No one plans for infertility. But that doesn't stop it from being a reality for millions of people.

In the United States, around 12% of women ages 15 to 44 have difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some of them turn to in vitro fertilization to try to conceive, with more than 72,000 babies born as a result of IVF and other "assisted reproductive technologies" in 2017, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

Conceiving is just one obstacle these patients face. There's also the question of how to pay for the treatment.

"The total cost is roughly $20,335 per (IVF) cycle," says Jake Anderson-Bialis, co-founder of FertilityIQ, which provides research on fertility treatments, doctors and clinics.

Most IVF patients don't get pregnant the first go-round. Many require multiple cycles, spending $60,000 or more in the process.

The sky-high costs and scant insurance coverage — only a handful of states require coverage for fertility treatments, and that coverage varies widely — leave families struggling to pay on their own.

Arielle Spiegel and her husband had some insurance coverage but still spent roughly $70,000 in fertility treatments, including multiple rounds of IVF.

"Nobody, myself included, is truly prepared for the cost involved," says Spiegel, founder of CoFertility, which offers tools and resources to help navigate fertility treatment.

DISCUSS YOUR FINANCIAL LIMITS

You want to stay optimistic, but it's important to think ahead. While your physical and emotional limits can be hard to anticipate, you can sketch a plan for your financial ceiling.

"One of the most important things to talk about at the beginning is, 'At what point do we stop?'" says Dawn Davenport, executive director of Creating a Family, a nonprofit focused on adoption and infertility education. "Continue to reassess. Because at the beginning you don't have a clue how all-consuming it can be."

Thinking about what comes next if IVF doesn't work is painful but necessary, because alternate options like surrogates, donor eggs and adoption are also expensive.

FIND WAYS TO LOWER THE COST

There are several programs that can help you reduce your overall costs, including:

— GRANTS: Free money for fertility treatment does exist, but it can be hard to track down. You can search for grants and scholarships by state using CoFertility's Find a Grant tool. Some grant programs also offer donated medical care, rather than cash.

— DISCOUNTS: Clinics may offer discounted services for low-income patients. Some also extend discounts to people in certain professions, including teachers, members of the military, and police and firefighters.

— SHARED RISK: Your fertility clinic may offer a shared risk program, which typically offers multiple IVF cycles for a flat rate. This can save you tens of thousands of dollars if it takes multiple IVF cycles for you to conceive.

On the flip side, if you conceive on the first cycle, you still pay the full rate, which is significantly more than a single cycle. And most patients who enroll in these programs conceive from their first egg retrieval, according to data from FertilityIQ.

— CLINICAL TRIALS: Research studies are typically narrow in scope, making it difficult to qualify. If you do meet the criteria, you're often able to get treatment at a steep discount. Clinical trials come with inherent risks, so understand all of the details before committing.

EVALUATE YOUR PAYMENT OPTIONS

Spiegel and her husband funded their treatment primarily via savings and budgeting, but that's not realistic for everyone. Many couples take on debt to pay for some or all of the costs.

Credit cards are one way to pay for treatment, but the average interest rate on a credit card is 16.97%, and some cards charge rates as high as 26.99%, depending on your credit. Those fees add to an already expensive treatment bill if you're unable to pay your credit card in full each month.

Personal loans are another vehicle to help you pay for IVF. You'll often find the lowest interest rates via a credit union, even if your credit is a little banged up, but the process can take a bit longer. Online lenders like Prosper and LightStream offer flexible terms and can be funded in as little as a day, but they typically charge high rates for people with a troubled credit history.

Fertility loans are increasingly common, too, with lenders like CapexMD working directly with fertility clinics to help patients finance treatment. While rates may be higher than a traditional personal loan, the lender typically works directly with your fertility clinic, easing some of the hassle and paperwork.

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This column was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Kelsey Sheehy is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: ksheehy@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @kelseylsheehy.

RELATED LINKS:

NerdWallet: Personal loan calculator https://bit.ly/nerdwallet-personal-loan-calculator

Find a fertility grant https://cofertility.com/research/find-a-grant/