You’ve been wanting to change your looks with a cosmetic procedure forever — say, a nose job or a tummy tuck — but you can’t afford to pay for it in full. That makes you wonder: Would it really be so bad to put it on a credit card and pay it off over time?
While the financial costs of such a decision often outweigh the benefits, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Assuming the procedure is medically advisable, start by evaluating your financial situation and options. And if you’re sure you want to borrow on plastic, do all you can to avoid the negative side effects of high interest rates and out-of-control balances.
Size up costs
Before deciding to take on debt, estimate how much your cosmetic procedure might cost.
“Cosmetic surgery is not covered by insurance,” says Dr. Alan Matarasso, president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, who works as a plastic surgeon in New York City. “It’s what we call self-pay. Traditionally, the model was that you paid [the full amount] two to three weeks in advance.”
The cost depends on what type of procedure you get:
Cosmetic surgery procedures: These are one-time surgical procedures that give lasting results. Here are the 2017 national average surgeon fees for some popular procedures, according to an ASPS report (these don’t include anesthesia or operating room fees):
Breast augmentation: $3,718.
Nose reshaping: $5,125.
Nonsurgical procedures: Minimally invasive cosmetic procedures, such as Botox or lip fillers, typically require regular treatments to maintain. Some 2017 national average surgeon fees for such procedures:
Botox or similar treatment: $385.
Soft tissue fillers: $662 to $1,951, depending on type.
Put your budget under the knife
Avoid taking on credit card debt if you can help it. Carrying a balance on a high-interest credit card could cause your balances to balloon, making your procedure far more expensive. And regardless of interest rate, a large balance could take years to pay off, potentially endangering other financial priorities. Before borrowing with plastic, try:
Saving up: Set up a cosmetic surgery fund — say, by creating a dedicated bank account for the procedure you want — and contribute a small amount each month until you reach your goal.
Sharing and comparing: “It doesn’t hurt to talk to the practice and say, ‘Look, this is my budget,’” Matarasso says. “I think with many doctors, if you’re close [to covering it], they’ll work with you.” You can also visit different practices and clinics and compare prices.
Borrowing on plastic? Minimize risks
Taking on credit card debt is risky but still manageable, if you can avoid interest charges and stay on top of payments without making major financial sacrifices.
Mark Struthers, a certified financial planner at Sona Financial in Chanhassen, Minnesota, recalls that one of his clients decided to take on credit card debt to pay for Botox because she thought looking younger might help her get a job faster and she didn’t want to dip into savings. He says she ended up finding a new job fairly quickly and avoided big interest charges by using a credit card with a low-interest promotion.
“I equate it to someone who got laid off and bought a new suit” to improve their chances of getting a new job, Struthers says, noting that his client’s case was different from most.
Tips for borrowing with credit cards
When it comes to borrowing for medical procedures, you have options aside from credit cards — but for cosmetic surgery, using a credit card with a long introductory 0% annual percentage rate may be the lowest-cost choice. Borrow wisely with these tips:
Minimize costs. Seek a card with a long introductory 0% APR period — say, 18 months or longer — and no annual fee. Pay on time, every time.
Read the terms. Medical credit cards with deferred-interest offers are often available at the front desk of practices, but these aren’t true 0% APR offers, and slip-ups can cost you.
Watch your limit. With a low-limit card, an expensive procedure could cause your credit scores to tumble. Avoid that fate by taking steps to lower the amount of available credit you’re using.