Nip 'n' tuck: your wallet won't look as lovely as you

Britain is going crazy for cosmetic surgery, but some of the loan deals are far from gorgeous
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The Independent Online

Never mind facelifts and tummy tucks, people going down the nip 'n' tuck route could find it's their finances that need surgery.

Demand for cosmetic operations to improve our appearance rose by over a third to 22,041 last year, according to the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (Baaps).

Notably, blepharoplasty treatments (eyelid lifts, usually from £2,000) were up 50 per cent and rhinoplasty (nose jobs, from £3,200) by 35 per cent. The number of ops for men nearly doubled to 2,440.

Yet this desire to look and feel better is in danger of costing consumers dear.

While thousands paid for their cosmetic surgery last year through a low-cost mainstream loan or credit card, many others opted for one of a burgeoning number of special finance offers.

These are loans from private clinics and hospitals such as Bupa, Transform Medical Group and Capio Cosmetic Surgery. In the case of BMI Healthcare, there is even a special cosmetic surgery credit card.

Usually expensive, these offers can cost up to £600 more than a high-street deal, warn financial advisers (see the table on page 30) - although a few feature 0 per cent interest if the debt is repaid within six months.

In one case, Britain's biggest credit card provider is cashing in on Britain's quest to look beautiful. Recently, Barclaycard struck a deal with Beautysure, a cosmetic surgery finance outfit and a "partner" of Clydesdale Financial Services - itself an arm of Barclaycard. Under this deal, the typical loan, offered to two thirds of customers, carries an annual percentage rate (APR) of 13.9 - more than double the lowest loan rates available elsewhere. "The higher APR is just part of the customer profile," says a Barclaycard spokesman.

Often, the cosmetic sur- gery clinics include financial inducements such as money off or discounts for extra treatment.

At Transform, the sale is on: last week, its website was offering £250 off any surgery booked by the end of this month. It also offers a loyalty card, introduced last year, mainly for use with non-surgical procedures such as Botox injections. Cardholders who have four separate treatments at Transform can claim £200 towards the cost of a fifth treatment.

While it is high demand for cosmetic surgery that has fuelled the growth in loan deals, Baaps is concerned that in the free preliminary consultation between clinics and consumers, it is sometimes the finance offer that makes people's minds up.

"There is a cost, of course, to any procedure, but the decision to [have surgery] should be very separate from the financial side," says Douglas McGeorge, president-elect of Baaps. "Money should play no part in the decision but some customers say, 'I can't afford it' - only to be told, 'Don't worry, we'll sort it out'."

People can then end up with expensive in-house deals. For example, non-medical staff at Transform may discuss a loan from its specialist provider First Medical Loans, an independent finance house, at the free consultation stage. The APR advertised on its website for the purpose of outlining costs is 10.9.

Baaps is dismayed at what it calls the "commoditisation" of cosmetic surgery - through loyalty cards and Christmas vouchers, for example - and says it breaches the ethics of good medical practice. But that doesn't seem to be putting the public off. In the first two weeks of January, the high-street bank Abbey reports personal loans approved for plastic surgery up by 50 per cent. Its lowest loan rate is 5.9 per cent if taken out online.

"You could find a very good surgeon but end up scarred from the finance deal arranged to pay for it," warns Richard Mason of the financial-comparison service Moneysupermarket. com. "Look for the lowest rate possible."

Philippa Gee of independent financial adviser Torquil Clark recommends saving up and paying the bill in cash. "First, it stops you from borrowing and having to pay interest. Second, it will give you time to come to terms with the surgery and ensure you are fully committed to proceeding."

If borrowing is the only option, one alternative to a high-street loan is to add the cost to your mortgage, she adds. "However, it will be a debt for most of your life, although the interest rates [on mortgage loans] can be quite attractive."

If you have insurance such as income protection (IP), it's worth checking to see if you'd be covered if something went wrong with the surgery, says Ms Gee. "Otherwise you could find yourself facing not only a medical disaster but a financial one too."

Kevin Carr of protection broker Lifesearch says that with procedures such as breast reduction linked to a medical need for the surgery, any problems that forced you out of work would probably trigger a payout on the IP policy.

But if the surgery is purely cosmetic, the insurer might look at the circumstances and refuse.

However, Mr Carr stresses that botched operations could involve hospital liability for loss of earnings.

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