So you need expensive dental work, and you’re wondering how to pay for it. After getting a quote from your dentist and learning how little your insurance will cover, you may be thinking, This can’t be right. I must be missing something.
We’ve got good news and bad news. Bad news first: Despite insurance, dental work can cost a lot out-of-pocket. The good news: While there’s no simple and obvious solution to covering the bills, there are many tricks you can use to make your dollar stretch farther (and get a tax break while you’re at it).
We’ll explain all the ways you can save a little here and there on dental work. Altogether, they can add up to quite a discount off your dentist’s quote.
8 Ways To Pay for Dental Work
Many people cover their dental work by combining several of the strategies below. It’s tough to avoid paying out-of-pocket entirely, but you can get a hefty discount off the original quote.
1. Medical Insurance
Dental work isn’t typically covered by medical insurance, but certain procedures may be covered if they’re deemed “medically necessary.” For instance, oral surgery potentially can be billed as a medical procedure. Before you move forward with any dental work, it’s a smart idea to talk to your medical insurance company to find out what may be covered.
Recommended: Beginner’s Guide to Health Insurance
2. Dental Insurance
You should know that there’s a difference between a dental office that takes your insurance and a dental office that is in-network. A dentist may take your insurance even though they are out-of-network.
When a dentist says that they take your insurance, that likely means that they will file an insurance claim for you. But if your insurance doesn’t cover a procedure or service, the price will generally be set at your dentist’s discretion — and you’ll typically be responsible for paying the costs out-of-pocket.
Generally, using an out-of-network dentist means your insurance will cover less and you’ll pay more. Being in-network, on the other hand, usually means that your insurance company has pre-negotiated the fees with the dentist and they generally can’t charge more than that. So you’ll usually pay less with an in-network dentist.
Recommended: Budgeting as a New Dentist
3. Payment Plans
Paying a bill on a weekly or monthly basis can be much more manageable than paying it in a lump sum. That’s why many dental offices offer payment plans for procedures not covered by insurance.
Payment plans can be offered directly through your dentist’s office, or by third-party services like CareCredit. Ask about the specific terms of any payment plan offered. For example:
• What procedures qualify for a payment plan?
• Will they charge interest? And if so, how much?
• Do they have to check your credit first?
Asking these questions beforehand can help keep you from getting blindsided by unexpected costs.
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4. Flexible Spending Account
A Flexible Spending Account (FSA) is a special savings account offered through some employer benefit plans. FSAs allow employees to pay for certain out-of-pocket medical and dental costs with tax-free money.
The typical taxpayer saves about 30% in federal, state, Social Security, Medicare, and Unemployment taxes. That translates to a 30% discount off all eligible medical and dental expenses.
FSA rules cap the amount of money that can be placed in the account each year ($3,050 for 2023), and also dictate which types of expenses are FSA-eligible. Most routine dental work and orthodontia qualify: cleanings, X-rays, fillings, crowns, extractions, implants, and Invisalign.
FSAs can’t be used for any procedure that is considered “cosmetic,” including teeth whitening and veneers. But in some instances, if a typically cosmetic procedure is deemed medically necessary — as with some veneers — you may be able to use your FSA. Talk to your dental insurance company for more information.
One drawback of FSAs is that any funds that are unused at the end of the plan year are forfeited — so make sure you don’t leave any money on the table. In the plus column, because FSAs are funded with pre-tax dollars, they reduce your taxable income, which is always nice.
5. Health Savings Account
A Health Savings Account (HSA) is similar to an FSA in several ways:
• Both are funded with pre-tax dollars
• Both are used to cover healthcare expenses
• Both can be established through your employer, and funded with payroll deductions
But there are also key differences between an FSA and HSA:
• HSAs must be used with a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP)
• The 2023 HSA funding cap is $3,850 for individuals, $7,750 for families
• HSA funds roll over from year to year
• You can set up an HSA through some health insurance companies and banks, making them a good option for the self-employed
If you don’t have access to an FSA — and you are currently covered by a high-deductible health plan — you can open an HSA at any time.
6. Talk With Your Dentist
The cost of dental work can actually be negotiable, depending on your dentist and your situation. First, have your dentist walk you through the treatment plan. Ask lots of questions, including:
• Are all the procedures they’re suggesting equally urgent? Can some be postponed?
• Can you get a discount by paying cash or the entire cost upfront? Some dentists give a percentage off for this.
• If you don’t have insurance, ask if you can score an uninsured rate.
Some dentists will be flexible, and the worst that can happen is they say no. Another thing you can do is to have an honest conversation with your dentist about your financial situation. If your budget has no breathing room, see if they are open to giving you a discount, or if they are willing to push out your bill for a few months.
If the planned dental work is important but not super urgent, you may be able to schedule your appointments so they straddle two plan years. For example, if your plan year is January-December, you might schedule half the appointments for December, and a half for the following January. That way, you can take advantage of two annual benefit maximums for insurance and two years’ worth of FSA or HSA funds.
7. Credit Cards
In some circumstances, a credit card can be a suitable payment option for dental bills. If you have a card that offers rewards or cash back, it can also provide some benefits in return.
You might also consider looking for a medical credit card. These cards are issued by banks, credit unions, and other lenders and can only be used for healthcare and within a specific provider network.
Some medical credit cards defer interest for a period of time after your healthcare charges are incurred — much like 0%-interest cards. No interest is charged so long as those charges are paid off in full before the interest-free period expires. Late payments or balances that have not been fully paid before the deferment period ends can incur interest charges.
Speaking of 0%-interest cards, they’re another option to finance expensive dental work. By law, these interest-free promotional financing offers must last at least six months. But the most competitive offers go well beyond this to offer 0% introductory APR financing for 14 months or longer.
Before you commit to a new card, it’s a good idea to shop around for the best terms and make sure dental work meets the requirements for any rewards.
8. Personal Loan
A personal loan is an unsecured loan that you can use for almost anything. Because of this flexibility, many people use personal loans to pay for out-of-pocket medical expenses.
Using a personal loan to finance dental work might be a better option than a credit card. The lower the interest rate, the lower your monthly payment. And personal loans tend to have lower interest rates than credit cards. Credit cards currently have an average interest rate of 22.4%, but online lenders such as SoFi offer personal loans with lower interest rates to qualified borrowers.
How much you can borrow is also flexible, and getting approved for a personal loan can be done entirely online. In short, a dental loan might be a good option to cover additional dental needs, from basic fillings to more complex, high-cost procedures.
Recommended: Secured vs. Unsecured Personal Loans
There is no one perfect solution for financing expensive dental work. But there are a number of resources and tricks you can call upon to stretch your dollar. Discuss your options with your dentist to find out what discounts and payment plans they may offer. Avail yourself of an FSA or HSA to pay with pre-tax dollars — an effective discount of 30%. Another option is to pay your bill with a 0% interest credit card, rewards card, or medical credit card that defers interest for six months or more. And you can maximize your insurance and FSA/HSA benefits by scheduling your appointments so they straddle two plan years.
Another option is to finance your dental work with a personal loan. SoFi offers personal loans with low fixed rates, no fees, and flexible repayment terms. From a simple whitening treatment to a complicated root canal, SoFi loans help cover the costs that insurance won’t.
What can I use as financial assistance for dental work?
To finance expensive dental work, you may have to employ a few different tricks. First, if you have an FSA or HSA, paying your bills with pre-tax funds will net you an effective 30% discount. You can also schedule work to straddle two plan years so that your dental insurance and FSA/HSA cover twice the annual amount. If you’re uninsured, explain your financial situation to your dentist to see if they’ll offer a discount. And consider taking out an unsecured personal loan.
Can I use a personal loan as financial assistance for dental work?
Yes, a personal loan can be a great option for covering expensive dental work, compared to high-interest revolving credit. Shop around for the best rate and terms, and watch out for hidden fees.
Is it hard to get financial assistance for dental work?
It will take some work on your part, but financial assistance is available for low-income patients through dental schools, clinical trials, United Way, Medicare, and Medicaid. Find out what kind of assistance you may be eligible for on the U.S. Department Health & Human Services website at HHS.gov.
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