Editorial Policy

Should I Go Into Credit Card Debt to Save My Pet?

Erica Sandberg

June 27, 2012

QHi Erica,

I need your help. My 10-year-old dog Blue is in the vet hospital, and I’m facing a huge bill. Putting him down is not an option for me. I will keep Blue alive for as long as the vet and I think he can live a happy life. But he is costing me big time. I have very little money. I do have credit, though. Should I put the bill (which is estimated to be around $5,600) on my two cards?  One is empty with a $2,000 limit. I owe $1,000 on the other one, but can put the rest on it. Or should I use the payment option through my vet? I’ve never used that, so I’m not sure if it’s the right thing to do. I have great credit right now and want to keep it, but I’m mainly concerned about Blue. — John

AHi John,

I don’t even want to calculate how much I’ve spent on pets past and present. Certainly my cat Trevor has cost me many thousands. I have no regrets. When our pets need help, we give it to them. Yet unless our bank accounts are overflowing, finding a way to afford expensive care can be tricky. As medical care for animals advances, treatments become ever more expensive and tough decisions must be made.Ask Erica

Thankfully, you have a couple of good ways to make sure Blue gets what he deserves while also maintaining your good credit rating.

I’m a big fan of the payment plans that many veterinary offices and pet hospitals offer. If you don’t have the cash, they’re often the best alternative. Companies like CareCredit will let you finance the charges, and you’ll often have up to 24 months to pay the debt back. Even better, CareCredit will charge no interest at all if you delete the balance within the contractual time frame.

To qualify, you have to possess an excellent credit rating. This is fine because you say that you do. Just be sure you can and will cover the debt in full when you should. For $5,600, that would mean you sending at least $234 every month. If you don’t, the issuing bank will start to assess a super high interest rate on the remainder balance.

Iif you take advantage of the loan, however, your credit rating will be affected. Such a large and sudden balance will be reported to the credit bureaus, and your FICO score will probably drop immediately. Yet with each on-time payment, you’ll be deleting the debt and your score will recover.

If you’re turned down for the payment plan, though, you can charge the bill instead. Make sure you can afford at least the minimum payments. Then put most of the amount on the account with the lowest interest rate. By adding the bill to the $1,000 you currently owe, you’ll need to send payments of at least $327 to pay it all off in the same two-year period, assuming an average annual percentage rate (APR) of 17 percent. The interest will be about $1,230. But if one or both of the cards has a rewards program, the points you accumulate can mitigate the fees a little. The credit rating impact will be similar to that of the payment plan. Oh, and by charging up to the limit, you won’t be able to use the cards until the balance is down.

Now, as much as I commiserate with your situation, I must put on my personal finance hat and encourage you to look at other ways to scrape up some cash. Consider selling anything of value that you don’t need and apply the proceeds to the bill. The less you owe, the better.

I would also like you to plan ahead. One day another animal might find its way into your heart. For me, Trevor is now gone, but Gnocchi is here and it’s my responsibility to prepare for her upcoming costs. Now you must learn from Blue. Pet insurance can work to your advantage, and the premiums are often quite reasonable. Or just set some emergency cash aside, recognizing that at some point you might need it to ensure the health and happiness of your nonhuman friend.

Got a question for Erica? Send her an email.