Why lenders see profits in fertilization treatments

For some, conceiving a baby takes more than just the birds and bees: It requires several rounds of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) that can mount to $30,000 or more.

Not everyone has insurance that will cover all or even some of cost of IVF and other fertility treatments, putting women and couples on the hook for thousands in medical costs. With women waiting longer than ever to have children, demand for IVF has been growing, reaching a record number of women using the treatment to get pregnant.

That's where lenders are stepping in.

The market for fertility treatments reached $3.5 billion in 2012 and has proved to be largely recession-proof, according to market research firm Marketdata Enterprises. Helping to fuel that are lenders such as LightStream, a division of SunTrust Banks (STI), and CapexMD, which provide loans for women and would-be parents who otherwise would struggle to come up with the cash necessary for the treatments.

The market for fertility loans is expanding, said Todd Nelson, business development officer at LightStream. "We are seeing more demand this year than last," Nelson told CBS MoneyWatch. "It's both the fact that many consumers don't have insurance that will cover full cost of treatment, and that our loan, because of its flexibility, allows them to choose the physician of their choice. Sometimes insurance plans will restrict that option."

Women are also choosing to have babies later in life, and that increases demand for fertility treatments given that it's more likely women will encounter problems conceiving as they grow older, he noted.

The average age that women have their first child has been rising for 40 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rate of women having their first child at ages 35 to 39 rose almost fivefold from 1973 through 2012, the CDC said.

That's pushing up demand for assisted reproductive technologies, which includes IVF, although health insurance plans don't always cover all the treatments. Some states are so-called "mandated" states, where regulations require that insurance cover some level of fertility treatments. Eight of those states, including New Jersey and Massachusetts, require that qualified employers include IVF coverage in their plans, according to Resolve.org, the national fertility association.

But for women who don't live in such states, their employer-sponsored plans may cover only a portion of IVF treatments, or none at all, said Shannon Delage, chief marketing officer of IntegraMed Fertility, which provides financing programs and other services such as operations management to fertility clinics.

"If you are not living in a mandated state, then it's heavily up to the employer," Delage said. "They'll cap IVF treatments at $15,000, and that doesn't get you more than one cycle of IVF."

The problem with that, she added, is that it often takes two or three rounds before IVF treatment is successful, leaving would-be parents on the hook for several thousand dollars of additional medical treatments. IntegraMed offers a payment system where clients pay upfront for several rounds of IVF, which provides them with a discount, she said.

Using financing and purchasing plans is "a more recent thing in the last decade," Delage said. "Twenty years ago, you would have seen this more toward people who could afford it. Understanding how we need to help our patients afford this has become a focus in the last 10 years."

LightStream offers fixed-rate, unsecured loans that range between 5.99 percent APR to 9.99 percent APR, which Nelson said is lower than some other fertility loans, which can carry rates in the teens and higher. LightStream's loans are available in amounts from $5,000 to $100,000, and have terms from 24 months to 84 months.

Nelson declined to comment on what percentage of applicants are approved, although he added that the company screens for candidates with "good to excellent credit."

Funds are deposited in the borrower's account as soon as the day they apply.

"The loan process is completely flexible for the consumer," Nelson said. "They can pay for the fertility treatment as a cash buyer, and that can give them the ability to negotiate better terms."

Demand for fertility treatments -- and financial products to pay for them -- is likely to only grow with the Millennial generation, which this year is overtaking the baby boomers as America's biggest generation.

"Millennials are starting to need fertility treatments, and there are more of them," Delage said. "Our services have been growing much faster this year."