The scientific community has come a long way when it comes to fertility treatments. Year after year, countless families turn to specialists and assisted reproductive technology to have children, and people are much more increasingly open to discussing their experiences with the process.
But despite how advanced and normalized these options have become, there remains a serious barrier to entry: the cost.
“Fertility treatment can be terrifyingly expensive,” Matt Schulz, chief credit analyst with LendingTree, told HuffPost. He cited a 2020 report from The Center for Reproductive Rights that found the median cost of a single IVF cycle in the United States is $19,200.
“That’s a staggeringly high total, especially when you consider that many women require multiple cycles to become pregnant and that there is no guarantee of success no matter how many cycles you go through,” Schulz added. “Given those costs, it is no wonder that many people say they just can’t afford to do fertility treatments. It’s really nothing short of heartbreaking.”
Of course, the range of costs can vary based on where you live and your individual needs when it comes to bloodwork, injections, egg retrieval, continued monitoring and more. But each step adds up, and it’s not uncommon for patients to accumulate thousands ― if not tens of thousands ― of dollars in debt to cover the out-of-pocket costs.
Still, is it possible to pursue fertility treatment without incurring serious financial setbacks? Below, Schulz and other experts share their advice for avoiding or minimizing the burden.
Map out your budget.
The first step to managing any financial decision is determining your budget. Calculate your income and expenses each month to figure out what you’re currently able to spend and any changes you might make to accommodate fertility treatment payments.
“It may sound simple, but a budget is where you have to start,” Schulz said. “You can’t make a meaningful plan to attack debt unless you know exactly how much money is coming in and going out of your household each month. Once you know that, you can start to prioritize where your money goes, whether that is saving for a potential treatment, carving out more money to pay down debt or any other reason.”
Check your benefits.
“It sucks that it has to be this way, but the truth is that it is pretty much up to the people seeking treatment to turn over every stone and exhaust every option in looking for safe, reliable and less expensive treatment,” Schulz said. “Check to see if your employer’s benefits cover these treatments. It’s more common than you might guess. Look into your insurance coverage.”
While full IVF coverage might be hard to find, some insurance carriers cover other parts of the fertility treatment process ― like diagnostic testing and other assessments. There’s also been recent progress on the side of employer-provided benefits.
“According to Fertility IQ, there is a 8% year-over-year increase in large employers providing additional coverage for family planning including IVF treatments, egg freezing and adoption,” said Nicole Carson, a financial planner with Brunch & Budget. “This is becoming increasingly popular in employee benefits packages as employers are looking to attract and retain top diverse talent.”
She believes more employers will add family planning benefits to their packages as the job market remains competitive.
Fertility treatments like IVF can cost families tens of thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses. (Photo: HRAUN via Getty Images)
Look for government programs.
“There are some ways to save money on IVF treatments,” Carson said. “Because pricing depends on the state you live in, some states like New York, California and Texas offer government programs to subsidize the costs of IVF treatments. There are also income-based grants and scholarships at the national level.”
Indeed, a number of organizations have programs to help families pay the out-of-pocket expenses of fertility treatments. Some are geared toward specific types of patients, like veterans, cancer survivors or Jewish families.
Find the right doctor.
After you get a sense of your coverage, find the right doctor for you. Your employee benefits might only apply to a specific provider, or you might have options.
Some clinics also offer discounts for multiple rounds of treatment, so it’s best to familiarize yourself with all possibilities. Once you know where you’ll be receiving treatment, then you can make more meaningful calculations to determine the total cost of the endeavor.
“Shop around to different clinics,” Schulz advised. “Research different loan options. You can even consider leaving the country to receive treatment, though that’s something that would require significant research and should not be entered into lightly.”
Traveling out of the country would also mean additional costs to take into consideration.
Ask yourself tough questions.
“How we spend is a direct reflection of our priorities,” Schulz said. “For some, the idea of spending $20,000 for a treatment that might not even work doesn’t make sense. Others wouldn’t even hesitate to spend that much or more for as long as it takes. Whether you agree with the former, the latter or something in between, make sure that you do your due diligence and ask yourself some tough questions before you make the call.”
For many families, the stakes involved in the choice to pursue expensive fertility treatment are too high to justify it.
“Unfortunately, you may have to ultimately decide that it just isn’t financially feasible,” Schulz said. “Our absurdly high-priced health care in this country forces people to make heartbreaking decisions about their health and their family’s wellbeing every single day. That’s true whether you’re talking about cancer medications, fertility treatments or countless other things facing Americans today. It’s an absolute tragedy, but it is where we are right now.”
Set aside whatever money you can.
“If you want to avoid debt to pay for fertility treatment, set a goal to set money aside over the next X months,” recommended finance coach Tatiana Tsoir. “Maybe skip a latte, or the next phone upgrade, or a vacation next time. All of those things add up really quickly and can break the bank.”
Even if you can’t fully avoid incurring debt, starting a fund can reduce the amount you’ll end up having to take out in loans. Think about it sooner rather than later, Tsoir advised.
“I say ‘start saving now,’” sheurged. “It’s a good idea to save ‘just because’ for all adults, and a rainy day fund can come in handy in a situation when you want to start a family.”
Prepare for the hidden costs.
“Fertility has a lot of hidden costs, including mental health and physical health,” Tsoir said. “The drugs you take affect your skin and your overall health and can affect your self esteem and, in turn, affect your mental health.”
Think about the time you might need to take off work to deal with potential issues. She recommended reading other people’s accounts of the fertility treatment experience to give yourself a sense of things that could happen.
“Gabby Bernstein, in her book ‘Super Attractor,’ talks about her own journey and addresses the mental health behind it,” Tsoir noted. “I think it’s worth exploring.”
Choose loan options wisely.
Avoiding any debt might not be possible for your family, but you can set yourself up to take out less money in loans and manage it well.
“It is critical to understand what you’re getting into before you apply for any of these loans,” Schulz emphasized. “Fertility treatments are so expensive, so making a rushed or ill-informed choice on how to finance them can end up being very costly.”
He suggested looking into credit cards with a 0% introductory interest rate, but ensuring you know what the post-introductory interest rate is in case you can’t pay off the entire amount in that initial period. A personal loan is another option to help you manage your out-of-pocket costs.
“You won’t find 0% offers with these loans, but if you have good credit, they can often come with lower interest rates than you’d find with credit cards,” Schulz explained. “There are also IVF loans available from fertility clinics specifically for the needs of folks receiving these treatments.”
Carson noted that the more favorable your credit score is, the less interest you’ll have to pay.
“Consider a fixed-rate loan over a credit card where your payments are variable,” she said. This will help to keep your payments consistent and often offer a lower rate to borrow. And consider the length of time it will take you to pay the debt back ― choose a length of time that is going to fit within your budget.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.