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How to use a credit card to cover health expenses

Bankrate logo Bankrate 6/4/2019 Claire Dickey
a man and a woman standing in front of a bicycle: Man checking out his wife from the hospital© TommL/Getty Images Man checking out his wife from the hospital

In an ideal world, you'd have an emergency savings fund to cover these kinds of surprise expenses, but not everyone is so fortunate. If you’re short on cash, credit can be a lifesaver.

Whether you have health insurance or not -- or have medical expenses that exceed the limit of what your insurance will cover -- there are options that can help relieve the strain on your finances.

If you have health insurance…

Even if you have insurance, there are still expenses associated with your health that may not be covered, like co-pays for doctor visits, prescriptions, medical treatments or even cosmetic surgery. In these cases, a credit card can come in handy.

Paying for medical purchases with a credit card

If you're interested in paying for a medical purchase with a credit card, we suggest a balance transfer card.

Not all balance transfer credit cards are created equal, so make sure to pick a card with benefits applicable to your medical expenses.

Long introductory APR periods on balance transfers

Cards with long introductory periods (preferably of 15 months or more) should be your prime target. The Citi Simplicity(R) Card offers a 0% introductory offer for 21 months on balance transfers (16.24% – 26.24%* variable thereafter) and is one of the longest offers available.

This card is known for being the only card to never charge late fees, penalty rates or annual fees, making it the perfect option for those who air on the forgetful side. The one disadvantage is that you won't earn rewards nor a welcome bonus with this card.

Welcome bonuses

If you choose a card with a welcome bonus, you can use your bonus to pay off more of your medical expenses. For example, if you owed $650 in medical expenses, you could use the Capital One(R) SavorOne? Cash Rewards Credit Card to pay $500 of it off, then collect your $150 cash bonus (earned after spending $500 on purchases in your first three months) and pay off the rest.

Medical-friendly rewards categories

If you’re fortunate enough to have solid insurance coverage, you could still benefit from a card that covers the small stuff. Certain credit cards offer categories that may offer rewards for additional purchases you might need after a medical procedure.

For example, the Bank of America(R) Cash Rewards credit card has drug store purchases as a category in which you can choose to earn 3% cash back (up to $2,500 per quarter in combined spending with the 2% category). Purchases at drug stores/pharmacies that count toward this category include drugs, drug proprietors and druggists sundries.

Paying for a health insurance policy with a credit card

Credit cards can also be used when paying for your health insurance premium each month. Yet unfortunately, not all health insurance companies accept this form of payment.

Why some health insurance companies don't take credit cards

In recent years, some health insurance companies have removed credit cards as a payment option due to the high cost. A CreditCards.com article reported that many card issuers charge 2.5% of the purchase amount to the healthcare company involved.

Two health insurance companies that have implemented this rule in recent years are Humana and Blue Cross Blue Shield. Humana, for example, doesn't allow debit or credit card payments from those who purchase individual policies outside the health insurance exchanges.

Whether or not a health insurance company is allowed to decline credit card payments is up to the State. But the federal government has required that prepaid debit cards and money orders for health insurance policies purchased within a health insurance marketplace must be accepted by insurance companies.

How to find this information

Determining which insurance companies accept credit isn't always easy. We recommend checking the FAQs section on the websites of insurance companies you're interested in.

HeatlhCare.gov offers a tool to help you find health insurance coverage for the state you live in. You can also find local help to ask any questions you may have.

If you don't have health insurance…

We understand that health insurance is expensive and can be hard to come by, especially if you work a nontraditional job or are at a company that doesn't offer health insurance as a benefit.

Thankfully, there are options for these circumstances.

Zero percent interest credit cards

Similar to those with insurance, those without insurance have the option to pay some or all of their medical expenses with a credit card. In this case, 0% interest credit cards should be your focus.

The Wells Fargo Platinum Visa card, for example, offers a 0% introductory APR on purchases for 18 months (13.74% – 27.24% variable APR thereafter) along with no annual fee. The variable APR that kicks in after the introductory period ends is reasonably high, so make sure to completely pay off your purchase by the end of the 18-month period.

If you're interested in a card with a rewards structure, the Chase Freedom Unlimited(R) is a great option. This card offers a 0% introductory APR on purchases for 15 months (17.24% – 25.99% variable APR thereafter), and you'll earn 3% cash back on all purchases up to $20,000 your first year, then an unlimited 1.5%.

Medical credit cards

A second option for those without health insurance is a medical credit card. These cards exist to help individuals without insurance cover large expenses related to their health.

One example of a popular medical card issuer is CareCredit. With a CareCredit card, you can choose from short or long term financing plans to cover your medical expenses.

CareCredit plan options

Plans of six, 12, 18 or 24 months won't charge you interest as long as the purchase is $200 or more, yet if you fail to pay off your purchase within your allotted timeframe, you'll be charged interest from the original purchase date. For plans of 24, 36, 48 or 60 months, you'll receive a reduced APR determined by the purchase amount.

How to apply for a CareCredit card

All CareCard applications are instantly approved and do not require an activation fee. All you need to complete the application is the following:

  • Doctor’s name/how you plan to use the card
  • Your name
  • Address
  • Date of birth (you must be over 18 years of age)
  • Social security number or ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number)
  • Net income
  • Housing Information

For more information on whether or not you should consider a medical credit card, read our piece on the pros and cons of using one.

Payment plans through your doctor

Certain hospitals or doctor's offices may offer monthly payment plans for paying off your debt. In these cases, the details of the payment plan are up to the specific hospital and may allow for negotiation, including interest-free options.

If you'd like to learn more about a payment plan for your medical needs, contact your local healthcare provider.

Additional help

Whether you have health insurance or not, you can receive a portion of your money back by claiming your medical expenses as tax deductions. One important note to keep in mind is not all medical expenses qualify.

How to claim medical expenses as tax deductions

If you're looking to include medical expenses from your credit cards as a tax deduction, the payment dates must have been paid in the current tax year. You'll need to go by the date the charge is made rather than the date you paid your credit card bill/date you received the service.

According to TurboTax, starting in 2019 you may only deduct unreimbursed allowable medical care expenses that are more than 10% of your adjusted gross income in order for the IRS to accept your request. For example, if your adjusted gross income was 60,000 a year, your unreimbursed medical expenses must be more than $6,000 to qualify as a tax deduction.

What types of medical expenses count for tax purposes

In terms of taxes, the definition of health-related expenses is broad – from surgeries to health insurance premiums. Generally, preventative care, medical procedures and prescriptions count as deductible -- cosmetic procedures not included. A few more examples include:

  • Psychologist and psychiatrist visits
  • Visits to the eye doctor and dentist
  • Hearing aids, glasses and contacts
  • Travel related to medical care

How to claim medical expenses as deductions

Claiming your medical expense as a tax deduction is simple. Fill out the IRS Form 1040, as well as Schedule A IRS form. The Schedule A form offers a medical and dental expenses category through which you may claim your expense.

For further information on how to fill out these forms, visit the IRS website.

The bottom line

Paying for medical expenses with a credit card is possible, but it's important to do it the right way to ensure the safety of you and your finances.

  • If you have insurance, seek out a balance transfer credit card with a long introductory APR offer, significant welcome bonus and health-related spending categories.
  • Should you be interested in paying your health insurance premium with a card, double check that your insurance company accepts this form of payment.
  • If you don't have insurance, consider a 0% interest credit card, a medical card or a payment plan with your healthcare provider.
  • At the end of the tax year, look into deducting your unreimbursed medical expenses.

Health-related expenses can be hefty, but with the right tools, you can successfully ease your financial burden.

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