Americans have grown accustomed to taking out loans for things they can’t afford out of pocket—college education, cars, homes, and now, in vitro fertilization.
For women who struggle to get pregnant or want to have babies on their own, in vitro fertilization is like a dream come true. But the expense of these costly procedures, which typically run about $20,000, can halt some women’s dreams dead in their tracks. Enter fertility finance companies who are experiencing booming business by helping women achieve their wishes of becoming mothers and filling the void left by traditional creditors who are still hesitant to loan money in this economy.
Doug Weiss, senior vice president of IntegraMed America Inc., a fertility-clinic operator based in Purchase, NY, says fertility finance is “pretty much a recession-proof business, since the biological clock doesn’t stop.” His company sets couples up with loans through a partnership with Springstone and NBT Bancorp of Norwich, NY, and in just a year from 2010 to 2011, the partnership’s number of loans jumped 41% to a total of $15.4 million.
Most couples typically find out about these loans through their doctors who have been asked by lenders to promote their businesses through word of mouth or brochures in their clinic. Karen Coker, a 27-year-old police-station clerk in New Carrolton, MD, told the Wall Street Journal she and her partner took out an $18,700 loan from CapexMD because “We thought it was the best option because we trust our doctor.” But some physicians aren’t comfortable meddling in that practice, like Charles W. Montieth, a Chapel Hill doctor who runs a clinic for women who want to get pregnant after reversing a tubal sterilization, who says “These patients are very vulnerable to predatory lending.”
There is also concern about refunds if the treatments are unsuccessful. One of IntegraMed’s programs refunds 70% of the $24,000 cost for a package of six IVF treatments if they all fail. But if the first treatment works, the borrower still owes the entire $24,000, which creates a larger profit for clinics. Rafat Abbasi, a reproductive endocrinologist in Bethesda, MD, doesn’t offer refund programs at his fertility clinic and he has concern that some doctors will screen for women who will get pregnant on the first round which means an increased likelihood of profit for the clinic and lender.
According to the WSJ, loans for these procedure are typically unsecured and carry interest rates as high as 22%. Although there is no data on just how much business is booming, firms in the industry say they totaled about $4 billion last year, which was a slight increase over 2010. A lot of people obviously feel fertility lending serves a much-needed purpose.
What do you think about fertility financing? Do you think doctors should be involved as much as they are or is that the best way to get the message out?
Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.
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