People love their pets. Vets care for pets because they love animals.

No one would argue with these truths. However, the conversation around how to provide care for pets can be a hard one – one that The Pet Fund has with pet owners every day. Fielding hundreds of calls each day from pet owners in need, The Pet Fund is a non-profit organization providing grants for needed veterinary care. As the cost of veterinary care continues to rise, this is becoming an increasingly challenging mission. Pet owners who are already experiencing financial hardship are faced with ever- increasing veterinary costs that can easily run into the thousands of dollars. This is also a problem for veterinarians who need to retain clients while covering rising costs.

First, here are some statistics that reflect the marketplace and explain why pet owners are stressed and looking for alternative payment options:

  • 58% of Millennials, 18-24 year olds, are the age group most likely to own a dog;5 63% of them don’t have a credit card. 3 Millennials scratch out a 625 FICO, near or at sub-prime, rendering credit qualification challenging when in need. 1
  • 51% of Gen X, 35-49 years, own a pet.5 The average Gen X has a 650 FICO score, near sub-prime. 1 Gen X use credit but can hardly get more as they push their bankcard utilization to 41% when the ideal bar is no more than 30%. 1
  • 47% of families don’t have enough in savings to cover a $400 unexpected expense. 2

Because the consumer of veterinary services is changing, the conversation we have about traditional payment sources needs to change too.

Why is this important? Two reasons – available cash and available credit differ depending on the age of the pet owner. The Millennial generation categorically avoids credit. 1    By contrast, Generation X has higher average debt than either Boomers or Millennials, even when excluding mortgages. Their average credit score is nothing to brag about either, at 650.1   Credit still makes the world go ‘round and Millennials are opting out while Gen X’s are tapped out.  For service providers like veterinarians, that’s bad for business.

How do most families pay for vet care? Sometimes they don’t. Not enough cash on-hand, insufficient credit available, and limited options mean that often euthanasia or the shelter is the result instead of care.

Karen Leslie, Executive Director of The Pet Fund, explains how this economic situation affects pet owners who need access to medical treatment for their animals.

Q – What happens when pet owners can't afford needed veterinary care?

A – When a pet owner needs help affording veterinary care, nonprofits can often assist with part of the costs, but often additional funding is needed to cover large bills. The costs for surgeries or even just for testing is often out of reach for low to middle-income owners, so additional resources are needed to cover the entire bill.

Q – Your website lists many resources for pet owners.  It looks like a large part of your conversation is education as you partner with pet owners to find a way to pay for pet care. How important is this part of your mission?

A – We consider the education and outreach part of our nonprofit to be the most important part of our work. Helping pet owners develop awareness of both preventative care practices and available financial resources ensures that they will be able to provide a sustainable situation for their pets, which does more than simply fund a one-time medical need.

Q – Why do you think CareCap is such a unique solution for vets and pet owners alike?

A- Traditionally, vets are not able to make payment plans available to pet owners for two reasons: first, the vet has to take on the burden of setting up the plan and recouping their costs. Secondly, vets who have attempted to do this on their own have had negative experiences in getting the bills paid and are resistant to offer this option again. CareCap makes this easy. They take care of all the billing and collecting for the vet. Using CareCap, not only does the vet get paid without the hassle of billing and collecting, but the pet owner now has access to care that would otherwise be out of reach.

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Veterinarians are looking for solutions to remove the economic barriers to care. As a veterinarian, consider how your conversation with a pet owner would change if you could say, “We can make an easy, low cost payment plan available to you so you can afford your pet's treatment plan.”  The technology to do so is here.  It’s called CareCap.

1 http://www.creditinfocenter.com/wordpress/2015/08/04/credit-debt-income-generations-millennials-gen-x- boomers-greatest-generation-compare/

2 http://www.federalreserve.gov/econresdata/2014-report-economic-well-being-us-households-201505.pdf

3 http://www.bankrate.com/finance/credit-cards/more-millennials-say-no-to-credit-cards-1.aspx

4 http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/01/16/this-year-millennials-will-overtake-baby-boomers/

 5 http://store.mintel.com/americas-pet-owners-us-september-2011