Offer your clients credit

Article

In a lagging economy, third-party payment plans can be a lifeline for pet owners.

These days, more veterinarians are giving cash-strapped clients another option besides back-dated checks and clinic payment plans. They're turning to third-party lenders that cover veterinary expenses.

If you've been skeptical of these credit plans and whether they'd work for your clinic and clients, you're not alone. For years practice manager Cheryl Waterman, CVPM, of the Cat Clinic of Johnson County in Lenexa, Kan., wasn't buying it. She didn't see how this extra credit opportunity would work for the clients who needed it. "If the client didn't have a viable credit card, how were they going to be approved?" Waterman says. Now she's sold—because she's used such a plan herself.

A few months ago Waterman needed $4,000 worth of work done on her own teeth. When she looked at her options, she realized a healthcare credit card looked like a good option for the expense. "I could charge it to my MasterCard and pay interest, or go interest-free for a few months with the healthcare card," she says. It made sense for her, and it's increasingly making sense for clients' pets at the Cat Clinic. Waterman estimates two to three clients each week use a healthcare-specific credit card.

If you're planning to offer and promote third-party payment plans, here are some crucial things to keep in mind.

Fees

Charges for veterinary credit cards can be significant for you, says Dr. Jeff Rothstein, MBA, a Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member and president of Progressive Pet Animal Hospitals in Michigan. Fees for credit cards like Visa and MasterCard run him 2 percent to 3 percent of the total amount charged, he says. But he's seen fees for veterinary credit cards run as high as 13.9?percent. It depends on the amount borrowed, the interest rate, and how long the balance will be interest-free. (See "Watch those fees" above for more.)

Client loyalty

So yes, you'll be paying higher fees. But you need to balance those higher costs with the reality of your clients' needs when they can't come up with the means to pay for pet healthcare. In a downturn, you may be more willing to eat a higher credit-card fee and a lower profit margin to be able to provide important care for a pet. Your team may be in clinic with nothing to do at the time of a potential procedure. Or you may be thinking of client loyalty. Every excellent paid procedure is another chance to take top-notch care of the patients in your clinic and to hold onto clients.

Confidentiality

Waterman says she likes the third-party lenders that let clients apply for credit at home. Assuming the situation in the clinic isn't an emergency, this can be ideal. "We tell clients, 'We realize this is a large amount of money for you,'" she says. "'If you go with this credit card, you can go online at home or we can do it for you here.'"

Whether clients are financially suffering or not, everyone's concerned right now about where their money's going. Giving clients more options is one way to show that you're sensitive to their plight and you're committed to keeping pets healthy and clients happy.

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