Pet owners typically love their animals just as much as any other member of their family. But along with the undisputable joy pets bring to our lives also comes a host of financial responsibilities that can wreak havoc on our bank accounts if we aren’t careful.
Americans spent an estimated $15.73 billion on veterinary care in 2015, with three-quarters of pet-owning households making at least one trip to the veterinarian. According to an APPA survey, dog owners spent an average of $235 on routine vet visits in 2015 — cat owners $196. The average lifetime cost of a dog is $23,410 but can go as high as $100,000, with nearly 40% of the cost going toward health care. And yet, less than one percent of the 90.5 million cats and 73.9 million dogs owned by Americans are covered by pet health insurance.
Melissa from St. Louis recently ran into a situation that many pet owners fear. Just as she was starting to get a handle on her finances and making some real strides in reducing her debt, her beloved 7 year old Boston terrier, Max, became seriously ill late one night, necessitating a trip to the Emergency Pet Hospital. Eight hours and several diagnostic tests later, Max was given a shot of fluids and anti-nausea medication and sent home with a course of antibiotics. Melissa was naturally extremely relieved to hear that Max would be okay, and deeply grateful to the veterinarians who treated him. But when she received the bill, she realized that paying for the treatment was going to put her back into a bad financial predicament.
What are the options for pet owners who face this kind of a dilemma?
- Pet Insurance. For pet owners who would prefer to plan ahead for an emergency, pet insurance might be a good solution. “If you get the right policy, it can be an asset to the health care of that pet and have a significant impact on the bill that results from a visit in an emergency situation” says veterinarian Jean Maixner, co-owner of Animal Critical Care & Emergency Services in Seattle. However, it’s not uncommon for pet insurance premiums to cost $300 or more annually, and over the lifetime of a dog or a cat, that might easily cost $5,000 or more. In addition, pet insurance does not typically reimburse for the entire cost of service. In many cases, the total cost of the premiums will exceed the actual cost of the pet’s veterinary bills.
- Charge the veterinary treatment on an existing credit card. Despite on the size of the bill and your existing credit limit, it might be possible to charge it to an existing credit card. But before doing so, think about your interest rates, and how that will impact your access to credit going forward. If it’s a credit card that you use frequently, this additional expense could make it very difficult to pay it off – especially if you already have a balance. That means that you might have to pay interest indefinitely, not only on the veterinary bill, but also on everything else you charge. It’s also important to think about how this will ultimately affect your credit score.
- Apply for a short-term loan. Services like Vetary make it possible for pet owners to obtain a loan for veterinary services if they are unable to cover the out of pocket costs at the time of treatment. If a pet requires veterinary care, the owner can immediately apply for a loan directly in the doctor’s office through their mobile device, at home from their computer, or over the phone 24/7. The interface is easy to use, and multiple loan options are presented almost instantaneously, with transparent terms and no hidden fees. And unlike pet insurance, this option allows pet owners to pay only for the cost of treatment at the time it is needed, rather than paying. Dr. David Benson of Westlake Animal Hospital in Salt Lake City was excited to partner with Vetary and has already started offering financing solutions to his patients, directly in the office. “In our practice, our patients frequently have to defer care or skip it altogether because of financial issues. We were excited to hear about Vetary, because it provides a smart and fair way of addressing financial concerns so that animals can receive the veterinary medical care they need.” Pet owners can prepare for their next visit by prequalifying at https://www.vetary.com/apply/credit/. Vetary is accredited by the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
Obtaining the best care at the time it is needed is important for your pet’s long term health, and doesn’t need to pitch you into a financial crisis. Consider the options and plan ahead, so that you don’t get caught off guard and end up making the wrong decision.
Note to readers: Vetary gives back to local 501(c)(3) animal organizations through The Vetary Foundation. To date, Vetary has engaged with more than 200 animal rescue and care organizations. For every pet owner that signs-up and mentions “The JennyPincher,” Vetary will give back $10 to an animal rescue shelter.