Credit card sign-up bonuses, pet store loyalty programs and special financing for medical emergencies can take a nip out of those pesky pet care costs.
The U.S. pet industry is booming, and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. If you’re thinking of welcoming a little Fido or Fluffy into your home, consider this: Americans will spend an estimated $69 billion on their pets in 2017, which breaks down to roughly $816 per pet-owning family.
But don’t let the price of admission stop you from joining the 68 percent of U.S. households – around 85 million families – who own a pet. A bit of smart credit card usage can go a long way toward alleviating the costs of new pet ownership.
1. Save on initial costs with credit card sign-up offers.
Taking advantage of credit card sign-up bonuses is one of the easiest ways to put a dent in your initial pet investment (think adoption fees, vaccines, spaying/neutering, etc.). Depending on the card, you could shave hundreds of dollars off your bill.
For example, Barclaycard CashForward World Mastercard cardholders who spend at least $1,000 in their first 90 days will snag a $200 sign-up bonus, which could significantly defray the cost of adding a furry friend to the family. The card also features 1.5 percent cash back on every purchase, but with an added twist: Each time you claim your cash, you’ll receive a 5 percent earnings bonus to boot.
Meanwhile, the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express comes with a much smaller welcome offer of $150 statement credit for new cardholders who also spend $1,000 in the first three months. Adding to this card’s appeal, though, is a generous cash back rate of 3 percent at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year, then 1%).
Such substantial rewards provide added incentive to buy pet food from your local grocer versus shopping at specialty retailers, though it’s worth noting big-box stores such as Target and Walmart are not included in the supermarket category.
Then there’s the Chase Freedom Unlimited card, which offers 3 percent cash back on purchases in the first year (up to $20,000 in purchases, then 1.5 percent cash back). All purchases in following years earn a 1.5 percent rewards rate. The card accumulates Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which you can redeem for cash back at a value of 1 cent per point, or transfer to an eligible Chase card – such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve – where points are worth 1.5 cents or more if you redeem them for travel.
2. Get a handle on regular expenditures with pet-specific credit cards and store loyalty clubs.
Specialized credit cards can help you manage the costs of routine pet maintenance such as dental care, food, grooming and more. For instance, the American Kennel Club Visa is a rewards card that offers three points per dollar at pet stores and vet offices, along with two points per dollar at gas stations and grocery stores and one point per dollar everywhere else.
American Kennel Club Visa points can be redeemed for gift cards, so consider opting for a gift card to PetSmart, Petco, Amazon, Target or Walmart to help stretch your pet budget.
You can also sign up for loyalty programs at various pet retailers such as PetSmart, Petco and Pet Supplies Plus. Using them in conjunction with the American Kennel Club Visa will give you even deeper discounts on your newfound pet parenthood.
Finally, if Petland is your pet store of choice, it’s a no-brainer to sign up for the Petland Credit Card. With every five qualifying purchases of $50 or more within a 12-month period, you’ll score a coupon for 20 percent off. Other card features include ongoing discounts on Petland brand products and exclusive discounts four times a year.
3. Special financing programs can help you afford emergency veterinary care.
In the unfortunate case of a pet care emergency, your veterinary provider may have its own in-office payment plans. But if you want to prepare ahead of time to avoid a huge bill you can’t afford, look into financing programs such as CareCredit, Vetary or Scratch Pay.
CareCredit, which can also be used to pay for nonemergency care, offers financing options of six, 12, 18 or 24 months at no interest on purchases of $200 or more. A word of caution, however: If you fail to pay your balance in full by the end of the promotional period, interest will be retroactively imposed from the date of purchase.
Making minimum payments as outlined in your statement likely won’t be enough. You’ll need to divide the purchase total by the number of months in your plan and make that your minimum payment instead. With some treatments reaching into the thousands of dollars, you could incur hundreds of dollars in interest if you don’t pay off the loan in time.
As an alternative, you can go with a payment plan that offers a low interest rate to avoid the risks that come with a deferred interest loan. For example, at Vetary Credit, APRs start at a reasonable 6.95 percent for up to $10,000 in pet treatment costs. Scratch Pay, meanwhile, partners with a list of vets nationwide to offer three payment options up to 12 months in duration with APRs as low as 5.9 percent.
While it’s never advisable to carry a balance from month to month, the peace of mind that comes with knowing your pet can get the health care they need might just be worth it.
All that said, there’s just one more thing you need to figure out: Are you a dog person or a cat person?
See related: 5 tips to save money on pet costs, Pet buyers, beware fraudsters, If you fly with a pet, can it earn frequent flyer miles?