How I plan to get a new tooth for half the price

So earlier this year, one of my teeth that has been a pain in the mouth for several years finally failed and had to be taken out. My dentist (and everyone else I talked to) said an implant of a new false tooth was the way to go. There was one wild card: I might need an extra procedure that would cost several thousand more, and they wouldn’t know until their initial work had time to heal.

Yesterday I got the news I was dying to know one way or the other, but it was not what I hoped: I do need the extra procedure. Now, figuring out insurance coverage is its own kind of crazy logic puzzle, but I think I’ve got it right: I’ll probably owe about $5046 when all’s said and done. Yikes!

But instead of moping about it, I’m trying to look on the bright side. First of all, without dental insurance, the cost would be more like $7646. Even insurance would have only brought the cost down to about $6546 if I’d had the procedure this year (December was the month the dentist initially suggested), because with the extraction of the original tooth and the first bone graft, I’ve nearly maxed out the $1500 that MetLife will cover.

So I asked if I could put the procedure off until after the first of the year. That way MetLife will have to pony up another $1500, bringing my estimated out-of-pocket to $5046.

That’s still a lot, but I’m going to see how much I can take off of it.

First of all, I made sure to get all the diagnostic testing done before my flex-spending open enrollment ends at work, so I could set aside the money pretax. I had a momentary setback when I found out there’s now a $2500 limit to how much an individual can set aside in FSA money. But then someone tipped me off to the fact that since I’m married, my husband can set aside $2500 in HIS account and use it to cover the expenses of any qualifying family member, even if they’re not on his plan.

So that’s great, we’ll be able to pay for nearly all of the procedure pretax. But I wondered how much that would really save us; was it worth the hassle? I found a 2012 federal income tax table and looked at the tax on what I thought our taxable income might be without the FSA deduction, then at what it would be with. The difference in tax we’d have to pay? Over $1200! I also checked a Minnesota state tax table and found that we’d owe about $350 less in state taxes too. So just by taking out the max in flex spending, we save at least $1550 in taxes! That benefit will mostly be realized gradually over the year through the offsetting of flex deductions by a lower tax withholding, so I don’t have to wait all year to experience the benefit.

So that means the actual cost of my implant will be $3496. But I’m not going to stop there! I’ll be trolling for credit card bonus offers when my bills start rolling in, so I can pay the bills with credit cards that will reward me for the payments.

I don’t know exactly what bonus offers I’ll find, but I can usually find a minimum 20% bonus. Several cards, for instance, have standard introductory offers to spend $500 and get $100 back. (If I only find this type of offer, I can open several cards from different carriers and pay my dental bill in $500 portions to instantly hit the spending amounts needed to receive the bonuses. I’ve done this in the past with big medical bills.)

So, since my estimated out of pocket (separate from the tax benefit) is about $5000, I can expect to get at least $1000 in bonus cash from credit cards just by paying my bills.

Add that to the tax savings, and subtract from the estimated out of pocket, and I’ll only really be paying $2496 for my tooth! Now that’s still more than I’d  like to spend on one tooth, but it sounds like a bargain when you consider the alternatives:

  • $7646 if I had no insurance
  • $6546 if I had insurance but had the procedure done this year
  • $5046 if I wait until next year but don’t set aside FSA money or use credit card bonuses

I know not all of these options will fit every medical situation (we’re at the insurance company’s mercy for the recent ER visit my husband had), but it’s a textbook example of being as strategic as possible and using multiple methods to defray a big expenditure and soften its sting.



Image courtesy of adamr /

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