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Pet insurance is complicated—and figuring out what kind of deductible you need is one of the trickier parts of buying a policy.
Your deductible is the amount of money that you, the pet parent, will need to pay before your insurance company starts covering eligible vet expenses at your policy’s reimbursement rate.
There are two kinds of deductibles you might run into in your search for pet insurance: annual deductibles, which might be anything from $100 to $1,000, and per-incident deductibles, which vary depending on the nature of the treatment. Policies typically have one or the other—not both.
Many pet insurance companies will offer you a choice of a few different deductible options, all of which come with a different set of pros and cons.
We break down the different kinds of deductibles, how they work, and how to find one that fits your budget.
How Do Pet Insurance Deductibles Work?
The first thing to know is that not all vet expenses count toward your deductible. Only the ones that your plan would normally cover count—which will likely exclude routine wellness exams and preventive care.
Next, you’ll want to consider the two different kinds of pet insurance deductibles.
Annual deductibles are more common
Your annual pet insurance deductible is the amount of money that you need to pay every year in eligible vet expenses before your insurance company will start reimbursing you for your pet’s covered veterinary costs.
When you buy a policy, most pet insurance companies will offer you a choice of a couple different annual deductibles. Especially common options are $250, $500, and $1000.
If you opt for a low deductible, you won’t have to pay much out of pocket before your insurance starts helping out. But low deductible plans usually come with a drawback: higher premiums.
That means you’ll pay a little more every month for pet insurance in exchange for getting help with your vet bills sooner.
See how different deductibles would affect your premiums and compare plans here.
Per-incident deductibles are rare
If you choose a plan that has per-incident deductibles, you’ll be responsible for paying a set portion of every eligible vet visit in addition to your usual copay. You might have one standard per-incident deductible, or you might have a different per-incident deductible for different kinds of health issues.
For example, if your cat visits the vet for four separate conditions in a given year, you’d pay a deductible for each of those visits—instead of just until you hit a set amount, as with an annual deductible.
Per-incident deductibles can get pricey, especially if you see the vet frequently. But their policies can sometimes come with other perks that make the trade worth it, so don’t dismiss them out of hand.
High Versus Low Deductibles: What Works for You
Figuring out what kind of deductible is right for you depends on your personal circumstances—like why you want pet insurance, what kind of savings you have, and how you like to run your finances. How much vet care you expect your pet to need can also be a big factor.
Who might like a low deductible ($100 to $300):
- Pet parents concerned about paying a large sum all at once
- Those looking to make a pet budget more regular and avoid financial shocks
- Pet parents who always want to be able to prioritize their pet’s care over their wallet
- Anyone expecting to see a lot of the vet, whether that’s because they have a mischievous youngster, a senior buddy, or a pet with health issues
Who might like a high deductible ($750+):
- Pet parents confident their savings can handle an initial large vet bill
- Those who want pet insurance for help weathering a worst-case scenario, not everyday accidents and illnesses
- Pet parents with especially infrequent vet expenses
- Anyone looking to prioritize low premiums
If Your Focus Is Life-Saving Care, Make Your Deductible Something You Could Afford To Pay All at Once
A lot of pet parents get pet insurance specifically because they don’t want to ever get stuck in a situation where they would have to choose between their financial security and the life of their pet.
If that’s you, you might consider your deductible the largest amount of money you would feel financially safe paying at one time—with some left over for a copay.
How to calculate the impact of your deductible
For example, imagine your young Husky gets in big trouble when she eats a pair of socks and they get stuck in her stomach. Your vet says she’s going to be just fine with surgery, but it will cost $1,500. Since it’s the first eligible vet expense of the year, you’ll likely wind up paying your full deductible in one go.
You’ll also want to factor in your reimbursement rate. For example, if your deductible is $500, and your reimbursement rate is 70%, then you’ll actually end up paying the $500 deductible and 30% of the remaining cost of treatment, bringing your total to $800.
It’s true that future veterinary care will likely be cheaper with your deductible out of the way, but that doesn’t help you now—so choose your deductible like you expect to pay it in a lump sum, potentially with extra on top.
If Your Goal Is To Avoid Financial Shocks, Consider a Low Deductible
Some pet parents get pet insurance to regulate their pet budget. They’d rather face a predictable monthly premium than a big unexpected vet bill. Or maybe they’d just like to feel empowered to pursue whatever healthcare their pet needs without worrying about unpredictable bills.
If that’s you, a low deductible may suit you best. Your insurance can start helping out with costs more quickly, which reduces the chances of a scary bill. You can also pursue covered care, even if it’s expensive, with relatively little fear that it will cause a sudden drain on your wallet—especially if you pair your low deductible with a high reimbursement rate.
High Deductibles Can Be Useful for Pet Parents Who Want a Simple Safety Net
If your pet doesn’t see much of the vet—maybe they’re at a life stage where accidents and illnesses are rare, or maybe they have superpowers—you might like a high deductible. A high deductible can help keep your premiums down, so pet insurance doesn’t feel like quite such a drain, especially during the years of your pet’s life where you don’t expect to make as much use of it.
If this is your approach, note that you may want to choose a provider that lets you change your deductible with every annual renewal. That way you can lower your deductible as your pet ages or experiences health complications.
High deductibles are also often useful for pet parents who see insurance as a safety net that offers a degree of protection from the worst case scenario—like a $10,000 cancer treatment—but isn’t critical for day to day accidents and illnesses.
What If the Deductible I Want Makes My Premiums Too High?
If your ideal deductible is out of your price range, don’t panic—there are other things you can do to lower your pet insurance premiums.
One option is to lower your reimbursement rate. That means you’ll pay a larger percentage of every eligible vet bill—but if vet trips are relatively rare, it might be more important to you to lower the initial cost than to try to save in the long term.
Another option is to lower your annual limit. Your annual limit is the most your pet insurance company will pay out each year. Common limits are $5,000, $10,000, or unlimited coverage. The smaller your limit, the lower your premiums are likely to be.
Feeling uncertain? Read on for more information about how pet insurance costs are calculated, or start at the beginning with a basic primer on key pet insurance terms.
- The Best Pet Insurance: A Pet Parent’s Guide
- Is Pet Insurance Worth It? How To Know If It’s a Good Deal for Your Pet
- What Does Pet Insurance Cover, and How Does It Work? A Beginner’s Guide
- How Does a Pre-Existing Condition Affect Pet Insurance Coverage?
- The Best Pet Insurance Wellness Plans: How Preventive Care Add-Ons Work
- How To Choose the Right Insurance for Your Pet
- How Much Does Pet Insurance Cost?
- What To Know About Waiting Periods and Pet Insurance