I was offered a medical credit card at my doctor’s office. If I sign up, how does this card work? Who do I send my payments to?

Chances are that you were offered a deferred-interest medical credit card. Medical credit cards are frequently offered by dentists, eye doctors, audiologists, cosmetic surgeons, and veterinarians. They differ from traditional bank credit cards – like MasterCard and Visa – because they can only be used to pay for health care, and only within the network of healthcare providers that accept the card.

How it works
When you take a medical credit card, you are putting your doctor or dentist bill on a credit card just like if you bought something else with a credit card. The way it works is that the doctor, or a member of the doctor’s staff, signs you up for a credit card. This typically will include a credit check. Once approved, the credit card lender pays your doctor. Now you owe the bank who issued the credit card. You should send payments to the address on your credit card billing statements, not to your doctor’s office.

The deferred interest feature
The interest charge on medical credit cards is usually deferred for a period of time. You may be offered a zero-percent or low-interest teaser rate in the very beginning. However, if you make a late payment or you still have an unpaid balance by the time the promotional period ends, then the lender may charge you for all of the interest that’s been building up from the date that you made the charges – only now, the interest will be at a much higher interest rate.  That means you might end up paying lots of interest rather than the zero-percent rate that you expected. Learn more about the risks of deferred-interest rates on credit cards.

Your credit card agreement
Your healthcare provider should give you the terms of your credit card agreement in writing before you pay for your medical procedure with the card.  It’s important to review the terms and make sure you understand and are comfortable with them. This agreement should tell you how long your zero-percent interest rate lasts.

Tip:

If you didn’t get a written packet with the terms of your credit card agreement and you still have unanswered questions about the terms of your agreement, ask your medical provider to give you the number of the credit card company. You can then call a customer service representative from that company to answer your questions.

Tip:

If you have a problem with a credit card, you can submit a complaint to the CFPB online or by calling (855) 411-CFPB (2372).

Warning:

If you are asked to put a hospital bill on a credit card, watch out. Many hospitals have some obligation to provide for charity care for those who can’t afford treatment. Once you put your hospital bill on a credit card, you won’t be considered for a later write-down of your bill under the charity care program.

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