Going Into Debt for Fertility Treatments

How Deep Should You Go and How to Prevent Getting in Too Deep

A couple worrying about how they will pay for IVF
When fertility treatment brings on debt, the financial stress of infertility drags on. Seb Oliver / Cultura / Getty Images

For couples whose fertility challenges require injectable medications, IUI, or IVF, the question of going into debt to pay for testing and treatment is less of an “if” and more of a “how much.” Sometimes surgical treatments can lead to high debts as well, if insurance doesn’t cover the costs.

Let’s be frank: infertility is expensive. The average couple who seeks help at a fertility clinic spends $5,000 in out-of-pocket expenses, and for those seeking IVF, the average climbs to $20,000.

Just walking into a fertility clinic gets expensive. Consultations and fertility testing can cost a pretty penny, and you haven’t started treatment yet. Financial infertility – when you can’t get treatment you need due to a lack of funds – is common.

How much debt should you take on? Is there any way to avoid or at least reduce debts from infertility?

Getting Out of Your Heart and Into Your Head… Just for a Moment

Can you put a price on the opportunity to have a child? How much is having a baby worth?

These are the wrong questions.

They are very common ones to ask yourself. But they aren’t helpful, and kind of aren’t the point. Of course, the opportunity to have a child is priceless. Children are priceless. The problem is we don’t live in a priceless world.

Money does matter. Heavy debts can lead to strain on your relationship, stress on your own moods, and that can trickle down to stress on your future child.

In fact, financial and treatment decisions you make today can make future opportunities unaffordable and therefore unavailable.

For example, multiple IVF cycles may close the door on adoption, which can also be costly. Or spending too much on IUI cycles (perhaps because they seem less inexpensive) may push IVF out of your financial limits.

When strong emotions get mixed in with making financial decisions, it can be extremely hard to make smart long term decisions. The worst time to decide whether you’ll do another cycle is in the shadow of a negative pregnancy test or a failed treatment cycle.

Which is why I suggest asking yourself this question instead...

What Is Your Upper Debt Limit? Decide Now, Not Later

Decide today just how much debt you’re willing to take on. Then, make a commitment to stick to your decision no matter what.

This is not, by the way, the same as deciding how much you’ll spend over time on fertility treatments. (Though you can also set a limit on this.) You may be able to pay for some of your treatments without borrowing money, or you may be able to pay off some debts quickly.

What you’re deciding on today is what your debt limit will be at any one time. Your debt limit should not be your credit card limits, and should not be what you can borrow after exhausting all your loan possibilities. Bad idea!

These are the questions to consider when deciding on a debt limit:

Can you really pay your debts off, even if you succeed?

Sounds funny to say “even if” you succeed, but you may forget to consider the additional cost of getting pregnant and having a baby.

You may need to go on bed rest or cut back on work, which will be less income. Also, do you plan to go back to work right away, or do you hope to stay home with your baby for a limited or extended time?

Be sure you consider a change in your future financial reality before figuring out if you can pay off the loans.

Also, being able to pay your debts off is not the same as being able to afford the minimum payment.

Those payments are frequently so low that you’ll be paying your debt for years and years, and throwing away possibly thousands of dollars away in interest.

If treatment doesn’t work, how much do you need for Plan B? Or Plan C?

Plan B may mean moving onto more advanced fertility treatments, or it may mean adoption. It can also mean deciding to live childfree.

Your Plan B options need to be carefully considered when setting a debt limit.

For example, let’s say you’re just trying IUI now. If IVF is a possibility in the future, you don’t want to put on so much debt trying IUI that you make IVF out of reach.

What are the possible negative consequences for going past your debt limit?

Make a list, and keep it handy. Consider this an anti-panic pill for when you feel the urge to break your self-chosen goal.

What might be the negative consequences?

  • You may not be able to afford to adopt.
  • You may not be able to give your future child the opportunities and life you’re imagining.
  • You may need to sell your house, or move to a less expensive neighborhood.
  • You may need to keep working when you have the baby, which can be heartbreaking if you wanted to be a stay-at-home parent for a limited or extended time.
  • Worst case scenario, you may need to file for bankruptcy.

These are just examples, of course. Your list may look different.

Deciding Against Debt: Yes, It’s Also an Option

You may decide to avoid debt completely. This may mean making a decision to save up for treatment expenses, and only spend what you have. There are pros and cons to this approach.

The pros are that it’ll be easier to live frugally when you don’t have a baby to care for, and you’ll actually spend less overall on the treatment. When you’re paying off debts, you’re also paying the interest that builds. You’ll avoid that burden.

The cons of this approach are you’ll need to wait before you can start treatment. Time matters with fertility, but everyone is working with a different clock.

For example, if you’re in your twenties and facing male infertility, you probably have time to save up funds first. If you already know you're going to need an egg donor, you also may be under less time pressure to start treatment. But if you're 35 or older and dealing with female infertility, your time may be more limited. Talk to your doctor, and ask for her honest assessments of how long you can delay.

You also have the option to not seek treatment at all. There’s no requirement to exhaust your funds to pay for IVF. Deciding not to spend money on fertility treatment – which comes with no guarantees -- is a completely legitimate choice. Your loved ones should respect that choice.

More on fertility treatment costs:

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