Your Guide to Plastic Surgery Financing

Erica Sandberg

A nip and tuck, from a face-lift to a bit of Botox or a little liposuction, could leave you looking better than ever -- for a price, of course. If you're thinking of having plastic surgery, brace for a dent in your bank account.

Insurance rarely covers the cost of elective cosmetic surgery but may pay for reconstructive plastic surgery. The difference is that reconstructive surgery corrects facial and body abnormalities caused by birth defects, injuries or diseases.

Most cosmetic surgeries cost thousands of dollars. Common procedures such as breast augmentations and tummy tucks can range from about $3,000 to more than $7,000, according to a 2019 report from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

If you don't have the cash upfront, you can look into options for plastic surgery financing. Know the pros and cons of each one to make the best choice for your budget.

[Read: Best Personal Loans.]

What Are Your Options for Plastic Surgery Financing?

Plastic surgery financing affords consumers the ability to have procedures and pay over time. Options include personal loans, credit cards and provider payment plans. No matter what you pick, make sure you understand the terms and whether your choice makes the most financial sense.

Here's more about plastic surgery financing.

Personal loans. Qualifying borrowers can take out loans with banks, credit unions or online lenders for plastic surgery. But beware of interest rates, fees and other terms that can vary significantly by loan.

Interest rates for personal loans depend on your credit. If you have good credit, you can qualify for a low interest rate, but bad credit could leave you paying the staggering rate of 36%.

Choose the shortest amount of time to repay the loan that you can manage at the lowest interest rate you can get.

Plastic surgery loans should only be taken out for the short term, says Kimberly Foss, president and founder of Empyrion Wealth Management in Roseville, California. "That means the payoff time is not longer than a year," she says. "If you have to extend it much further, it's a sign you can't afford it."

Medical credit cards. You may be able to get a medical credit card through your health care provider. Cards can cover your medical costs, from plastic surgeries such as face-lifts to injectable treatments such as Botox.

The CareCredit card, for instance, lets you make payments over six, 12, 18 or 24 months with no interest. The catch is that you must pay the minimum due and pay off the bill within the agreed-upon time frame. If you don't, interest will be assessed at a rate of 26.99% from the purchase date.

"These can be great options, but only when you stick to the terms," says Kelley Long, a Chicago-based financial coach. "Make sure the payments won't compromise your other goals, too."

Medical credit cards may benefit both providers and patients, says Dr. Sheena Kong, a San Francisco-based cosmetic procedure specialist.

"For patients, it lessens the financial blow," Kong says. "Getting a financial arrangement to pay over time without any interest being added is ideal. It's a win-win situation for the clients and the doctor's office."

Credit cards. You could pay using a regular credit card, which usually offers an interest-free grace period of at least 21 days. But if you carry a balance on your credit card, you lose your grace period.

Or you could opt for minimum payments on your credit card, but the final cost would be ugly. You would spend 18.5 years and more than $10,600 on financing fees to pay off a $10,000 cosmetic procedure if you only make minimum payments.

A healthier plan: Treat the credit card as a short-term loan. If you used the same card for the $10,000 procedure and paid off the balance over six months instead, the fees would be about $561.

Another way to use plastic for plastic surgery is to apply for a new credit card, ideally one with a 0% introductory APR and a sign-up bonus. You can use the 0% APR to pay off your balance with no interest, usually over 12 to 18 months.

And the value of a sign-up bonus could offset the cost of your procedure by at least $100. Because the cost of cosmetic procedures often surpasses the card issuer's spending requirement for a sign-up bonus, earning that reward should be easy.

You'll need good to excellent credit for cards with a sign-up bonus and a 0% introductory APR. If you can get this type of credit card, it can be a savvy way to finance your procedure.

Just be sure to pay off your balance within the card's introductory period. A $10,000 procedure spread over one year will require monthly payments of $833.33. Pay at least that amount, and you can avoid interest on your purchase.

Still, this technique has risks. "An important expense may come up that you don't have the money for, and if you're already in debt for this, you may end up regretting it," Long says.

[Read: Best 0% APR Credit Cards.]

Provider payment plans. If you want to sidestep loans and credit cards, you may be able to work out an arrangement with the provider. Dr. Lesley Rabach, a facial plastic surgeon in New York City, says she helps patients cover large costs this way.

"A face-lift can easily be $25,000, and many people don't have the money to pay for it all at once, so they ask for a payment plan," Rabach says.

She and other surgeons work with patients as they pay beforehand for procedures. Both the doctor and the patient can benefit from this kind of arrangement.

Interest doesn't apply, and you don't need good credit. It also establishes a relationship between you and your doctor.

"Payment plans are really good for communication," Rabach says. "Stress is minimized because you're spending time getting to know each other, and some doctors will even offer a small discount."

Other plastic surgery financing options. You can find other ways to finance plastic surgery, but they're generally not a good idea.

Retirement plan loans can offer access to your funds but derail your savings. And if you leave your job, you will have to pay back the loan or report it as income and pay taxes, plus a possible 10% early withdrawal penalty.

Home equity loans or lines of credit allow you to tap your home equity to pay for surgery and may have low interest rates. But because your home guarantees the loan, this can be a risky move.

You could also ask family members or friends for a loan, and they might offer favorable terms. But the risk to personal relationships may be too great for an expense that might not be necessary.

[Read: Best Sign-up Bonus Credit Cards.]

Should You Get Plastic Surgery Financing?

Plastic surgery financing allows you to pay for your procedure over time, which is helpful, given the typical cost. Keep in mind, though, that this can be a big financial decision that shouldn't be rushed.

Do not decide on financing while you're in the doctor's office. You'll want to bring a neutral third-party into the fold to assess whether you can handle the financial commitment.

"Consult a financial advisor," Long says. "It should be a person who has no vested interest in the outcome. It can save you from mountains of debt."

And if you still want to move forward, do a test run.

"Figure out how much the payments will be, then set them aside for a few months," Long says. "If they're easy to meet, it will give you confidence that you can afford it without it stressing out your budget."

Another advantage of a test run: You'll have saved some cash that you can use for the forthcoming payments.

Erica Sandberg is a consumer finance expert and journalist whose work appears in a wide variety of top-tier outlets. An experienced media host, she's led many financial programs, including her podcast, "Adventures With Money." She's appeared on Fox, CNN, "EconTalk" and "The Dr. Drew Podcast," and has been the resident money and credit authority for KRON-4 News in San Francisco for more than 10 years. Her book "Expecting Money: The Essential Financial Plan for New and Growing Families" was first released in 2008, and the 2017 edition is out now.