Whether you need a cavity filled or a simple tooth cleaning, dental work is expensive. If you don’t have insurance, the average deep clean will cost you $500 to $900. A crown or a root canal could set you back $1,500 or more. So how can you afford the care that you need? Read on to learn everything you need to know about how to pay for dental work.
The cost of your pearly whites
Nearly 37 million people in the U.S. have no dental insurance at all. And unfortunately for them, dental work is expensive.
And even if you do have dental insurance, you may not have the coverage you need. Although insurance pays for preventative care, its contribution to other services has limits. For example, one Delta Dental policy only pays 50% towards the cost of oral surgery, root canals, and crowns (Source). And there are many procedures — especially optional or cosmetic ones — which dental insurance doesn’t cover at all.
So what should you do if you find yourself with a massive bill for a dental procedure? How can you pay for dental work?
How can you pay for dental work?
Check your health insurance policy
Many people don’t realize that, in some cases, standard medical insurance policies will cover dental work. However, this is only applicable if the procedure is found to be “medically necessary.”
For example, if you have a jaw injury from an accident and need oral surgery, your health insurance will probably approve the treatment. Likewise, insurance may also cover procedures to correct airway obstructions, chewing dysfunction, or severe speech defects.
However, you can’t necessarily count on this coverage. Whether or not your health insurance covers medically necessary dental work depends on your particular policy. And there’s rarely medical insurance coverage for things like root canals, dentures, bridges, braces, or dental implants. In these cases, you will need to find another way to pay for your dental work.
Ask about a payment plan
Many dental offices offer short-term installment plans for patients that can’t afford to pay for the entire procedure in a lump sum. These repayment plans don’t usually have interest fees attached to them, and they aren’t reported to credit bureaus. This remains true unless you default. If you fail to pay what you owe, expect to be taken to collections.
If your dental office does offer a payment plan, be sure to clarify their terms before you have work done. Find out if they charge interest, how long you’ll have to pay the debt, and how much you’ll have to pay each month.
Keep in mind that this option isn’t always available, especially for elective work such as veneers or implants. But you won’t know unless you ask!
Take out a personal loan
A personal loan can be a good option for financing dental work. You can use a personal loan to pay for anything. And if you have good credit, you can probably score a lower interest rate than you would get with a credit card.
With a personal loan, you’ll make regular monthly payments over the length of a set loan term. Not sure what kind of rates you might qualify for? SuperMoney can help! With our personalized loan engine, you can get quotes from dozens of top lenders in seconds. It’s easy, and pre-qualifying won’t hurt your credit score.
Pay with a credit card
Nearly all dental offices accept major credit cards as payment for dental work. If your credit line is big enough, this could be a good option. But keep in mind that interest rates on credit cards are usually higher than the interest rates of personal loans. If it’s going to take you several months to pay off the debt, be sure to compare both options to find the cheapest financing solution!
Also, if you have good credit, there’s another great option out there. Many credit cards offer promotions wherein they charge zero interest for a set introductory period — typically 6-12 months. As long as you’re able to pay off the balance before the promotional period ends, you’ve financed your dental bill without paying a dime in interest!
Not sure where to start? Check out these great credit card offers:
Use a medical credit card
Many physician’s offices and dental practices have brochures on hand advertising specialized medical credit cards. The most common dental credit card is available through Care Credit.
Dental credit cards promise consumers a low introductory annual percentage rate (APR) period if you pay off the card within the introductory period (often 12 or 18 months). But be warned. If you fail to pay off your debt within the promotional period, you’ll have to pay retroactive interest on the entire amount that you originally owed. And the interest rate is typically in the double digits.
That said, as long as you’re careful to pay your debt in time, medical credit cards can be a great option. They’re especially helpful for applicants with bad credit, who might not otherwise qualify for such low rates.
Use an HSA
Do you have a health savings account (HSA)? Then draw from it to pay for your dental procedure! An HSA lets you put away pre-tax income into a special savings account every month. You can spend the money in your HSA on any qualified medical expenses — including dental work.
Borrow from your 401(k)
Suppose you don’t have an HSA, and your low credit score makes it hard to get competitive offers from lenders or credit card companies. How can you finance your dental work?
Easy: borrow the money from your future self! Sound impossible? Not if you have a 401(k) retirement savings account! Borrowing money from your own 401(k) lets you draw funds from your own retirement. Because you’re borrowing from yourself, you won’t have to pass a credit check, and you won’t have to pay any interest.
As long as you remain working for your current employer (the one who facilitates your 401(k)), you can take your time to pay yourself back. But if you lose or leave your job, you must pay your debt within 60 days.
What are other ways to save on dental work?
Invest in preventative care
Even if you don’t have a current dental crisis, the best way to avoid one in the future is to invest in preventative care! Paying $100 for a filling today can save you thousands by averting a (much more expensive) root canal further down the line.
Take care of your teeth at home by brushing and flossing daily, and make regular visits to the dentist. These annual and bi-annual check-ups aren’t expensive, and they could prevent much more costly issues.
Claim the medical expenses tax break
Did you shell out for an expensive dental procedure this year? If so, you might be able to deduct it from your taxable income! However, this only applies if you itemize your tax deductions. And if your procedure was elective, it’s likely not tax-deductible.
Not sure if you’re itemizing or claiming the standard deduction? These tax prep solutions can help!
Dental work financing FAQ
Can you finance dental work?
You sure can. Check the options above for a comprehensive list of dental financing options. If you manage a dentist office, consider joining SuperMoney’s point-of-sale platform for a free way to offer financing to your clients.
Do any dentists take payment plans?
Yes, some dentists either offer point-of-sale financing options or have their own installment loan platform.
What credit score is needed for dental financing?
As with all lenders, the terms required to qualify for a dental loan vary from lender to lender. Of course, the higher your credit score the better your chances of getting approved and receiving a low interest rate.
Whether you have insurance or not, you should always compare the prices dentists in your area charge for a procedure. Even within the same network, providers can have big cost differences for the same service. Prices also vary widely depending on where you live.
When you compare offers and lenders, look at the total cost of each option. Consider the APR listed by each lender, and how long it will take you to pay off the loan or credit line. Then, select the financing option that’s right for you.
Are you interested in using a personal loan to pay for your dental work? Compare personal loan lenders first. Do you prefer to use a credit card? Be sure to find the best credit card offer — perhaps one with a 0% APR introductory period. Don’t commit to any one option until you’ve compared at least three different possibilities! That way, you know you’re getting the best deal you can get.