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A pet's medical costs shouldn't have to hurt your credit

Erica Sandberg

August 12, 2014

QHi Erica,

I just found out my dog has diabetes. I love him so much, but the costs for treatment are so high. I'm thinking about putting the expenses on one of my credit cards and worrying about the details later. It will probably max out my card, but I have two others that have no debt. What do you think I should do? –Sheri

ADear Sheri,

It would be great if all pets came with a warning: “Caution! This animal has the potential to evoke a powerful sense of adoration and dedication, then cost you thousands in vet bills over many years.” The downside to such a cautionary notice is that it could dissuade countless wonderful people from bringing pets into their loving homes.Ask Erica

Somehow you manage to find a way when you love them, right?

That brings us to where you are: with a dog that is now an integral a member of your family who needs health care, but without the funds at this moment to pay. You do have options, though. Here are my ideas.

1. “Find” the cash. If you can possibly avoid debt, I implore you do so.  Sell something of value or eliminate some unnecessary expenses from your budget. Maybe you can work overtime or a get a part-time job to bring in extra money. It's amazing what we can do when we absolutely need to.

2. Try for a payment plan. Ask your veterinarian if you can spread out payments. Many vets (and doctors, too) also partner with companies such as CareCredit to help clients manage costs. It's a medical credit card, but interest is deferred for up to 24 months on some cards. As long as you pay the entire balance by a set date and in fixed monthly increments, you won't be saddled with interest. Run your budget to see if you have enough cash left over after paying your essentials to meet the payments. However, seeing as your pup's care may be ongoing and not a one-time expense, this would be my last choice.

3. Charge the expenses. As noted, you already have some credit cards — one with a balance and two that are empty. If you were to put the costs on one of them, turn to the account with the best interest rate and enough of a credit line that you won't max it out. If you do max it out, your credit rating may suffer because of what's called your credit utilization ratio. (You shouldn't tie up more than 30 percent of the amount of credit you have available across all your cards. So, if your credit limits are $10,000, and you have used $1,000, your credit utilization ratio is 10 percent. This is important because the ratio accounts for 30 percent of your FICO score, which lenders track to assess your creditworthiness.)

Do not worry about the “details” later! Before charging anything, be sure that you can whittle the balance down quickly. A few months are ideal. Much longer than that and finance fees will make this a very expensive and stressful solution.

Canine diabetes can require treatment that can run over $100 a month. If you absolutely have no place in your budget to afford that care, then you need to explore other options. One could be finding a new owner who has the means to properly care for your pet or asking for financial help from friends, family or community groups. I scoured the web for you and found a couple of organizations that provide financial assistance to owners of pets in need of veterinary care: redrover.org, thepetfund.com and giveforward.com. Where there's a will, there's a way. Don't give up and do everything you can not to go into debt over this.

I hope you get your dog's diabetes under control and that he has a long and happy life.

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