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Can I get a personal loan for cosmetic surgery?

Plastic surgeon marking abdomen
Consumers ready to undergo a cosmetic procedure can finance it with a personal loan.

Many life events such as buying a home or acquiring a new car have certain loans devoted to them. But for cosmetic surgery, the financing options are less defined. Fortunately, borrowers have several options to pay for the procedure, including personal loans, medical credit cards, and doctor’s office finance plans.

Personal loans are usually small, so the ability to pay for an entire procedure depends on a borrower’s credit score. For larger plastic surgery operations, one personal loan will likely not cover the staggering cost of a procedure.

According to a national survey by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), major procedures can range in cost from an average of $1,218 for dermabrasion to $7,928 for a lower body lift. Even smaller minimally-invasive procedures can range from a $219 cellulite treatment to a $1,658 fat filler procedure.

The high fees listed by the ASPS do not cover the entire cost of each operation. Additional expenses such as anesthesia, room facilities, and other added fees must be considered as well, which can add hundreds and thousands of dollars to a patient’s final bill. 

Despite these significant costs, cosmetic surgery is still extremely popular in the United States.

In 2012, 14.6 million cosmetic plastic procedures were performed: 13 million minimally-invasive and 1.6 million invasive procedures. These procedures have increased by 5 percent since 2011.

Plastic surgery’s popularity is hard to deny, but the options for financially strained consumers are limited and can carry high interest rates or other less favorable terms.

Insurance typically only covers the cost of cosmetic surgery when it is labeled as reconstructive surgery. If insurance is not available, then alternative forms of financing must be sought out. For a portion of last year’s multi-million patients, payday loans were used to finance the operation.

Joshua Rodriguez, owner and founder of CNA Finance, said that although personal finance options are never a “one size fits all answer,” personal loans are a good option for consumers who qualify for the loan and can fulfill their repayment obligations.

“Everyone has their own unique financial strong and weak points,” he said. “There are personal loans that are designed for different people in different walks of life as with all other types of loans.”

Since the cost will likely be high, some borrowers choose to offer up some form of collateral on their loan. Turning an unsecured loan into a secured personal loan will likely reduce the offered interest rate, making it less expensive in the long term.

The converse is an increased risk for the borrower. If a borrower uses a valuable personal item as a form of collateral, they risk losing the item forever if the loan goes unpaid.

Rodriguez said that collateralized items will likely bare significant importance for the borrower, but if they decide to proceed, they should consider the loan similar to other forms of lending.

“If you have to take out a collateral-based loan, the option really comes back to how badly you want the cosmetic surgery, how stable your employment is, and your ability to pay on the loan you take out,” he said.

But Rodriguez cautioned borrowers set on using personal loans.

“Before choosing this option, consumers may want to consider options such as medical credit lenders, tapping into savings or credit cards in rare cases,” he said.

Another payment option that patients often use is medical credit cards, according to Ronald Simons, Founder and CEO of Globe Icons Interactive, which oversees medical credit card company CareCredit.

Similar to personal loans, medical credit cards can be used for all types of elective, cosmetic, and dermatologic treatments, Simons said.

Susie Drew, office manager for plastic surgeon Dr. Brian Evans, said they use CareCredit at their office and have experienced positive feedback from their patients. She said patients will use the card, which offers interest free payments for one year, to retain their savings while repaying their debts.

If patients believe they will pay off their cosmetic surgery debts within a year they will choose CareCredit, Drew said.

Borrowers should evaluate how they plan to repay their debts before applying for a loan or credit card. Certain forms of credit are more accepting of minimum payments. For example, if a borrower wants to make the minimum payments each month instead of tackling larger parts of the debt amount, Rodriguez warns against personal loans.

“Personal loans can often times charge minimum payments based on the balance. This means as the balance goes down, your payment goes down and you are in debt longer,” he said.

Credit cards also carry their own incentives and risks. If a borrower can find a credit card company offering zero percent interest for a certain period of time, such as the 12 months that CareCredit offers, then the card can benefit the borrower if they repay during that time. But if the borrower exceeds the introductory rate, the interest rates can spike to high double digits that can cause the initial cost to spiral upward.

Few consumers want to think about the long-term cost of minor purchases, but plastic surgery procedures, however cheap or expensive, should not be pursued without realizing that it is part of a larger business.

“When it comes to any form of medicine, including cosmetic medical science such as cosmetic surgery, it’s important to remember that medicine is a business,” Rodriguez said. “The procedure is the product and the surgeon owns the business.”

Although Rodriguez has never asked any personal loan borrower about their specific outcomes of cosmetic surgery, he did speak with Dr. Marksfeld of NW Pain Relief Center. Marksfeld said that many patients tend to forget about the additional costs when scheduling a surgery.

When the time for a scheduled procedure arrives, the overwhelming costs become visible.

“When thinking of undergoing any form of procedure, patients can get lost in the moment and not think of many of the financial factors until they are laying on the operating table,” Rodriguez said.

For patients at Drew’s office, this is unlikely to occur because patients must pay for the entire procedure two weeks ahead of surgery.

While early payments reduce the financial surprise, it does not stop an ever-determined customer. Drew said that some patients go to extremes to have cosmetic procedures, including adding a co-signer when their credit is poor.

“Some people just want to have surgery and they will do whatever it takes,” she said.