There was a seminal moment in my life as a dog mom, when several years ago I found myself staring at a vet bill for $4,000. I’m Suzanne Cannon, and my 8 year old schnauzer, Liebe (pictured above in my arms) – who was in otherwise good health – needed emergency veterinary care when she developed acute pancreatitis.
Since Liebe became ill over the weekend, taking her to my regular vet wasn’t an option. Her symptoms were severe enough that I knew she needed supportive care immediately, so off we went to the emergency animal hospital.
Four days and $4,000 later, I stood in disbelief at the reception desk, wondering how in the world I was going to pay for my dog’s care. The client service representative suggested that I apply for third-party financing through Care Credit, which is a credit card that can be used for veterinary expenses as well as dental and elective medical costs.
With a sense of relief I completed the application and submitted it — only to be told a few minutes later that I was not approved, and needed to come up with the full $4,000 immediately. I had one credit card with a zero balance, so I used it. I maxed it out (my credit limit was $4,000), and I spent the next four years paying it off, at 21% interest.
As I left the emergency hospital, my recovered dog in tow, I remember feeling frustrated and helpless. I was more than able to make payments on my balance, but since a third-party financing company deemed me to be a poor credit risk, the hospital did too.
While I knew that my circumstances were to blame for the credit decline – I was in the midst of a divorce and only working part-time — I was also a person of integrity and honesty, and I had enough income to successfully make installment payments. The hospital, however, wasn’t going to take me at my word. They had a business to run, and that was that.
The only way I could have saved myself from this expense was to have Liebe put down, and to me, that wasn’t an option. Nor would it ever be, since I consider my animals to be family members, and the pain of losing one is overwhelming even when they are aged and infirm. I couldn’t imagine choosing to end one of their lives prematurely, especially when there is a reasonable expectation of recovery.
Liebe enjoyed many more years of life after her stay in the emergency hospital, and passed away at the ripe old age of 15. I moved on with my life and career, and I now work for a payment processing company. A couple of years ago, I realized that I could use my position here to help other pet parents who find themselves in the situation I was in, all those years ago. I began researching the issue, and I quickly learned that I wasn’t alone when it came to needing help with vet bills.
Even now, with veterinary costs 91% higher than they were a decade ago, most veterinarians won’t offer payment plans except through third-party financing companies. The problem with that is — particularly since the real estate crash of 2008 and subsequent Great Recession — fewer people than ever qualify for a line of credit through these companies. In the current credit climate, even consumers with what is considered to be a “prime” FICO credit score (660 – 719) have approval rates below 60%, and the overall approval rate for all consumers is only 39%. Those with a “subprime” score are approved only 17% of the time.
What this all means is that a lot of pet owners are left out in the cold when facing a costly or unexpected vet bill. For veterinarians it means their hands are tied when clients can’t pay in full up front, and they are forced to come up with some kind of “makeshift” payment plan that isn’t just hard to track, it’s downright awkward to discuss if a client misses a payment.
It seemed clear to me that there was a real need for alternative payment options in veterinary medicine. After about a year of research and beta testing with a handful of veterinary practices, my partner and I launched VetBilling.com. Our business mission was twofold: first, to provide pet owners with an installment payment option that would allow them to spread costs over time (thereby reducing the stress in an already stressful situation). Second – but just as important – to allow veterinarians to securely and reliably collect those payments without increasing the workload for their staff.
There is no “one size fits all” financial solution for clients needing payment plans, so the veterinarian who offers VetBilling.com payment plans can tailor a plan to a client’s particular needs. There is no minimum or maximum payment term, no minimum or maximum balance that determines eligibility. We will not decline any payment plan. We assume that veterinarians know their clients better than we do, and are in a better position to determine the acceptability of risk based on their relationship.
VetBilling.com charges pet owners a $25 enrollment fee, and a $3 service charge is added to each installment payment. These are the only fees charged – pet parents don’t have to worry about high interest charges, and there is no penalty for early pay-off. The payments are set up as automatic drafts from a checking, savings or credit card account. This is convenient and reduces the likelihood of late or missed payments. Once the balance is paid in full, the automatic drafts cease and the payment plan is terminated.
In the event that a payment returns or declines, VetBilling.com’s customer support staff reaches out to the pet owner to arrange a successful transaction. Often this is simply a matter of updating an expired card, or choosing a different drafting date that works better for the customer’s budget. We do everything we can to ensure that pet owners stay on track with their payments, since we are obligated not just to them, but to their vet.
All the details about how our payment plans work is available on our web site, www.VetBilling.com, and pet parents can even refer their vet to us by completing a form on our “Participating Vets” page. Using the same form, they can also seek pre-approval for a payment plan.
Our first success story, involving Daisy, a 5 year old Cocker Spaniel who needed emergency surgery, is posted in the blog section of our web site. Knowing that we have already made a difference in the lives of many pets keeps us inspired, and fuels our determination to expand the reach of our services.
Our personal mission in all of this is to keep pets and their people together by reducing the frequency of “economic euthanasia” — putting pets down due to financial limitations — and “owner surrender,” when a pet parent is forced to sign ownership over to a veterinarian or shelter to ensure their animal gets needed care.
Our parent company, Electronic Billing & Customer Support, has been successfully processing payments for a variety of businesses since 1986. What we now bring to the veterinary industry is our secure payment infrastructure (we must comply with all federal, banking, and data security regulations), our many years of experience in dealing with all types of payments, and a commitment to providing our services at a reasonable cost.
But none of this would really matter in the absence of our guiding principle, which is to solve problems in a way that makes a significant difference in the lives of people — and now, their pets.
Visit VetBilling.com now to find out more, and please share this article with your friends and family — it may provide just the solution they need.
Tony Ferraro and Suzanne Cannon live in Westminster, MD with their dog Sam and their Clydesdale/Thoroughbred cross, Chase. Tony founded Electronic Billing & Customer Support in 1986. Suzanne joined the business in 2013, and together they launched VetBilling.com, which is dedicated to making veterinary care affordable and accessible for all pet owners.
*** Please note that LocalDogDaily.com is not affiliated with VetBilling or Electronic Billing in any way. We are providing this article to you as an informational option for payment programs for veterinary bills; it is the responsibility of each person reading this to do their due diligence to determine if VetBilling.com is the right solution for them and their pet’s care. LocalDogDaily.com does not assume any responsibility for individual reader’s decisions, nor are we receiving any compensation from VetBilling.com.
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