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CareCredit’s mobile app gets a facelift, but the card’s terms may cause wrinkles

Summary

CareCredit has rolled out a new mobile app that allows you to pay for medical procedures without having your card, but consumer advocates warn against getting the card in the first place

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You can now pay for plastic surgery with plastic – your credit card, that is – without having the actual card in hand.

CareCredit, which bills itself as a “health, wellness and personal care” credit card that traditionally has covered elective medical procedures, just rolled out an update to its mobile app that enables smartphone access to a digital version of the card. So, if you can’t stomach the thought of sticking your CareCredit card in your wallet to pay for your tummy tuck, you don’t have to anymore.

But wait … Does this make it easier or harder to pay for your LASIK procedure if your post-operation vision is blurry? Well, chances are that the doctor’s office likely collects payment before correcting your vision. That’d be good foresight on the part of an eye surgeon, anyway.

Perhaps the techiest feature of the app is that a cardholder can log in via facial recognition instead of going the old-fashioned username-and-password route or even the new-fashioned fingerprint route.

That begs another question, though: Will the app recognize your face after a facelift?

You’ve got to believe that CareCredit has got all of these wrinkles ironed out, as the company says it did “extensive usability testing” before introducing the app.

Aside from being able to put your nose job on your CareCredit card, the app lets a cardholder pay a bill via a mobile device, set up payment alerts and sniff around for businesses that accept the card – more than 200,000 of them, from dental offices to veterinary clinics.

“As today’s consumers take on more financial responsibility and become more actively involved in their care, they are increasingly expecting personalized and convenient experiences through all channels,” Dave Fasoli, executive vice president and CEO of CareCredit, said in a news release promoting the beefed-up app. “We know that financing is an important factor for patients considering healthcare decisions, and these enhancements to our mobile app provide CareCredit cardholders a useful and accessible tool to help make those important financial decisions faster and easier.”

Not so fast, Mr. Fasoli. While this “useful and accessible” app may make it “faster and easier” to make “important financial decisions,” you should face another important decision before signing up for a CareCredit card: Should you even get the card in the first place?

See related: Paying with cards at marijuana dispensaries? It’s complicated

A brow-furrowing interest rate

As CreditCards.com’s Fred Williams reported, Synchrony Bank’s CareCredit card carries a standard APR of 26.99 percent. That’s an astonishingly high rate that would warrant Botox treatments for a brow that’d be further furrowed by interest-induced financial stress. By comparison, the national average APR for credit cards was 16.91 percent as of Aug. 29, according to the CreditCards.com Weekly Rate Report.

Simply put, Chi Chi Wu, staff attorney for the National Consumer Law Center, told Williams that running up charges on a CareCredit card is “a pretty bad idea.” More than 10.5 million people have CareCredit cards.

Wu’s blunt advice came in response to news that CareCredit is expanding into more healthcare settings, including urgent care clinics, as consumers grapple with increasing out-of-pocket medical expenses.

“As rising healthcare costs shift the financial responsibility from traditional payers like insurers to consumers, it’s a natural progression for CareCredit to expand into new medical specialties and give even more patients access to care,” Fasoli said in a news release that came out before the app announcement.

Regardless of whether you pull out the CareCredit card to cover out-of-pocket expenses for patching up a skinned knee or the costs of rejuvenating your sagging skin, you first should look at yourself in the mirror on the wall and ask whether this card is really the fairest (deal) of them all.

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