zero. That indicates you aren't borrowing what you can't afford. I have no problem with using a credit card as a short-term installment loan. But when I say short, I mean a year, max. Extend the cost for longer than that, and the finance charges pile on, making it a poor economic decision.

For example, let's say you wanted to finance the price of your operation over three years. With an APR of 17 percent, you'd add just over a thousand dollars to the bill. That's a huge amount of money! But pay if off over six months, the extra fees would be less than $200 — a far more reasonable sum. Of course, you'd need to scare up $666 each month (as opposed to the $136 in the first scenario), so make sure that that's feasible. Review your budget and see if you have the spare cash for such a nonessential splurge — and that you're not neglecting other essentials, such as housing, groceries, transportation and retirement savings to make it happen.

Now, if Chase does reject your plea, that means something is probably amiss with your credit. Take the rejection as a sign that you should save up for the procedure instead. If you can round up half the amount you need for the procedure, you can use the card you have without requesting supplementary borrowing power from the bank or anyone else. Then you'll surely be in good shape.

Got a question for Erica? Send her an email.