What’s the Best Way to Pay for Fertility Treatments?

A personal-finance expert on what to expect financially when you want to be expecting

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The average cost of an in vitro fertilization cycle using fresh embryos is $8,158, not including medications.

My friend Amy’s biological clock is ticking. A 39-year-old middle school teacher, she has decided the time has come to have a baby. But as a single woman with modest savings, Amy doesn’t just need a sperm donor – she might also need a loan.

“Not pregnant yet, but I’ll start trying in September,” Amy emailed recently, noting that in the meantime she is “saving like crazy.” As a former financial adviser, I was excited to hear she is considering the long-term financial aspect of having a child. She also mentioned she was considering taking a loan from her employer-sponsored retirement plan and, as a last resort, eyeing the possibility of a home equity loan. This is when my alarm bells started clanging.

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Parenting is expensive, but getting pregnant using donated eggs or sperm, in vitro fertilization or other medical procedures can be very expensive. According to RESOLVE, the National Infertility Association, the average cost of an IVF cycle using fresh embryos is $8,158 — not including medications — and that’s only for one cycle. So whether you’re single, in a same-sex couple, or married and struggling with infertility, think about the following financial options as you make these often emotional decisions.

Is fertility treatment covered by your insurance? While it’s not universal by any means, some insurance plans may offer partial coverage for the cost of fertility treatments. Research your coverage thoroughly, and don’t be afraid to ask your insurance company for details.

Can you use your flexible-spending account? Flexible-spending accounts, offered by many companies as part of your employee benefit package, allow you to earmark a portion of your pre-tax income for designated uses. Investigate your company’s policy to see if this is an option.

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What about a credit card? Or a home-equity loan or line of credit? Using high-interest credit cards for a significant expense, including your fertility treatments or prenatal care, is generally not a good idea unless you plan to pay off the balance very quickly. A home equity loan (HEL) or home equity line of credit (HELOC) may offer more reasonable rates — check sites like Bankrate.com to see what’s out there — but before tapping into your home equity, be sure to consider the terms and your ability to repay.

What about your 401(k) or 403(b)? These tax-deferred accounts are designed to help you save for the long term and, as such, carry steep penalties for early withdrawal. A loan from a 401(k) or 403(b) comes with strict rules for repayment, IRS restrictions and serious consequences for default – not to mention fees and interest. For these reasons, few financial professionals support cashing out a retirement plan under any circumstances, so exhaust all of your other options before you come back to this one.

As I told Amy, having a baby is one of the most important decisions a person can make. It’s impossible to put a price on parenthood, but understanding your options and the costs you may encounter can help you provide a more financially secure future for yourself and your child.

(MORE: Is It Selfish to Pursue Fertility Treatments Instead of Adoption?)

De Baca is vice president of wealth strategies at Ameriprise Financial.