Is it just us, or has caring a four-legged friend gotten more expensive? The data points to YES: The American Pet Products Association (APPA) says that Americans spent a record-breaking $19 billion in 2019, with an annual increase of roughly one billion per year. And unlike medical care for humans, many emergency procedures for pets are held back unless the pet’s owner can pay a deposit up front.
With 6 in 10 Americans reporting that they don’t have the savings to cover emergency vet services, this can present pet owners with an unthinkable decision: scrape together the cash, or refrain from saving your beloved pet’s life.
Enter Care Credit and Scratchpay, two web-based veterinary-financing services. A service designed to help you pay for vet bills – sounds like a great idea! But, how do we know if either of these providers are trustworthy? Which is easier to use? Are there any risks?
As with any lending service, it’s smartest to dig into details like these. Even better if you can do your research before you need them. In this article, we’ll do what we do best, and compare, contrast, and digest allllll of the fine print for you below so that you can figure out if CareCredit or Scratchpay make sense for you. But first, let’s review the basics.
What exactly is veterinary financing and who is it for?
Private veterinary financing is a new type of lending offered by certain veterinary clinics and pet hospitals to help their customers deal with large veterinary bills. In a veterinary emergency or chronic illness for your pet, classic pet insurance would typically cover some veterinary costs but could leave you with a high deductible or with bills that go over their max payouts.
Pet care financing is basically a new type of a loan, and functions a lot like a typical line of credit or credit card, so everything under your credit limit is covered immediately (and without paperwork!)
Just like credit cards, veterinary financing programs have varying rates of interest and loan terms based on your eligibility. Anyone can apply online, it only takes a few minutes, and management of your account is much like any other modern monthly bill, with virtually painless electronic payments and statements.
CareCredit and Scratchpay are two widely used and accepted payment plans for veterinary costs, and although they both serve the same niche, they have some important differences. Let’s start with the biggest one: credit card format vs. line of credit format.
CareCredit is a credit card
CareCredit works much like any of the other credit cards in your wallet: you can use it whenever health expenditures for your pet arise and wherever it is accepted (below a certain limit of course). You make payments based on your balance and interest, and if you are in good standing, you can apply to increase your credit limit at any time.
Scratchpay is a short term loan
With Scratchpay, instead of having an actual card in your wallet that you use when you need it, with you apply for a loan each time a new vet expense comes along, and then the needed amount is paid right to your veterinarian’s office. If something else comes up, and you need more financing, you can apply for another Scratchpay loan and keeping multiple accounts at once.
Is veterinary financing like Scratchpay and CareCredit for everyone?
So should everyone with a pet have one of these credit options on hand for emergencies? Not really, for a couple of reasons.
First, the rapid-fire application process for both of these products are designed to come to you (and your pet’s) rescue as soon as you need it in case of a veterinary emergency. So, with these services, you can get money for a procedure quickly – you don’t need to apply ways ahead of time.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, both CareCredit and Scratchpay will shut an account down within 30 days without use. This means you can’t just have an unused loan with one of them lying around in case of an emergency.
Lastly, you may already have a credit card with comfortable terms and may favor using those over adding another credit product with potentially higher interest. If you’ve got a great card, it may very well make sense to use that instead of getting a new source of capital to pay for a procedure at the vet!
Let’s dive in and compare the differences between these two providers, so you can be well prepared should you need to make a quick decision.
Comparing Scratchpay and CareCredit
Scratchpay vs CareCredit: Comparing Veterinary Financing Plans
|Format||Installment loan||Credit Card|
|Recommended Minimum Credit score to apply||600-700, also based on income||623|
|Minimum lending amount||$35||$200|
|Maximum lending amount||$10,000||$25,000|
|Lowest available Interest Rate||0%||0%|
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So why does Scratchpay offer a lower credit limit than Carecredit? Well, since the amount borrowed is based on one singular vet expenditure, and you can apply for multiple loans at once if you need to, there shouldn’t be a need for borrowing more than $10,000. Other than that, the application criteria are more or less similar to major credit cards, requiring a fair FICO credit score or better.
Also – the zero percent interest rates may seem too good to be true. We’ll explain more below about what you need to do to get that zero percent interest rate from the two providers (hint, you need to follow a very specific, sort of quick, repayment plan!) (You can learn more about APRs and interest rates here.)
Now, let’s dig a little deeper into the details of how easy our two options are to obtain, use, and manage:
Scratchpay vs CareCredit: Comparing Pet Payment Plan Providers
|Acceptance at Clinics and Hospitals||Good||Excellent|
|All species of pets eligible||✔️||✔️|
|All veterinary procedures eligible||✔️||✔️|
|Prescriptions eligible||Only from Vet||Yes, from anywhere|
|Pet only||✔️||Human procedures too!|
|Easy to Apply||Very Easy||Easy|
|Have to talk to a sales person||✖️||Optional|
|Easy to manage account||✔️||✔️|
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Where are they accepted?
So how do you know if your favorite veterinary provider will accept either Scratchpay or Care Credit?
While Scratchpay is growing, their network currently rings in at about 200,000 veterinary and healthcare providers. Care Credit on the other hand boasts half of veterinary clinics across the country. And its website offers a search function where you can quickly enter your zipcode and city name to locate your local options.
What procedures are covered by CareCredit and Scratchpay?
For both cards, both routine and emergency pet care are covered, and that includes chronic illnesses, emergency procedures, dental work, prescriptions, and, not that anyone wants to think about this, but… they also cover pet cremations.
For both cards, routine care includes things like:
- Annual check-ups
- Teeth cleanings
- Food and nutrition
With CareCredit, you have the added benefit of being able to use if for you or your family’s dental or medical expenditures and purchases for medical supplies, whereas Scratchpay is exclusively for Animal care.
How to apply and get approved by ScratchPay and CareCredit
For those that would rather a phone application process is available for CareCredit applicants along with the online application. And for the truly old school, in person application is available at most veterinary clinics that accept Carecredit. Along with all the usual identifying data, the application also asks users to identify their plans for using the card. It doesn’t have to be authorized by a veterinarian or anything, but they just want to know your reason for use to begin with. After that, you can use the card freely at accepting clinics without reporting to CareCredit.
Once you’ve accepted your offer, you are asked to provide ID and sign a promissory note. The last step is receiving an email with an “Agree and Submit” button, with which you can seal the deal. Your approval is then good for 30 days, and if you don’t make an eligible charge before then, your account is cancelled and you will have to reapply. We think this is a pretty important point – if you don’t use it, it expires! So don’t apply too early.
For Scratchpay, you can apply right from your phone and quickly view the products and interest rates that are being offered to you based on your information and credit rating. We like that you can do this anytime of day, 24/7 and still get a response.
One thing that customers love about Scratchpay is that they perform a soft credit check when you apply, meaning that your credit doesn’t show the inquiry or receive any “dings” (to use the technical term). Scratchpay also uses a “merit based” approval using their own internal algorithms, and carry your loan in-house, so they are able to make their own decisions on who to lend to without being tied to another cooperating lender.
How CareCredit works
After applying, CareCredit usually notifies you and your veterinarian of your status that same day, so that your furry (or scaly) friend can begin their treatment ASAP.
Automatic monthly payments are available either via mail, online account, or the CareCredit app. Interest rates vary, but they usually range from 14.90 and 17.90 percent APR.
CareCredit certainly has more products to choose from than Scratchpay, including options for a longer 0% APR promotion:
CareCredit Pet Care Financing Options
|“Pay Later”||“Standard Terms”||“Pay Over time”|
|90 Days||6, 12, or 18 months||24||36||48||60|
|Interest accrued from date of purchase at 26.99%||Interest accrued from date of purchase at 26.99%||Late fees|
If you are offered one of the 0% APR options, it does come with a bit of responsibility: you must make sure the balance is paid off at the end of your 3, 6, 12, or 18 month interest free period. See, the interest starts accruing the day that you make your purchase, it’s just that you don’t see it on your statements while you’re within the promotional 0% APR period.
So even if you have a balance of one dollar after that period ends, you could suddenly be on the hook for the 26.99% interest starting back from day one. So don’t miss any payments, and close out the balance before the end of the introductory period!
How Scratchpay Works
Applying to Scratchpay only takes a few minutes, and then they will offer you one of these four different loan products:
- 90 days with 0% APR
- 12-months (interest rate varies)
- 24-month loan (interest rate varies)
- Take 5: pay 20% down the day that you sign on with the plan. Then the other 4 payments of 20% each are due every two weeks. This option also is 0% APR.
Once you are approved, Scratchpay pays your clinic directly within 1-2 days. Choose automatic or manual monthly payments using the company’s app, which is reviewed as very easy to use, and as long as you make your payments on time, there shouldn’t be anything else to worry about.
Here are two example scenarios for using ScratchPay, with a borrowed amount of $10,000:
|12 months||24 months|
If you want to pay your loan off early there are no penalties, but like any creditor, Scratchpay does charge late payments and for payments that are less than the full amount due.
Late fees vary by product, but in general we find them pretty fair, and they are late out for each individual in the fine print of their promissory note. As an example, the Take 5 plan has a $5 “snooze” option where you can request to defer your payment for two weeks via email. After the two weeks is up, and you’ve expended an additional two day snooze grace period, the payment is now officially late and a $10 fee applies.
One of our favorite factors to think about with products like these is transparency. Are all the terms made super clear to customers up front? Is it clear on the statements what you need to do to stay away from fees and interest hikes?
In the case of Scratchpay, it is no surprise that customers with prime credit often get no-interest offerings, while those with more work to do on their credit will have to pay higher interest. Standard, right? What’s important to know is how clear the terms are, and how easy it is for the average customer to get confused and consequently buried under charges and fees.
What we’ve found is that, because Scratchpay’s loans are based on one fixed price procedure, it is really easy to keep track of your balance and the interest that is accruing, in contrast to having an open line of credit with a growing balance. So you should be able to keep a good handle on the amount of the loan, what the total payments will be and how long you’ll be paying.
The only place where we can see getting thrown off is Scratchpay’s promise that they only do “soft credit checks,” i.e., inquiries into your eligibility that do not show up on your credit report. While this is true for the application process, a hard credit inquiry will be made after you sign your promissory note for a 12 or 24 month plans. If you choose the 3 month plan, the inquiry is soft and will not “ding” your credit (to use the technical term).
With Care Credit, the deferred interest attached to the 0% APR repayment plans has high potential for confusion. If you go with a plan with 0% APR for a certain amount of time, it may seem like interest is not accruing and your veterinary office may have even communicated it that way. But the interest is accruing at 26.9%, and if you go past your promotional interest-free period, you can end up paying the accrued interest- which can soar to dollar amounts in the thousands.
Where people get really confused is that paying by the statement’s due dates is not enough to stay away from the danger- you must keep track of your promotional period’s end date and make sure you’ve paid off your balance before it ends!
Another point to pay attention to is that your credit limit will be automatically reduced if you do not use the card monthly—and this in turn can affect your credit report. We don’t love this “feature.”
Both programs have additional conveniences and benefits to the consumer. Because Scratchpay is an installment loan, it can diversify the types of financial products you have in your credit profile and be beneficial to your credit history and score in the long run.
With CareCredit, you have a little more, shall we say, consumer freedom. Since you can use like a credit card, you can use it anywhere it is accepted without having to ask permission like you would with Scratchpay whenever a new expense comes up. This includes anything from X-Rays to supplements from Rite Aid, and knowing that it is there as an option for a wide range of emergent medical and veterinary needs could be an added comfort. Here is a review from a happy customer:
A little more about CareCredit
CareCredit is the oldest and largest consumer health-care financing program in the country, and owned by GE Money. Along with general medical, dentistry and veterinary services, CareCredit provides financing in the fields of audiology, chiropractic, cosmetic medicine, dermatology, hair restoration, optometry, Lasik surgery and bariatrics.
Since a spike in media attention toward predatory lending created a spotlight on nontraditional lenders, the company has received some negative press. According to a 2013 settlement that ended a New York state attorney general’s investigation into CareCredit’s lending practices,
“Consumer complaints revealed that some consumers were led to believe that they were signing up for an in-house, no-interest payment plan directly with their provider. Others thought that they were applying for a line of credit with zero percent interest, while other consumers believed that the information they gave to their providers was being used to check their creditworthiness only, and was not an application for financing.”
This highlighted a major issue with how the terms of the credit programs were being communicated to customers by veterinary and medical offices– where the 0% interest was being misrepresented and they were then getting caught with the higher accrued interest rate. So although this confusion may not have been completely the company’s fault, they paid millions to these customers in restitution.
Scratchpay: About the company
Scratchpay was created in 2016 as an alternative to Carecredit. According the Scratchpay, because they are approving for a single transaction for a single procedure, the risk they are taking on lending you the funds is “boxed in” or very predictable, so that they are able to approve more customers in total. And because they hold all of the loans to maturity within their own company, they aren’t limited to FICO-based scoring use their own internal models to assess risk.
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How to comparison shop
|Features||APR for extended financing||Penalty APR||Annual Fee|
Because Scratchpay and Care Credit offer very competitive interest rates and loan terms, their comparison is really going to be about what kind of consumer you are and what your needs are. More importantly, your veterinary practitioner of choice may only accept one of them, so the choice may already be made for you!
We wouldn’t advise quote shopping by applying to either of these until the need to use arises, since having your account cancelled from disuse could negatively affect your credit, and since they both only keep your credit line open for a short period of time if you don’t use it.
When you are all set to apply with a veterinary expense on the horizon, we recommend getting a quote from Scratchpay first, since their pre-approval credit check will not show on your credit report. Once you have a product offer, you can use the data above from CareCredit to compare with what Scratchpay has put on the table.
You can get quotes here:
So which do we recommend?
Overall, we recommend Scratchpay as a safer and more transparent option. That is not to say Care Credit doesn’t have useful products that would work very well for some customers. But based on the convenience of application, transparency of the terms, and the security of knowing that your loan terms do not change.
Those who are working on their credit scores or experiencing lean times financially, you’ll want to start with Scratchpay, which is more likely to approve your loan on factors other than your FICO score, and eventually their installment loan should boost your score.
Care Credit has an impressive range of useful products, but based on the risk of getting slapped with huge interest charges at the end of your promotional period, we recommend Scratchpay as the smarter product.