Sharing medical cards not allowed

You can use it for your pet, but not your girlfriend

To Her Credit columnist Sally Herigstad
Sally Herigstad is a certified public accountant and the author of "Help! I Can't Pay My Bills: Surviving a Financial Crisis" (St. Martin's Press, 2006). She writes "To Her Credit," a weekly reader Q&A column about issues involving women, credit and debt, for, and also wrote for MSN Money, and, and has guested on Martha Stewart Radio and other programs.

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Dear To Her Credit,
My boyfriend has a CareCredit card. Can he use it for me, or is it just for him? -- Marcella


Dear Marcella,
The CareCredit card is a medical credit card designated for health, beauty and wellness expenses. According to the CareCredit website, a CareCredit cardholder can use it to pay expenses for him, family members and even pets. Girlfriends and other nonfamily members are not on that list.

CareCredit cards differ from regular credit cards in that they allow you to choose a 6-, 12-, 18- or 24-month financing option with no interest on qualifying purchases of $200 or more, when you make the minimum monthly payments and pay the full amount due by the end of the promotional period. (Watch out: If you don't pay the full amount by that date, you're stuck paying retroactive interest, all the way back to the original purchase date.)

For major health care expenses, CareCredit offers payment plans over 24-, 36-, 48- or 60-month periods with a 14.9 percent APR, with certain restrictions.

It may seem harsh that your boyfriend can pay for his dog's trip to the doctor with his card, but he can't pay for yours. However, the account was approved for the specific purpose of paying certain approved expenses for him, his family and his pets. If he could use the card for anyone else of his choosing -- and possibly get reimbursed by some of them -- it would no longer be a medical expense card for him.

Even if you could use your boyfriend's card for medical expenses, I don't think it would be a good idea. While a medical credit card can be handy for paying some expenses, especially if you're sure you can pay the balance off within 24 months, it's an expensive way to pay. At 14.9 percent APR, you'd be paying a lot of interest on a larger bill. Many medical facilities, such as hospitals, will let you make payments with little or no interest.

Besides, putting your medical expenses on your boyfriend's card is just the sort of financial entanglement that often gets people into trouble. If you promised to pay him back and then have trouble doing so, your relationship can suffer. If neither of you can afford to keep up the payments, his finances and credit score can be hurt. If the relationship ends, your debt on his card makes it hard to make a clean break.

If your boyfriend wants to help with your medical costs, great. Unless he's volunteering an outright gift, however, you're on your own. If you need medical care that you cannot afford to pay for upfront, it's important that you look for other ways to finance it. If you are unemployed or have a low income level, you may qualify for government assistance or medical care at a low-cost clinic. You may be able to make payments for some medical care. Or you can apply for your own CareCredit card or regular credit card to pay for your care. Whatever you choose, make sure you take good care of your own health -- and your own credit.

See related: Compare medical credit cards, loans

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Updated: 03-20-2019