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What Is the Best Way to Pay for Braces?

paying-for-braces

Orthodontia: the dreaded word every parent hopes will pass them by. One, it’s never fun to do something to your child that is uncomfortable, even if it is for their own good. Two, it takes tons of time to keep up with appointments. Three, it costs a fortune! We are beginning our journey into the world of orthodontics today, and to deal with issue number three; what is the best way to pay for braces?

Deciding When to Get Braces

If you or your child needs braces, it won’t come as an emergency expense. We’ve known since our daughter’s first dental visit around age three that she would likely need orthodontic treatment.

Most orthodontists will start working with kids who are seven years old if their dentist recommends a consult, but the majority of patients we’ve seen at our local office are teenagers. That’s quite a bit of time for parents to prepare. Sure, there are always extra expenses that can and will take money if you let them, but it’s very important to start a “braces” fund if orthodontics will be necessary.

In our case, we went in for a consult last year, which was free of charge, and decided to wait another year. Even if we’d waited another year or two or five, that wouldn’t have been the end of the world.

Options to Pay For Braces

Our daughter’s problems aren’t terrible, so our cost is going to be $3,300. We actually caught a break on our diagnostic day. The visit was supposed to be an extra $300, but the doctor waived this fee because the office was a zoo after a teenager had a very dramatic melt down in front of my daughter.

One of the scanning machines wasn’t working correctly and had to be repeated three times to get a proper scan. Let’s say it provided some good life lessons in behavior and patience, plus we saved money. All in all, a good day!

The office offered several options for payment.

  • Payment in full with cash or check for a 5% discount.
  • Payment in full with a credit card for a 2.5% discount.
  • In office payments of $1000 down and $230 a month for ten months. No interest but stiff penalty for late payments.
  • Care Credit, which is like a special health care credit card.  Up to 18 months with no interest, but if you don’t pay the balance by the end of the promotional period, interest rate is 14.9%

At first glance, paying in full with cash or check seemed to be the best option, but we decided to use one of our Chase credit cards to earn over 3000 Ultimate Reward points. If we transfer those to Hyatt, we will get more value than the $82.50 we’d keep as an extra discount for paying in cash.

If you don’t use points and miles, paying up front for the discount is obviously the best option.

Health Savings or Flex Accounts Offer Additional Tax Savings

If you have a health savings account, spending $3,300 on braces means a discount equal to your tax rate. For those with flexible spending accounts, paying for braces with pre-tax money also offers a significant discount. Don’t forget to take advantage of these programs if you have access.

What if I Didn’t Save Up For Braces?

Since so many people live paycheck to paycheck, lots of parents probably won’t ever have a braces fund. In that case, making payments directly with the doctor’s office might be the best bet. Make sure you understand all the terms and get the agreement in writing.

Don’t burn good faith by not keeping your end of the bargain. If a rough patch arises, be upfront with your orthodontist’s office and try to come up with a new payment plan. Doctors do have every right to withhold non-essential treatment, charge late fees and penalties, and turn people over to a collection agency if payment is not received, but in my experience, most providers prefer to work with you than lose a patient altogether.

Also, most doctors won’t take on a new patient who shows up with braces already in place unless the original doctor gives a referral, so don’t try to jump ship in the middle of treatment. You’d hate to be picking off Junior’s braces with tweezers and forks.

Is Care Credit Ever a Good Idea?

In my opinion, no. Care credit could be a choice if you have a real medical or veterinary emergency AND you know you’ll be able to pay off the balance before the promotional period is over. But there are way too many things that could go wrong. As I said, braces are not an emergency, and it’s a much better idea to save up until you can afford them.

Are There Cheaper Ways to Get Braces?

If you live in a metropolitan area, it might pay to shop around. All private orthodontist offices are going to be expensive, but some might be better than others as far as prices and discounts. Although, I would value the recommendation of a trusted dentist over trying to save a few bucks.

There are also many accredited orthodontic programs associated with dental schools. Treatment is provided by residents, but they are under strict supervision. Appointment times may not be as flexible and visits will probably take longer, but this is a viable way to pay for braces at a huge discount. Orthodontics programs only accept the very top dental school graduates, so I would feel comfortable going this route if we lived anywhere close to a program.

There is an organization called Smiles Change Lives that offers discounted braces to low income families, and Medicaid may cover orthodontia in some states if certain qualifications are met and there are available providers. Although I feel dental insurance is a rip off, some plans do cover a portion of braces, so if you have coverage, make sure to check benefits.

However your family decides to pay for braces, please don’t let orthodontics lead to high interest debt. If you don’t have funds saved up or can’t make no or low interest payments on time, then wait a year or two. I didn’t get braces until age 30, and I think I still turned out OK!

Have you had to pay for braces? Should I encourage my daughter to pursue a career as an orthodontist? 

 

 

About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.

24 comments

  1. I had to get a lot of orthodontics due to being a severe thumb sucker as an infant/toddler (pushed up my pallette) so I needed a butterfly expander and braces. I do recommend starting as early as a dentist recommends so that a kid doesn’t have braces in high school. My mom was proactive at getting my dental work early and I am very grateful for that. I also agree that you can kind of know if braces are needed so save up as soon as you can.

    • we’ve known for about five years, so that was plenty of time to save up. Unless you never take your kid to the dentist, it would be pretty hard not to know braces were coming.

  2. We are going to the orthodontic graduate program in town. I have been really pleased. The practicing orthodontist that oversees the resident is someone a lot of neighbors go to. We just pay 1/3 less. They have also submitted to insurance for us so that is great too.

    • Thanks for that feedback. My sister is a dentist and did a residency, not in orthodontics, but I know how good the care is in those programs. Patients can save thousands of dollars if they are willing to let residents do most of the work.

  3. Thankfully our dentist has not brought this up for any of our kids – yet. That being said, we’d make sure to check around as I’m sure Omaha has a number of good options which should help towards competitive pricing. Nice work on getting the UR points out of it. We’d likely do the very same thing.

    • I wish we’d have thought to apply for a new card so we could have gotten a sign up bonus, but you can’t remember everything!

  4. Discount dental plans (compared to actual insurance) have generally offered braces for about $1,500 from what I’ve seen. Since those are around $150-200 a year, might not be a bad idea to investigate.

    • I totally agree if you have providers in the area who accept them. We only have two orthodontists in our town and neither have to take budget insurance plans.

  5. So thankful that I never needed braces! I probably would have never got them! Really cool to see a number breakdown!. Also, I second Care Credit being not a good deal. It’s like the world’s worst store credit card. However, if it’s an absolute emergency, you do what you gotta do!

    • We did use Care Credit years ago when we had no emergency fund and had a veterinary emergency with one of our dogs. I guess it was one step above putting the balance on a regular credit card, but it could have been very bad if we hadn’t been able to pay it off before the promo period ended. I would never say don’t do it. It’s really hard to say no if it’s your dog or your kid who needs medical attention, and I’ve been in that spot. Luckily we’ve learned to have adequate savings so we don’t have to go down that road again.

  6. I’m all over this post right now, as we actually just had an appointment this week to get an estimate on braces for our daughter. We purposefully bumped up to a better dental plan that covers orthodontics, and spent last year saving up in our HSA to pay for it. It was AWESOME to get the price estimate for $5000+ and know that between insurance and the funds in our HSA, we can pay for it. In. Full.

    • That is a great feeling to know you won’t be held hostage to payment plans. Even if they are zero percent, it’s still a payment, and that’s a slippery slope in my opinion.

  7. It is not unusual for families with children to encounter expensive braces when they reach their teenage years. Those without a group dental plan can purchase a policy on the individual market that covers orthodontia – but they must plan well in advance. There is a two year waiting period.

    • Individual plans where we live would have cost more in premiums than they paid in benefits for orthodontia. It is probably smarter to save up or use a HSA or flex if you don’t have a good dental plan through an employer.

  8. Nice post, it was very helpful since my daughter needs braces, and she wants some Invisalign braces. Every discount on this matter is required. Actually I have problem since my company five years ago canceled dental plan and I didn’t done nothing on this issue.

  9. We are lucky that Rick works for a worldwide company that offers AWESOME dental coverage. When our youngest daughter got braces last year, we paid $300 out of pocket and they paid the rest. Now it’s time for middle daughter to go through the process. It’s easier now that I know what to expect and how to negotiate. And it’ll be paid for in cash, which is always nice. 🙂

    • That is some awesome insurance. I searched through all the plans we could possibly sign up for and they most they paid was $1000, after a year of premiums that added up to $1200. We would have lost $200 doing it that way.

  10. I got 50% reimbursed by my previous employer’s health benefit plan. Money spent on braces was one of the most important investment I have ever made in my life. Well worth it! Thanks for sharing!

    Cheers!

    BeSmartRich

    • I think people with crooked teeth often feel embarrassed, and that can certainly end up making a person feel less confident. Sadly, first impressions do count, so I think being confident in your smile is very important.

  11. Honestly dentists and orthodontists get paid a lot but there’s no way I would enjoy working on people’s teeth all day every day. No thank you! But if your daughter is a people person and doesn’t mind it, sure she should go for it!

    The HSA point you made is a good one. It’s why I think maxing out your HSA needs to be a priority regardless of your age. We have no children and none on the way yet but we max out our HSA every year because we know there will be expenses for our future children, and I’ll be damned if I don’t get that tax benefit! haha

    • When you consider the tax advantage, we are getting about 30% off by maxing out our HSA. We didn’t pull money out of the account because we’re trying to let that grow, but someday, we’ll be able to withdraw $3300 without any taxes or penalty.

  12. I paid my braces in full and I got 10% discount. I saved before I got my braces. I think people should do this as it can save them lots of money.

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