A trip to the dentist's or doctor's office can be pricey, so you could be tempted to reach for a credit card when that bill arrives in the mail.
If that’s on your mind, take a look at our list of best credit cards for medical expenses. Before you click "Apply," however, make sure you’ve considered whether opening a new card to pay a medical bill (or paying your bill on a card you already have) is your best option.
Best credit cards for paying medical bills
Why We Like It: Medical bills aren't fun to pay, but earning 1.5 percent cash back on that payment will help ease the pain. Plus, there's no annual fee with this card, so it's easy to carry.
Bonus: Earn $150 cash back after spending $500 in the first three months. Take advantage of 15 months no interest on purchases and balance transfers (balance transfer fee applies) – which could come in handy if you need a bit of time to pay off that doctor's or dentist's bill.
Annual Fee: $0
Rewards Rate: Earn 1.5 percent back on all your purchases in the form of Chase Ultimate Rewards® points, which can be redeemed for straight cash back or a variety of other products and services including gift cards and travel.
Why We Like It: This card offers an incentive to pay off your bill in full, but also offers you 18 months of no-interest on balance transfers if you'd rather go that route (you won't earn rewards on balance transfers, FYI).
Bonus: There's not a traditional bonus here, but new cardholders are eligible for an introductory 18 months of no interest on balance transfers. That offer could save you a substantial amount of money if you need to consolidate some existing medical bill debt from other credit cards (or other credit card debt in general, for that matter). A variable APR kicks in after that 18 months and there is a balance transfer fee to consider.
Annual Fee: $0
Rewards Rate: Earn 1 percent back on all your purchases and earn another 1 percent back when you pay for those purchases, bringing your total cash-back opportunity to 2 percent.
Why We Like It: This is another flat-rate card, but we like its introductory 12-month 0 percent period for purchases and balance transfers (then, 14.24%-26.24% (Variable)) as well as its other unique perks. Be aware, you will pay an introductory $5 or 3 percent of the amount of the balance transfer fee (whichever is greater). After the intro period, the balance transfer fee jumps to 5 percent or $10 of each transfer.
Bonus: While this probably won't apply to your medical bills, you could benefit from it for other purchases: For the first 12 months, earn 1.8 percent cash back on all your Android Pay™ or Apple Pay™ mobile wallet purchases. Additionally, on an ongoing basis, if you pay your cellular bill on your card, you'll receive up to $600 in protection against covered damage and theft (subject to a $25 deductible).
Annual Fee: $0
Rewards Rate: Earn 1.5 percent back on all your purchases. And Wells Fargo allows cardholders to redeem those rewards in a variety of ways, including directly from a Wells Fargo ATM.
Why We Like It: There is an ongoing bonus opportunity with this card: Earn a 10 percent anniversary bonus each year on all the cash back you've earned during the prior year.
Bonus: If you're looking to open a card specifically to pay a medical bill, this could be a good one to consider since you'll earn 1.5 percent back on all your purchases plus a $150 cash-back bonus after you spend just $500 in the first three months. On top of that, you'll receive a 10 percent loyalty bonus on your rewards earned each account anniversary.
Annual Fee: $0
Rewards Rate: Earn 1.5 percent on every $1 you spend, plus receive a 10 percent bonus each year.
Barclaycard CashForward™ World Mastercard®:
(This card is not currently available on CardRatings)
Why We Like It: This card rewards you when you redeem your rewards plus offers you a lengthy zero-interest period, which might come in handy if you have a hefty medical bill to pay off over time.
Bonus: Earn a $200 cash-back bonus after you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days. If you're interested in a zero-interest period, this card has that too: Enjoy 15 months of no interest on purchases and on balance transfers made within the first 45 days (a variable APR applies after the intro period)
Annual Fee: $0
Rewards Rate: Earn 1.5 percent on every $1 you spend; plus, each time you redeem your rewards you'll receive 5 percent of your rewards back to be used toward a future redemption.
There are a couple of questions worth asking before you reach for a credit card to pay those medical bills as there are both pros and cons to putting those expenses on either a card you already have or a new card for which you apply.
Should you put medical expenses on a credit card you already have?
Let’s say you have a credit card already in your wallet that you could use for your expenses. In that case, you should think about a couple of things:
What is the credit limit on that card and will paying your bill on the card push you close to that limit? Maxing out a credit card is rarely a good idea since it can take a toll on your credit score. Part of your credit score looks at your credit utilization ratio, or the relationship between the amount of credit available to you and the amount of credit you’re using. Most experts say to keep your credit utilization below 30 percent.
Does that card offer you rewards on your purchases? Most rewards credit cards offer at least 1 percent in rewards for all eligible purchases, which would include medical expenses. Cards like Chase Freedom Unlimited offer you a flat 1.5 percent on all your purchases. You could think of those rewards or cash back as a rebate on your medical expenses, which might make that medical bill pill a bit easier to swallow.
- Can you pay off the balance right away or will you be racking up interest charges? Even if you’re earning rewards on the amount you pay, you’ll find those rewards won’t mean much if you’re paying interest on a carried balance. HOWEVER, if you have a card currently offering you a zero-interest period, that would allow you a couple of extra months to pay off that balance interest-free.
Should you open a new card card in order to pay your medical bill?
Alternatively, if you don’t have a card you want to use but are considering opening one for the purposes of paying your medical bill, there are a few other things you should think about:
Is your current credit score likely to qualify you for the card you want? Applying for a card for which you won’t qualify is not a good idea and will only hurt your credit score. If you need to buy yourself some extra time to pay your bill, you are likely better off talking with the billing department and working out a payment schedule with them than you would be opening a new credit card.
Perhaps the most cost-effective way to pay for a big medical bill is to work out an interest-free payment plan with the billing office of your medical provider. Be sure to ask about payment-plan options that would allow you to pay off a big medical or dental bill via a couple of years of affordable monthly payments and without paying a penny of interest. Plus, as long as you meet your obligations based on the schedule you work out, your credit score won’t be affected.
Is the card you’re considering offering a 0 percent introductory period on purchases and/or balance transfers? Sometimes hospitals will pitch a medical credit card (for which they receive kickbacks) as a solution to paying your bill. These cards often feature zero-interest periods BUT they usually come with deferred interest strings. That means that if you haven’t paid off your balance by the end of the zero-interest period, you’ll be on the hook for the interest that was accruing during that entire 0 percent period.
On the other hand, traditional credit cards often offer 0 interest introductory periods that do NOT come with that deferred interest fine print. That means you’ll only pay interest on the balance remaining at the end of your zero-interest period. Obviously, the best option in either case is to fully pay off your balance before the zero-interest period ends.
Does the new card offer a signup/welcome bonus for which you could qualify by paying your medical bill on the card? The costs of medical procedures are all over the map (as you likely know), and you might as well get something back for the pain of a big medical bill or a higher-than-expected dental bill. Charging a medical bill on a rewards card could earn you a nice stash of rewards (cash back, miles, points) that you could use on travel, entertainment, clothes, home goods or whatever your rewards program offers.
If you are a new rewards card customer, charging a big medical or dental bill may qualify you for some serious bonus rewards as you meet the spending threshold for a signup bonus.
For example, with some good rewards cards if you charge a specified dollar amount in the first three months of opening the account, you can earn significant bonus points. With the offers available as of today, if you have excellent credit you can sign up for a card with bonus points worth up to $400 in travel awards or a $150 cash-back bonus. Basically, a medical or dental bill could help pay the airfare for your next vacation.
The HUGE caveat in this case is that you must pay off your balance before you start accruing interest. Any interest owed on your balance will eat into any rewards earned.
Final thoughts on paying a medical bill with your credit card
Choosing to pay for a medical bill or dental bill with a rewards credit card could earn you a discount on the total cost of a bill.
Medical providers like to get paid promptly and the billing office may give you a discount if you offer to pay for a big bill in full today using a rewards credit card. So be sure to ask for a discount when you offer to pay a bill with a rewards card. Again, that discount won't actually save you any money if you then let that expense accrue interest on your credit card, so make sure you can pay off your bill in full interest-free before taking advantage of this type of discount.
That said, there is no point in risking dire financial straits to earn some extra bonus points on a rewards credit card. If charging a medical bill is going to put a huge strain on your credit, it's better to work out the most affordable payment agreement with a medical provider that you can. Avoiding paying finance charges on medical bills will save you money in the long run.