The Promises and the Perils of Buy Now, Pay Later

The Promises and the Perils of Buy Now, Pay Later

Gotta have it now, but don’t have the cash? Why not buy now, and pay later? (BNPL). It’s the perfect way for you to walk away with that overpriced exercise bike even if your wallet is practically empty, right?

Maybe. Or maybe not.

Let’s take a look at these programs, how they work and what to be aware of before you sign up.

How BNPL works

You’ll find a BNPL button when checking out at most online retailers. This option will usually link you to a BNPL app, such as AfterpayAffirm or Quadpay. A brick-and-mortar store may offer you this option at checkout as well. Here, too, you’ll pay up through an affiliated app.

If you choose to go with a BNPL option, you’ll need to get approved. Apps will usually run just a soft credit check to confirm your information. Once approved, you can choose to link your debit card, checking account or credit card so the app can collect the payments when they’re due. Next, you’ll generally make a 25% deposit on the purchase, and the item is yours! Most BNPL plans require you to pay off the rest in three fixed installments, but payment schedules can vary.

When to choose BNPL

BNPL programs can be a good choice for items you urgently need, but can’t afford right now, like medical equipment that’s not covered by insurance. It can also be ideal for workers with an uneven income flow who may experience lean times of the year, but know that better cashflow is ahead.

Why BNPL can be a bad idea

It encourages overspending. It’s easy to think that, if you’ll only be paying a small part of the price today, why not buy it now instead of financing the full amount?
Missed payments are penalized. Some services slap an interest charge on your outstanding balance, with rates as high as 40%. Other programs will charge a one-time late fee, which can be as high as $39. Others will tack on an extra fixed fee to all subsequent payments.

It can kill responsible financial habits. If a consumer has purchased multiple items through BNPL programs, the monthly payments won’t be so minimal. The payments will need to be factored into a budget and can eat into other categories, like savings.

Buy now, pay later programs can be super-convenient, but they also present risks. Our best advice? Use with caution.