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?