For online shoppers, the appeal of “buy now, pay later” programs seems obvious.
If paid on time, the loans are zero interest with smaller payments spread out in installments. And unlike layaway, shoppers get their purchases immediately.
But that ease of buying can add up fast.
“You got that little rush when it came in the mail,” said Amber Cole, who has used the programs. “And then two weeks later, there’s the money due, and you’re like, ‘Oh, what did I even buy?'”
After downloading a “buy now, pay later” app, the Colorado preschool teacher quickly spent thousands of dollars.
“I bought a rug, which was like $600 — and I would never spend that much on a rug,” Cole said. “But I was like, ‘Well, it’s only $125.'”
Forty-three percent of Americans have used “buy now, pay later” services, according to a Lending Tree survey. The programs can be used on everything from groceries to weddings.
But missing a payment could cost you.
“For many people, just like credit cards, they can get in over their head,” said Rohit Chopra, the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
Those who spent too much with the programs and are having trouble paying should be honest with the lender, Chopra said.
“The biggest piece of advice is to not hide, but to talk to the lender, to work out a deal,” Chopra said.
CFPB is calling for increased industry oversight, similar to credit cards.
The Financial Technology Association, a trade group that represents leading lenders, says most people pay off their loans, and lenders “work with consumers who miss a payment to get back on track.”
Cole, who has closed her account, is now reselling her purchases and warning other shoppers to beware.
“Just resist it because it does end up catching up to you,” Cole said. “You have to remember not to get future self into trouble.”