Buy now, pay later has taken off for retail and travel purchases, and now companies like Walnut and Wellpay offer BNPL for health care costs.
This payment option, sometimes referred to as a point-of-sale loan, allows patients to split medical bills into small monthly payments that include minimal or no interest.
BNPL loans for health care offer relief from expensive medical bills, but borrowers should check costs and ensure the monthly payments are manageable. Alternatives like traditional payment plans with providers or saving for pre-planned medical procedures are worth considering first.
How does BNPL for health care work?
Walnut and Wellpay are two companies currently offering buy now, pay later programs for health care. Depending on the lender, the process starts a couple of different ways:
Walnut works directly with patients, who send a medical bill — or the details of a planned procedure — to a Walnut agent.
Wellpay partners with BNPL company Affirm to provide health care providers the payment option at billing.
The companies check eligibility through pre-qualification, which involves a soft credit pull that doesn’t hurt your credit score. They consider factors like your credit score, loan amount and payment history if you’re an existing user. Upon approval, you can select a payment plan.
Patients can apply, manage and make payments online or with a mobile app.
Terms and costs of buy now, pay later for health care
As with any financing option, it’s important to always compare costs, terms and other features. Here are details of Walnut’s and Wellpay’s options.
Walnut is a financial services company that accepts medical bills sent by consumers and builds an installment plan of smaller monthly payments. Available terms are three, six, 12, 24 or 48 months.
Currently, Walnut doesn’t charge interest or fees for its service. To approve customers, it considers credit score and the health care provider, with whom it individually negotiates terms.
While maximum loan amounts are typically $25,000, larger bills may be funded on a case-by-case basis, according to Walnut CEO Roshan Patel.
Walnut accepts bills for any type of medical procedure and can work with any health care provider located in the U.S., Patel says.
Wellpay and Affirm
Wellpay is a medical billing tool that partners with Affirm to offer BNPL loans at the time of billing. Wellpay helps health care providers provide the payment option for non-emergency medical procedures or operations that insurance doesn’t cover.
Depending on the physician, approved patients may receive loans with annual percentage rates from 0% to 30%, and loan terms of three, six, 12 or 24 months.
Available loan amounts through the Wellpay and Affirm partnership range from $100 to $15,000. Currently, Wellpay and Affirm don’t offer funds for prescriptions or over-the-counter medications.
Patients can make, manage and track payments through the Affirm app or with Wellpay’s app or online patient portal.
Compare Walnut and Wellpay
Three, six, 12, 24 or 48 months.
Three, six, 12 or 24 months.
Should you consider BNPL to cover health care expenses?
Depending on the interest, a BNPL loan can be an expensive option for covering medical costs. Consider a few scenarios to help you assess if it makes sense for you.
Consider BNPL for health care if:
You can get an interest-free loan. Well-qualified borrowers may receive a no-interest loan.
You can afford the monthly payments. Before committing to a loan — no matter how small — determine if your budget can comfortably handle the payments through the full term.
Don’t consider BNPL if:
Your health care provider offers its own payment plan. Your physician’s office may already offer low- or no-interest payment plans. This situation is ideal as it allows you to negotiate terms directly with your provider rather than having to go through a third party.
The interest rate is high. Affirm’s maximum APR is 30%. A $3,000 loan with a 30% interest rate and 12-month term would cost $448 in total interest.
You have high debt. Are you already paying back other loans, or carrying high credit card balances? If so, be cautious about taking on more debt. A large debt amount can result in missed payments and financial stress.
You qualify for assistance. Based on the procedure, some health care providers offer financial assistance to uninsured and underinsured individuals. Speak with your physician to see if you qualify for any hardship programs.
Alternative ways to pay for health care costs
There could be better options for managing the cost of a medical bill than using a BNPL loan.
Traditional payment plan with the provider. If your medical bill is high, ask your doctor if working out a payment plan is an option. This allows you to build and commit to a personalized plan that splits the bill into affordable monthly installments, often at no extra cost.
Family loan. You may get a lower interest rate and more favorable terms with a loan from a family member. Create a contract detailing terms and conditions, and weigh the potential effect this arrangement can have on the relationship.
Financial assistance. If you’re experiencing economic hardship, you might be eligible for financial assistance through a charity organization or government program. See if you qualify for assistance before taking out a loan.
CareCredit. CareCredit is a specialty credit card offered at 225,000 medical offices. Depending on the provider location, you could be eligible for short-term financing at 0% interest if the balance is paid off by the end of the term (six, 12, 18 or 24 months). Check with participating providers to see if you qualify.
Personal loan. Personal loans can be borrowed from a bank, credit union or online lender and paid back in monthly installments. APRs are generally from 6% to 36%, and terms are typically two to seven years.
Online lenders allow you to pre-qualify with a soft credit check, while credit unions typically have lower rates and flexible terms. Still, a personal loan is likely the most expensive option to cover medical costs, so consider alternatives first.