Just How Risky Are “Buy Now, Pay Later” Plastic Surgery Payment Plans?

Getty and Photo Illustration: Aly Lim

Plastic surgery is on the rise. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) reported a 19 percent increase in cosmetic procedures since 2019. And as cosmetic procedures become more popular, the largest barrier for patients is cost, leaving many to finance their plastic surgeries through various buy now, pay later (BNPL) services to keep up appearances.

Though various BNPL financing services have been around for years to help people afford the cost of essential and non-essential medical care, BNPL services have re-entered the chat, so to speak, and surged in use since the pandemic. While these installment plans have previously been criticized for encouraging overspending – apps like Afterpay allow consumers to split up their purchases into four separate payments – there’s now increased concern over BNPL financing for much larger purchases, like plastic surgery.

For patients that don’t have funds readily accessible for plastic surgery procedures, BNPL services can help make their surgeries a reality. But the question remains: are they more helpful or hurtful for patients who can’t pay the exorbitant costs of plastic surgery upfront?

Read on to learn more about BNPL services, the risks associated with using them to finance plastic surgery, and the experiences of those who’ve used the services themselves.

Experts Featured in This Article

Jill Behm is a SVP and general manager of cosmetics at Synchrony, the bank that offers CareCredit to customers.

Toni Ferrara is a manager, publicist, and the founder of Ferrara Media.

David Shafer, MD, FACS, is a double board-certified plastic surgeon.

Kate Cullinane is the CEO of Palm Beach Facial Plastic Surgery.

Vanessa Bermeo is a publicist at Stunt & Gimmick.

Madison Anderson, NCCA NASM-CPT, is a fitness trainer.

How Does Buy Now, Pay Later Financing Work?

CareCredit, which is the oldest and most well-known BNPL service, finances healthcare costs including elective plastic surgery procedures. CareCredit is accepted at over 260,000 locations nationwide, giving patients a wide range of choice in providers. Jill Behm, who works at Synchrony (the bank that offers CareCredit to customers), tells PS that CareCredit has seen significant growth in the post-pandemic world. Currently, Behm says there are 12 million CareCredit cardholders, many of whom use their cards for cosmetic procedures.

Behm explains how the approval process for CareCredit works: “There are different credit limits for different people, which is determined by a number of factors that are a part of our underwriting process,” a procedure she says evaluates an applicant’s finances to determine their creditworthiness and level of risk associated with lending them money, including an applicant’s ability to pay back the loan and over what period of time. Synchrony then uses a proprietary technology that analyzes a wealth of data and a credit report to get a “more complete and accurate picture of a consumer’s creditworthiness.” After this background check on finances is completed, patients are given a line of credit to use towards elective cosmetic procedures.

When approved for CareCredit, customers are issued a card attached to a line of credit. The company then provides “promotional financing solutions,” which include deferred interest options that are convenient for those who want to pay for their cosmetic care over a set period of time without incurring interest.

PR expert Toni Ferrara used CareCredit to pay for her body sculpting surgery. “It was pretty easy to apply for CareCredit,” she says. “I have really great credit, so that definitely might be why I feel that it was so convenient. I remember answering a few questions about monthly income and the amount I wanted to borrow.” Though she was approved for the entire cost of her $20,000 surgery, she opted to pay half upfront and the rest on CareCredit. “I chose the option that had 12 months to pay it off completely with zero interest, [and] I had it paid off in less than four months.”

Most BNPL approval processes are similar, and though there are some variations on how funds are divided, they all ultimately help fund your cosmetic procedures. Other similar options are PatientFi, Alphaeon, Upstart, Cherry, and PRIVI (owned by parent company PatientFi). There’s also Allē, Allergan Aesthetics’s loyalty program in which you can accrue points to use toward Allergan treatments, such as Botox and Juvéderm. It’s soon set to launch a payment plan to help finance trips to your favorite cosmetic provider for injectables.

It’s important to note that from the plastic surgeon’s perspective, there is no financial incentive or cost if a patient utilizes a BNPL service. “[If] the financing is through a third party such as CareCredit, we have no financial benefit from patients using their services. We offer it as an option when requested, but it makes no difference to us whether they use it or not,” says plastic surgeon David Shafer.

The Risks Involved When Using Buy Now, Pay Later Services

The main risks when a patient utilizes BNPL services is a lack of understanding of the terms and/or an inability to make payments within the agreed upon timeframe. Debt accrued from BNPL services, if you’re paying interest, can affect your credit score.

While it’s rare for patients to request financing in Dr. Shafer’s office – only 1 to 2 percent actually utilize it – he explains that if patients are interested, he makes sure to discuss the potential consequences of taking on debt. “We never want a patient to do something they can’t afford. We discuss that perhaps they should wait until the time is right or their finances are in order,” he says. He adds that “financially savvy patients” often opt for short-term or no-interest plans, “kind of like an interest-free short-term loan.”

Similarly, Kate Cullinane of Palm Beach Facial Plastic Surgery, says they would “never recommend a patient overextend themselves.” However, as she explains, there are great options available for those who need a little financial assistance. “I would definitely recommend reading all terms and conditions carefully as high-interest terms, and penalties for paying late do exist. Also researching a 0 percent interest credit card is another viable option, since many have reward redemptions available,” she says.

Publicist Vanessa Bermeo, who’s company utilizes BNPL services to help prep for weddings, says she could see how BNPL “could definitely be a slippery slope.” However, she thinks that folks who are good at managing their finances could benefit from being able to “get the treatments you want without having to put down a hefty payment.”

Ferrara, who used CareCredit to pay for her body sculpting surgery, echoes that sentiment. “I would say, always do your research and what works best for you,” she says. “These financing companies or cards always have fees and interest that can accrue if a certain minimum isn’t met. I would also advise [you] to really look at your finances so you can be confident in a payback plan that works for your budget.”

How To Use Buy Now, Pay Later Services To Your Advantage

Still, many experts and patients agree that if you understand the full financial undertaking and are able to pay your installments on time without accruing debt, BNPL services are not only a great option, but can also be used to your advantage.

Personal fitness trainer Madison Anderson utilized CareCredit for a breast augmentation because she didn’t want to dip into her savings to pay for her surgery. “I also wanted to build my credit score as I see a lot of value in that,” she says. “It covered my entire surgery and it broadened my credit variety.” The plan she had taken out with CareCredit was a 12-month, no-interest plan from the date of surgery. She’s still paying it off, but she says she only has one installment left – in total, she’ll have paid off the entire surgery in 11 months.

For Anderson, using BNPL was well worth it; she would “highly recommend it to anyone who can or cannot pay outright to boost your credit score over time.”

Taryn Brooke is a beauty writer and editor born and bred in New York City who has been in digital media for over 10 years. She is a contributing beauty writer for PS, Allure, Byrdie, and Well+Good.

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