Planned or unexpected, medical-related expenses can be costly and cause financial strain. In 2020, roughly 7 million Americans had medical debt in collections, according to a study by the Journal of the American Medical Association.
It’s generally not advisable to use a credit card for medical expenses unless absolutely necessary. Doing so could end up costing thousands of dollars in interest and potentially send you into debt.
But if you must charge medical expenses on a credit card, there are cards that offer rewards and benefits for medical-related purchases — whether it’s paying for your prescriptions or going to a health care provider. Here are our top picks.
Here are the best credit cards for medical purchases.
AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard® from Barclays
Our pick for: Varied medical expenses
Key medical rewards and benefits:
3% cash back at gas stations and drugstores (excluding Target and Walmart).
2% cash back on medical expenses.
Why we like it
The AARP® Essential Rewards Mastercard® from Barclays offers valuable medical-related rewards that can be beneficial for AARP members and nonmembers, too. Cardholders earn 2% cash back for medical expenses, which includes a wide and inclusive breadth of services and products such as dentists, orthodontists, osteopathic physicians, chiropractors, optometrists, opticians, optical goods and eyeglasses, hospitals, medical and dental laboratories, hearing aids, ambulance services, orthopedic goods, prosthetic devices, nursing and personal care facilities, health practitioners and more.
Additionally, the card earns an even higher rate of 3% cash back for drugstore purchases, excluding Target and Walmart. This means that if you were to purchase over-the-counter medication at CVS or Walgreens, for example, you would earn the card’s bonus cash back rate. Note that a purchase or service’s merchant category code, or MCC, will determine if your purchase will be categorized as a drugstore and earn the card’s 3% back. Purchases made at pharmacies in grocery stores, wholesale stores or discount stores aren’t eligible to earn this cash back rate for drugstore spending.
Upgrade Triple Cash Rewards Visa®
Our pick for: Paying down debt
Key medical rewards and benefits: Earn 3% cash back on home, auto and health purchases.
Why we like it
In addition to home and auto purchases, holders of the Upgrade Triple Cash Rewards Visa® will earn 3% cash back for health-related spending. This includes sports and beauty related purchases and also things like hospital visits. Additional medical-related spending that would earn the card’s 3% back includes services and products like hearing aids, medical and dental laboratories, health practitioners, nursing and personal care facilities, optometrists and ophthalmologists, prosthetic devices and more.
Plus, the card has a unique benefit: If you end up carrying a balance on the card, you’ll be able to pay it down at a fixed interest rate within a set repayment period, based on what you qualify for. This can lessen some financial strain and prevent you from accumulating debt faster, as you might with a regular credit card.
Citi Custom Cash℠ Card
Our pick for: Flexibility
Key medical rewards and benefits: 5% cash back on up to $500 spent in your highest spending category per billing cycle (from a list of eligible options, one of which is drugstores) and 1% back on all other category spending.
Why we like it
Rotating bonus category cards usually require some work to keep track of. But the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card makes it easier for cardholders to stay on top of bonus categories. That’s because it earns 5% cash back in your top eligible spending category each billing cycle, which is automatically adjusted based on your spending that month. And because drugstores are one of the card’s 10 fixed bonus categories, you’ll earn lucrative rewards when you use your card at those stores.
For the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card, drugstore spending includes purchases made at pharmacies in grocery stores, superstores, wholesale and warehouse clubs — as long as the purchase’s MCC is “drug store” or “pharmacy.”
Because of the card’s flexibility, holders aren’t bound to spending just one way to earn 5% cash back. For example, if you end up spending heavily at drugstores for medical expenses based on your needs one month, but your spending leans more toward groceries the next billing cycle, your bonus category will automatically adjust and you’ll continue to earn elevated rewards (until you hit the $500 spending cap each billing cycle).
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
Our pick for: Drugstores
Key medical rewards and benefits: 3% cash back on drugstore purchases.
Why we like it
In addition to rewards for travel and restaurant purchases, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® earns a solid cash back rate for spending at drugstores — which can make it a go-to card for pharmacy-related spending done at such stores. Note that purchases made at a grocery, warehouse and discount store pharmacies aren’t eligible to earn this cash back rate.
Plus, the card earns 1.5% back on spending outside the bonus category. Although this isn’t as high as what some flat rate cards on the market offer, it is higher than what most tiered rewards cards offer for that spending.
New account holders can also take advantage of the card’s generous sign-up bonus: Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. And earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
Other contender: If you’re a rewards maximizer who is able to keep track of rotating bonus categories, consider the Chase Freedom Flex℠. It too earns 3% cash back on drugstore purchases in addition to earning rewards for dining and travel-related spending. However, unlike the Chase Freedom Unlimited®, it earns 5% cash back in quarterly rotating categories that you have to activate (up to $1,500 in combined spending per quarter) — which has included drugstores in the past. This means that you’ll be able to take advantage of the card’s ongoing 3% back for drugstores in addition to potentially doubling up on the category.
The myWalgreens Mastercard
Our pick for: Walgreens
Key medical rewards and benefits:
$25 in Walgreens Cash rewards when you make your first purchase within the first 45 days.
10% back on eligible Walgreens-branded items in stores, online or through the Walgreens app.
5% back on all other purchases in Walgreens and Duane Reade stores, online and through the Walgreens app, including pharmacy purchases.
3% back on non-Walgreens groceries and health and wellness purchases.
1% back on all other spending.
Why we like it
If Walgreens is your go-to drugstore, you can earn valuable rewards with the myWalgreens Mastercard — for both in-person and online purchases. Walgreens-branded items will get you the most in rewards, but you’ll still earn a lucrative rate on other purchases, including pharmacy-items, at the store as well as at Duane Reade stores.
Additionally, the Mastercard earns rewards for non-Walgreens health and wellness purchases. Items and services that qualify under this category will be determined by the associated MCC.
Walgreens Cash rewards earned with the card can be redeemed at checkout as a discount on in-store, online or app purchases.
Note that some pharmacy items purchased at Walgreens stores in Arkansas, New Jersey or New York may not be eligible for cash rewards.
Nerdy tip: Walgreens also offers the myWalgreens card, which comes with the same benefits as the Mastercard version save for cash back on non-Walgreens spending. The card can be used in Walgreens and Duane Reade stores, online at Walgreens.com and through the Walgreens app only. An applicant’s credit score will determine which card they are approved for. Those who aren’t approved for the myWalgreens Mastercard will automatically be considered for the myWalgreens card.
The CareCredit Card
This card offers special financing for out-of-pocket medical expenses that aren’t otherwise covered by insurance. The CareCredit Card is accepted by wellness and health care providers enrolled in the program, which includes over 225,000 providers across the country. The card features interest-free periods of six, 12, 18 and 24 months, on purchases of $200 or more.
If you pay off your balance before the allotted interest-free window closes, you won’t be charged any interest. However, the card’s promotional offer is a deferred interest offer, which means that interest isn’t waived, but rather, put off until later. So if you fail to pay the amount you owe before the promotional period ends, you’ll be charged interest on the original amount borrowed, not just on the remaining balance — which can be very expensive.
General 0% APR cards
If you have an unexpected medical expense that warrants financing, consider opting for a 0% APR card that comes with a long interest-free period. Such cards come with waived interest offers, which means you won’t be charged any interest during the promotional period, after which you’ll only accrue interest on any remaining balance left over.
For example, the $0-annual-fee Wells Fargo Reflect℠ Card comes with a potential 21-month 0% APR period for both purchases and balance transfers: It features a 0% intro APR for 18 months from account opening on purchases and qualifying balance transfers, and then an ongoing APR of 12.99% – 24.99% Variable APR. Intro APR extension of up to 3 months with on-time minimum payments during the intro and extension periods.