Cosmetic procedures have surged in popularity lately. Americans spent over $14.6 billion dollars on them in 2021. A report by The Aesthetic Society found surgical procedures rose 54 percent and non-surgical ones were up 44 percent in 2021 from the previous year.
So, if you’re looking in the mirror and thinking, “Hmmm, maybe it’s time for a little professional assistance,” you’re not alone.
I, for one, am with you. I recently invested in a minor cosmetic treatment that came with a hefty price tag. To minimize the outlay, I used one of my credit cards. Here’s how I did it, and some extra card tricks you can use to get what you want done at the lowest possible cost.
Choose a procedure
I’m obsessed with my skin. I want it to be glowy, bouncy, just basically all-around nice. Not wanting to go under the knife, I researched non-surgical options offered by cosmetic surgery centers and med-spa websites. I landed on Ultherapy, which uses ultrasound energy to rebuild collagen and tighten skin. It’s done in a single appointment, there’s almost no downtime, and plenty of research backs up its rejuvenation claims.
I was sold, but then it was time to find the best place and price. I made countless calls and poured over reviews. Eventually I decided on an office that specialized in the treatment, had great reviews, and offered a low quote compared to most others. Still, at $2,250, it was a commitment.
Know what you want and how much it will cost
What you want done depends on your vision as well as your budget. That requires communicating with an excellent provider.
Jaimie DeRosa, M.D., a plastic and reconstructive surgeon with offices in Boston and Palm Beach advises talking openly, whether it’s with a med-spa practitioner or plastic surgeon, to determine what is best for your desires as well as your wallet is essential.
“Be honest,” says DeRosa. “Say, ‘I’m thinking about the laxity in my face, but I have a budget.’ A caring practitioner will guide you. They’ll explain that you will have a limited return on your investment for something less expensive like a facial, but that maybe you would be better off saving for something that really gets you to your goal. You could spend thousands on filler and not get the results you want.”
Once you’ve made your choice, research the price for your area. According to the Aesthetic Society report, the following are the most common procedures. Average costs come from RealSelf, a consumer cosmetic information site:
Top non-surgical procedures
- Neurotoxins (Botox) – $550
- Dermal fillers – $1,200
- Skin treatment (Chemical Peels: $375, Hydrofacial $175)
- Hair removal (Laser – $875)
- Skin treatment (Fraxel Lasers $1,575, Fraxel Repair $3,125)
- Skin tightening (Ultherapy $2,625)
Top surgical procedures
- Liposuction $6,500
- Breast augmentation $6,575
- Abdominoplasty (Tummy tuck) $8,350
- Mastopexy (Breast lift) $8,050
- Blepharoplasty (Eyelid surgery) $4,650
- Breast implant removal/replacement $5,075
If those numbers seem daunting, you may be tempted to search for rock-bottom prices. Be careful.
“Medicine in general is not a place to save money,” says Darren Smith, a board-certified plastic surgeon based in New York City. “The bottom line is that if it’s a stretch, you shouldn’t do it. No one needs plastic surgery. Don’t do it unless it brings you joy, and that also means being comfortable with the cost.”
Above all else, be exceptionally wary about cosmetic surgery centers that operate in different countries that offer elective procedures for far less than what it is in the U.S. The standard of care may not be as high. “It might be more expensive to go to a board-certified, reputable doctor here, but it will be much more expensive to get it fixed if things go wrong,” says Smith.
How I chose the credit card I used
I knew I would charge the expense to get the rewards, but I wasn’t sure which to use. I currently have two credit cards: my Chase United℠ Explorer Card and my Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. Both are travel credit cards with the rewards expressed in miles.
To figure out the best card, I considered the following:
- Rewards. I would have gone right to the card with the highest rewards rate, but both cards offered 2X miles for this purchase. For this, it was a wash.
- Miles. I already had a good number of miles accumulated on my Explorer card, so I didn’t need more. I did want to build up my rewards balance on my Capital One card, though.
- Upcoming trips. I prefer United Airlines for domestic flights, but I have upcoming international trips planned. My Venture card offers greater flexibility.
- Credit limit. I have a much larger credit line on my Venture Rewards card than I do on United Explorer, and I never want to use more of a credit line than necessary.
Given all those factors, my Venture Rewards card came out ahead for this particular purchase, so that’s what I used. Because I get 2X the miles with this card, the $2,250 charge added a healthy 4,500 miles to my rewards bank.
Capital One miles, when redeemed for travel, amount to a penny per mile. That meant I earned the equivalent of $45 for the transaction. Therefore, the net cost of what I had done was $2,205. A nice little discount!
How to get an even better deal with a credit card
There are other ways to reduce the cost of cosmetic procedures with credit cards:
Find the best rewards for health-related purchases
A few credits cards offer rewards for medical expenses that may include cosmetic procedures. Upgrade Triple Cash Rewards, for example, offers 3 percent per $1 on “health,” which includes “health and beauty spas” as well as physicians, dentists and other healthcare providers.
AARP Essential Rewards Mastercard offers 2 percent cash back on eligible medical expenses (cosmetic not specified), but you’d probably be better off in the long run with a flat rate 2 percent cash back card such as the Citi® Double Cash Card.
CareCredit, while not a traditional credit card, offers deferred-interest financing for cosmetic procedures. If you’re looking to spend serious money on, say, cosmetic surgery, you may want to look into personal loans and payment plans.
Use the expense to score a sign-up bonus
If you open a new card that offers a sign-up bonus and meet the minimum spend with the procedure you want, you can shave a lot off the price. For example, maybe you want to get some filler, and the cost would be $1,200. The Bank of America® Customized Cash Reward Card offers a $200 online cash rewards bonus after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening. Pay with the card and it would result in $200 off the price!
Getting someone more significant done? If you have a side hustle and need a dedicated business card, the Ink Business Unlimited® Credit Card gives a $750 bonus cash back after you charge $7,500 within the first three months opening the account. That tummy tuck, costing $8,350, would then be reduced to $7,600.
Use a 0% APR card to pay off large purchases
Another option is a credit card offering 0 percent APR for a specific time frame. If you really want to get a procedure but you don’t have all the money now and don’t want to wait and save, these deals can work out well.
Some, like the Capital One Quicksilver Card, even offer a sign-up bonus too. This card gives 15 months of interest-free charging, plus a $200 bonus after spending $500 on purchases within three months of opening the account. So if you wanted that Ultherapy costing $2,625 and charged it to this card it would be $2,425. Send fixed payments of $175 and you’d have at all paid off in under 15 months, with no added interest.
In fact, DeRosa thinks its a good idea for patients who will use it wisely. “Cards with 0 percent APR can be great,” she says. “We don’t want someone to overextend themselves, though. They should spend within their means.”
Set up a debt repayment strategy
The cost of the procedure was high enough. I certainly didn’t want to have fees added to it. However, that is what would have happened if I paid partially:
- Minimum payments. If I charged $2,250 and only made the minimum payments, it would take me 17 years and $3,832 in interest to get out of debt. Definitely not acceptable.
- Fixed payments. If I were to make fixed monthly payments of $250, it would take me 11 months and $255 in interest before I was out of debt. Better, but still bad.
The last thing I wanted to do was increase the price with interest, so neither scenario was attractive. Instead, I made sure I had the money available to pay the entire charge.
In order to delete the debt before interest was added, I could have waited for the bill to come, then pay it all off by the due date. But since a credit scoring company like FICO and VantageScore can calculate a score before I had a chance to delete it, I didn’t want to take that risk. After a couple of days, I dug into my checking account and cleared the debt.
Keep your credit beautiful, too
With careful research and a strategic plan, it’s possible to achieve your aesthetic dreams without damaging your bottom line. If you are considering using a credit card to pay, review your budget so you know you can make the payments on time and pay it all off quickly.
It’s easy to bite off more than you can chew when you’re excited about finally getting that procedure done. If you do use a 0 percent APR credit card, plan to pay off the balance before the real rate goes into effect.
As you can see, plastic really can take the ugly edge off the price of beauty.