Financing veterinary costs can be a huge challenge. This is especially true when confronted with emergencies or if your cat has a serious or chronic health condition.
To help you with the pain, I've outlined some creative financing ideas to help you cover the cost of veterinary services.
If there's one thing I can tell you from experience, it's to expect the unexpected.
Knowing, however, that you're not always able to plan ahead, the below ideas include both preparing for the unexpected, and handling costs you didn't prepare for:
Payment plans -- When confronted with unexpected costs, probably the simplest of options here is to ask your vet about payment plans. Many cat owners don't know this, but some vets will let you make payments over time.
Use forced savings -- Start a cat health savings account. You won't get any tax benefits from it (like US residents get with an HSA for humans), but you could find a tax-free or deferred investment vehicle. Just make sure it's liquid enough that you can collect your money when needed.
Some banks offer forced savings when you use your debit card, and they pay higher interest on those accounts. Or, you can just set up an automatic transfer of funds into an interest bearing account each month. This way the money will be available if your cat racks up unexpected medical expenses.
Buy a cat health insurance policy -- Many pet health insurance plans cover a significant portion of veterinary costs and range of procedures. Some companies offer customized plans, and you can buy some plans that even cover routine care.
CareCredit -- With CareCredit, you can pay for veterinary services without forced savings or buying pet health insurance. CareCredit is an "interest free" credit card that you can use for cat health expenses.
Of course there are approvals and some stipulations to deal with, but it works similar to what many stores offer. It's basically like a short-term, interest free loan, and some dentists and veterinarians may recommend this payment method.
Warning: As with most of the credit "deals" out there, you need to understand what you're getting into. As long as you pay off the balance in time, you win. If you don't, however, the very high interest may be charged retroactively back to day one on the full balance. So, pay it off!
You might want to check some of the reviews of CareCredit before you try this option. Some people have had success with the service, but others claim scam. Check Epinions and MeasuredUp and draw your own conclusions.
There are also usually plenty of other "regular" credit cards that you can get that offer no interest financing for a period of time for opening an account, but may have stricter requirements.
Peer to peer lending -- Peer to peer lending has become popular since the worldwide economic downturn has financially displaced many people. I have no personal experience with it, but there are networks you can use to find someone who is willing to lend you money at reasonable rates.
Support the HAPPY Act -- Support initiatives like the HAPPY Act which propose tax breaks for pet owners. This will lower the total cost of ownership of your cat, which is estimated to be more than $10,000 and could be much more if your cat has serious health problems.
Ask a relative or friend -- A relative, friend, or neighbor might be willing to help you out. You never know until you ask.
Independent benefactors -- Although it may take some work, you may be able to find a benefactor to give you money or perhaps a low interest loan. If you can't, then you can try the peer to peer lending idea.
Creative financing -- Where there's a will, there's a way. You can take out conventional loans, keep a rainy day credit card, or borrow against the equity in your house. I know, I know, what equity?!
Update: Unfortunately, the AAHA Helping Pets Fund had to close due to lack of donations. For these programs, your veterinarian has to apply. Encourage your vet to apply for and become a part of programs like these so that the program (and money) will be available should someone need it.
Remember, too that you can creatively combine some of these methods. For example, you could get part of the money from a relative, part from peer to peer lending and use a credit card for the rest.
Obviously, these ideas can be used to cover veterinary costs for dogs and other animals as well, and not just cats.
Many cat owners experience doubt or regret over some of the choices they make for their cats, especially if those choices are related to what they can afford. With a little preparation and some options, you can reduce the extent to which these choices are financial.
I've outlined some more options for covering the cost of veterinary services which mostly involve increasing your income, or squeezing more money out of what you've got.