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Credit cards help erase wrinkles

September 29, 2008 |

Trying to compete in a tight job market or to simply keep the signs of aging at bay, more patients are using plastic to pay for cosmetic surgery lest their appearance go the way of the sagging economy.

Calabasas real estate agent Diane P. considers the $8,000 breast augmentation she put on her credit card simply a cost of doing business, the same as the Botox and Restylane treatments she uses to disguise the tiny wrinkles and lines that come with being 44.

“When I go to show a house, I do all these little things to market the property, like make sure the paint is fresh and put out flowers,” said Diane, who asked that her surname be withheld. “First impressions are everything, so you want to look like you’ve got it together.”

That isn’t to say that plastic surgeons aren’t feeling the pinch of the mortgage meltdown and resulting slump in consumer spending.

More than half of the members surveyed last spring by the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery said their practices have slowed because of the sluggish economy.

The American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery said its members are reporting an increase in noninvasive procedures like Botox injections and laser resurfacing, which are cheaper than traditional surgery.

“They’re still willing to do the smaller lunchtime procedures … in the $300 to $500 range,” said Dr. Leonard Kim, a dermatologist in Beverly Hills. “But more patients have asked if they can spread payments out.”

One thing that has given a lift to the cosmetic surgery industry – even as consumers pull back in other areas – is the proliferation of financing companies that cater to cosmetic surgery patients.

Marc Morgan, a provider relations manager at said the demand for financing is exploding.

“Think about it,” he said. “The whole mortgage industry has gone belly up. People aren’t getting home equity loans as freely as before and they are having to tap other resources. Gas has gone up, it’s a very unstable environment right now. So that creates the need for financing.”

He said the average loan amount for his company is $7,500, financed over 48 to 60 months. Rates vary from 5.9 to 19 percent, depending on the patient’s credit history.

At MedChoice Financial, interest rates range from 9.9 to 23.5 percent, again based on the patient’s credit history.

A spokesman explained that member doctors determine the terms; some allow deferred payments for an introductory period, others require payment with interest from the date of service.

Debra Slater, a counselor at Porter Middle School in Granada Hills, said her $6,000 liposuction could wind up costing an additional $1,500 if she fails to pay off the balance within the 18-month grace period offered by CareCredit, the healthcare finance division of GE Money.

Slater, whose husband is a plumber for the Los Angeles Unified School District, said the loan payments will stretch the family budget. But she said the results of her surgery are worth the sacrifice.

“My whole life has revolved around my four children,” said Slater, who said she’d wanted liposuction since the birth of her youngest daughter, who is now a high school senior. “I wanted to do something for myself.”

Dr. Martin Kay, who performed Slater’s surgery, said the number of patients financing their cosmetic procedures has doubled in the past 18 months. Today, about 40 percent of his clients are using CreditCare or Unicorn Financial to pay for liposuction, spider vein removal or other cosmetic treatments.

“There’s more interest in the credit programs,” he said. “I’m not pushing it, but when a patient asks, we tell them about it.”

Encino plastic surgeon Michael Persky is among the doctors who never before worked with an outside financing company but are now considering the buy-now-pay-later approach as part of a strategy for survival.

“You had the perfect storm for a downturn in plastic surgery – the subprime mortgage crisis, then the writers strike in Hollywood really affected it,” said Persky, who is also investing in equipment that will allow him to offer a wider variety of non-invasive procedures.

Gloria Lintermans, a writer in North Hollywood, said, “Women will give up anything except their appearance.” 818-713-3662


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