Vet Bills: Should You Get a Personal Loan?

Sidekick, confidante, wingman, exercise buddy, couch-surfing companion or emotional support animal. Our pets wear many badges, and often more than one. Whether they bark, meow, fly or hop, pets are a very important part of the family. And their overall health and well-being is just as important.

However, the rising costs of vet bills to maintain a pet’s health can become a significant financial burden on many pet owners, especially for those with a lower income. And unfortunately, this can lead to pets not receiving the proper care they need.

In 2018, 67% of American households owned a pet — up from 56% in 1988. According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), the amount Americans spend on their pets has also increased, from $17 billion in 1994 to an estimated $99 billion in 2020. And of the $95.7 billion spent on pets in 2019, $29.3 billion of that went toward routine veterinary care, surgical procedures and the sales of medicines and other products through veterinary clinics.

Most pet owners budget for the daily expenses of owning a pet, but what if something goes wrong? An emergency vet procedure can cost between $500 and $1,000 (or more). In fact, considering the rising costs of veterinary care, some procedures may even warrant a personal loan over simply swiping your credit card. This guide will show you when you should consider a personal loan, and other tips for helping you pay for vet bills when the need arises.

What is a personal loan?

At a growth rate of 19.2% from 2018 to 2019, personal loans are the fastest-growing type of consumer lending in the U.S. In addition, a 2020 PersonalLoans.org study showed 89% of borrowers were satisfied with at least one aspect of their personal loan. But what exactly is a personal loan?

A personal loan is a financing option that is usually an unsecured debt. This means no collateral is put up for the debt should the lender default. Personal loans are paid back with monthly fixed installments, and the amount you can borrow and the rate of repayment (APR or annual percentage rate) are determined by your credit score. 

Personal Loans and Vet Bills

Using a personal loan to pay off your pet’s hospital bill might make more financial sense than using a credit card. Here’s why:

Advantages of using a personal loan

  • You will likely have a more favorable interest rate. The average interest rates for personal loans is between 10% and 28% versus the average APR on credit cards in the U.S. is 16.39% to 23.45%.
  • Personal loan repayments are usually more predictable and consistent. When you decide on a payment schedule for your personal loan, you will owe a set payment each month until the loan is paid off. With credit cards, the interest that you pay can be compounded.
  • Paying off a personal loan on time can help to boost your credit score.

Disadvantages of using a personal loan

The downside to paying for vet bills with a personal loan? Successfully applying for a personal loan can take a day or a few weeks. The time it takes for a personal loan to be approved depends on what kind of financial service provider you are applying with. Further, your credit score and other factors also come in to play. When faced with a medical emergency, you might not have time to go through the process of applying for a personal loan and waiting for the funds to be made available. If you are in good standing with your veterinarian and have been with them for many years, they might be willing to go ahead with the procedure before you make a payment. If not, it might be easier to swipe a credit card. You can always apply for a personal loan and use this to pay the credit card debt off later at a more reasonable rate.

Credit Cards and Vet Bills

When a sudden, emergency medical situation arises with your pet, using your credit card to pay for the vet bills may seem like the most appealing option in the moment. In fact, if payment for a medical expense is required immediately, having a credit card can be a huge asset. But considering the average cardholder’s credit card APR is over 17%, that’s a lot of interest you may end up paying on any unpaid credit card balances.

If a procedure (or the payment for the procedure) isn’t immediately necessary, reaching into your wallet for your credit card may not be the best choice. In fact, accrued interest – and the potential for fees for late payments – can end up making the cost of a procedure much higher than the original expense.

If you do need that quick fix of being able to swipe a card in case of an emergency, but you are reluctant to saddle yourself with credit card fees and repayments, one potential solution is utilizing CareCredit. CareCredit is a credit card designed specifically for healthcare needs — for you, your family and even for your pets.

As with any credit card, utilizing CareCredit has its advantages and its disadvantages. Let’s take a look at a few:

Pros

  • May get more affordable repayment options compared to a standard credit card (for example, a bill of $1,000 can be paid off over 24 months at a 14.9% APR)
  • Finance out-of-pocket expenses that are not covered by your health insurance or pet insurance
  • Accepted at +200,000 providers across the USA
  • Can make repayments over a shorter period of time

Cons

  • Applying for a CareCredit card can cause a dip in your credit score over a short period of time
  • The card must be used at least once a year to keep it active
  • It is still a credit card – not using it properly can be costly
  • Expenses not paid by their due date can incur an APR up to 26.9%.

Vet procedures where a personal loan might be the best option

The increase in research and development has made it possible for our pets to receive excellent medical care. However, this care comes at a cost. For the same procedure, the bill can differ dramatically from state to state. Also, the cost of surgery can be different from pet to pet. Certainly, emergency veterinary procedures can total thousands of dollars. Here are some examples of expensive procedures that may warrant taking out a personal loan:

ProcedureAverage Cost
Surgery on cruciate ligament injuries$1,100 – $4,500
Surgery to remove a foreign body or intestinal obstruction$1,755
Chemotherapy$200 – $5,000
Heartworm treatment$400 – $1,000
Surgery and treatment of stomach bloat$2,500 – $5,000
Dog cataract surgery$2,700 – $4,000
Surgical fracture repair$2,000+
Pyometra surgery/emergency spay$1,000 – $2,000
Surgery and treatment for intevertebral disc disease$15,500+
Hernia repair$250 – $1,000

How to get a personal loan

Step 1: Determine the loan amount you need

Consider the amount of money you may need for your pet’s treatment. Ask your veterinarian for an accurate cost estimate. Likewise, ask whether there will be any post-operative costs or medications you might need to include in your loan amount.

In addition, have a look at your budget and estimate the amount you can afford to pay back each month. This will become a factor when determining your loan repayment timeline. The faster you can pay the loan off, the less you’ll pay in interest and fees.

Step 2: Check your credit score

When you take out a personal loan, lenders need to understand your credit history. For this reason, your credit score is very important. To make sure you get the best possible interest rate offers, check that your credit rating is accurate by requesting a free credit report online from one of these three credit reporting agencies:

  • Equifax
  • Experian
  • TransUnion

FICO scores usually range between 300 and 850. The higher the FICO score, the better your credit rating. A FICO score plays a big role in determining the interest rate on a loan.

For example, according to Bankrate, if you have a credit score between 640 and 699, the interest rate on a $5,000 personal loan paid off within three to five years will likely be between 6.46% and 9.95%.

Step 3: Shop around

Do your research and shop around for the best personal loan. You can get a personal loan from a bank, online lenders or from peer-to-peer (P2P) sites. Online lenders offer a convenient way to search for and compare quotes for personal loans. Many online lenders will allow you to pre-qualify for a personal loan. During this process they will do soft credit check, which doesn’t affect your credit score, to quote you on your rates and payment terms. 

Have a look online at different personal loan lenders to find a shortlist of those that would best suit your needs. Our ranked list of the 20 best personal loans is a great place to start.

Step 4: Crunch the numbers

The interest that a lender charges you is what you pay to borrow an amount of money. The annual percentage rate (APR) on your personal loan depends on the loan amount and the repayment period. As a reward for paying a personal loan off quickly, a loan with a shorter repayment period will usually have a lower APR. The interest on a personal loan is usually calculated using simple daily interest. Simple interest is a quick way to calculate the interest that you will be charged on your personal loan. You can do so with the following equation:

A = P (1 + rt)

A = the total amount that will be paid

P = principal loan amount

r = annual interest rate

t = time (the number of months or years it will take to pay off the loan)

Step 5: Get pre-approved for a few different personal loans

Applying for several personal loans in a few days or weeks can negatively impact your credit score. Consequently, many lenders will have a pre-qualification option. This allows a lender to do a “soft inquiry” on your credit score to provide you with a preliminary quote for taking out a personal loan. Going through this pre-qualification process will help you to get a more accurate idea of the different loan terms lenders will be able to offer you. Once you decide on a lender, your application process will also be smoother if you’ve already been pre-approved.

Step 6: Compare offers

Once you’ve received several quotes, you can compare them. Take a close look at the interest rates and fees of each loan. You will want to select the loan with the lowest possible combination of fees and APR. Remember to specifically, but not exclusively, have a look at the APR of each loan. The APR is a the sum of the loan’s interest rate plus any extra fees you might be liable to pay.

In addition, take a look at any other options lenders might be offering. For example, does the lender pay you or the vet directly? Are there bonuses for paying off your loan in less time than stipulated?

Step 7: Read the fine print

Take some time to read through the terms and conditions of the different loans before making your final decision. Make sure you understand all the details before signing on the dotted line.

Here is some terminology you may come across:

  • Amortization: The repayment of a debt over periodic installments (usually monthly) of a principal plus interest.
  • APR: Annual percentage rate. This is the total cost of borrowing money expressed as an annual rate.
  • Credit score: An individual’s track record of earning, spending and borrowing.
  • Loan term: The agreed upon time it will take for the loan to be repaid in full.
  • Origination fee: The fee a lender charges you when you enter into a loan agreement. This fee is used to cover the cost of processing the loan.
  • Principal: The amount of money borrowed when you take out a loan.

When in doubt, it is always best to seek guidance from a financial advisor.

Step 8: Apply for the loan

When you take out a personal loan, the lender will want to know a bit more about you, so they can trust the money will be paid back to them. Therefore, you will need some documentation ready to apply for your personal loan. Before you proceed with the process, make sure to have the following documents:

  • For proof of income: Pay stubs, tax returns and W-2s
  • For proof of ID: Your social security card and your driver’s license (or state-issued ID)

Other tips to help with paying for vet bills

Many Americans are living from month to month with not a cent to spare. For many low-income earners, even committing to a small repayment each month might seem like an impossibility. If taking out a personal loan to help pay for vet bills isn’t an option, there are other avenues you could try for assistance. Here are a few ideas:

Ask your vet for an installment plan

Not all veterinary clinics will offer installment plans. However, there is no harm in asking your vet about an installment plan for paying off your vet bills. First, explain to your veterinarian how much you would like your pet to receive the necessary treatment. Then, determine how much you could afford to pay each month toward the bills, and present your vet with a proposal for paying off the bills within six to 12 months.

It’s also a good idea to ask if your vet offers any discounts or runs any seasonal specials on care. “Many vets and pet hospitals will offer discounts on certain procedures,” veterinarian Karen Halligan told AARP. “For example, there are often deals on dental specials in the month of February. Some also offer packages for cats or senior pets.”

Communication is also key. Be open with your vet about your financial situation, and let them help guide your pet’s care with finances in mind. “Instead of an expensive gold standard treatment, your vet might recommend a medically-appropriate alternative that’s less expensive but could still benefit your pet,” veterinarian Karen Felsted of the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues told Parade.

Pet insurance

Pet insurance health insurance for your pet. For the cost of a monthly premium, your insurance plan will pick up a portion of your pet’s medical costs. Pet insurance premiums are affected by your pet’s age, breed and any pre-existing health conditions they might have. Depending on the coverage that you choose, premiums for your pet’s insurance will cost you around $35 to $97 per month.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) advocates the concept of pet health insurance. It gives animal lovers peace of mind about potential emergencies. Likewise, pet insurance allows for veterinarians to provide high quality treatment.

“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” veterinarian Jean Maixner, co-owner of Animal Critical Care & Emergency Services in Seattle, told NBC News.

Not all pet insurance is created equal. Be sure to do your due diligence before choosing a policy for your pet. For example, some pet insurance policies have a payout or no claims bonus if you don’t use the insurance in a calendar year. If your policy isn’t structured this way, however, you might consider the annual cost of the plan wasted should an emergency not arise. On the other hand, pet insurance policies can provide peace of mind, especially for low-income earners. Knowing, for a monthly premium, financial assistance is there if your pet ended up needing expensive medical care can be worth the cost.

Veterinary colleges

The American Kennel Club recommends looking to veterinary teaching hospitals for assistance in a medical emergency. Many veterinary schools run low-cost clinics for limited-income clients. Some of the many community service surgeries they might offer include:

  • Gastrostomy
  • Spay/neuter
  • Mastectomy
  • Limb amputation
  • Intestinal resection
  • Umbilical hernia repair
  • Cutaneous or superficial abscess treatment or removal

Generally, costs for these procedures at a veterinary college are significantly less than at a private vet practice. However, there are only 30 schools of veterinary medicine nationwide, so proximity and convenience to accessing this kind of care could play a factor in this being a viable option for pet owners. Additionally, veterinary colleges might be limited to the extent and types of surgeries they can offer at a reduced fee.

Organizations that can help

Organization nameHow much they giveServices

Big Hearts Fund
Determined on a case-by-case basisAssist in the diagnosis and treatment of feline and canine heart disease.
Brown Dog Foundation
Assist with payment of vet bill in part or in full as available funds dictate.Financial assistance for families with a sick pet that would respond well to cancer treatment.
Pet Assistance, Inc.Grants are made based on urgency, prognosis and financial need. The owner must contribute to their pet’s treatment or surgery.Subsidies for urgent or life-threatening emergencies.
Face FoundationPay for emergency treatments and surgeries on a case-by-case basis as funds allow.Provide financial grants for animal owners who are unable to afford the cost of their pet’s emergency or critical care.
Red Rover ReliefUrgent Care Grant is typically $200.Provide financial aid to pet owners whose pets need urgent medical care.
The Pet FundOne time grant for non-basic, non-urgent care.Provide aid for animals adopted by owners with minimal funds.
The Mosby FoundationDetermined on a case-by-case basis.Assist in the care of critically sick, injured, abused and neglected dogs.
Tripawds FoundationDirect assistance programs and free online support.Financial aid for amputation assistance, rehabilitation therapy and assistive devices such as harnesses.
VET FundMaximum $600 per case.The ideal candidate is an otherwise healthy animal with an injury or illness that threatens their life or quality of life, but that has a good prognosis with proper care.
Fetch A CureAmount provided is determined with each individual case.Financial assistance for cancer treatment;Raise awareness and promote early detection of cancer in companion animals.
Lab MedFinancial assistance for rescued Labradors determined on a case-by-case basis.Distribute financial aid to ill or injured Labrador rescues across the U.S.
International Association of Assistance Dog PartnersThe extent of financial aid is determined with each case.Emergency financial assistance for guide dogs, hearing dogs and service dogs.
The Magic Bullet FundFinancial aid determined on a case-by-case basis.Financial assistance and support for people with pets with cancer.
Corgi AidFinancial aid for veterinary emergencies determined on a case-by-case basis.Financial aid and educational support for Corgi owners.
Pit Bull Rescue CentralWill fund the lowest cost option for a spay or neuter.Assist in the needs of pit bulls affected by natural or man-made disasters.
Pets of the HomelessDetermined on a case-by-case basis when funds are available.Provide food and care for pets of homeless people.
Harley’s Hope FoundationThe extent of financial aid is determined with each case.Assist low-income pet parents in times of emergency to prevent surrender or euthanasia.
Paws 4 a CureDetermined on a case-by-case basis.Financial assistance for sick or injured cats or dogs.
Tipper and Squirt Care for Cushing’s FundDetermined on a case-by-case basis.Financial aid for families who are struggling to pay for their dog’s Cushing’s disease-related medical expenses.
Onyx and Breezy FoundationDetermined on a case-by-case basis.Financial assistance for pets of individuals with a medical hardship. In addition, they help the dogs of veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The bottom line

We don’t like to think about our pets needing medical care. But, unfortunately, accidents happen, and more medical treatments can be needed as they age. In fact, it is estimated that one in three American pets require emergency medical care every year. For low-income earners, being able to afford the rising costs of veterinary care may seem daunting, but in addition to considering a personal loan, there are other services available to help you get the best care for your pet. 

Another cost-saving tip? Focus on preventative care. “Preventive care saves on sick pet care in the long run,” veterinarian I. Craig Prior, BVSc told Fetch, by WebMD. “In this economy, we’ve been seeing people push off their pet’s wellness care, and as a result the pet becomes sick, and it costs them more.”