Buy Now, Pay Later: Is Pay Over Time a Smart Money Move?

Pay-over-time financing enables customers to take home purchases today and make payments without interest. But is it a good money strategy for you?
Last updated Mar 5, 2021 | By Lee Huffman
Buy Now, Pay Later: Is Pay Over Time a Smart Money Move?

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When you want to buy something, but don't have the money, you often end up picking between two less than desirable choices. You can delay the purchase until you save up for it, or you can put it on your credit card and pay a high rate of interest until you can pay off the balance.

Retailers want you to buy today, but also know that if you're paying interest charges on yesterday's purchases, that may delay you from buying again. That's why retailers are increasingly teaming up with pay-over-time fintech services to provide shoppers with the option to "buy now, pay later" without owing any interest.

In this article, we'll explain what a pay-over-time loan is, how it works, what the most popular services are, and the pros and cons of using these payment services.

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What is pay over time?

Pay over time is a financial tool that allows customers to borrow the money to buy goods and services today, but pay for them in several interest-free installments over a predetermined period of time.

The concept itself has been around for decades. Many retailers have long offered layaway or "Christmas club" options that split purchases into multiple payments to make expensive items more affordable. However, in most cases, you didn't receive the item until after you paid for it in full.

But companies like Affirm, Sezzle, and Afterpay flipped the layaway concept on its head when they started offering their pay-over-time services in the last decade. Instead of making you wait until you pay off your purchase, these services allow customers to take their item home today, then pay it off over time.

In addition, pay-over-time services make it easier for millennials and Gen Zers to make larger purchases. The statistics show these age groups are less likely to carry credit cards than older generations. If retailers want these younger consumers to make big-ticket purchases, they may be increasingly likely to offer a pay-over-time feature.

How pay over time works

When customers use pay-over-time financing, the majority of the shopping process is the same. Customers shop like normal, then they'll be presented the option to pay over time during checkout. Some retailers also mention the payment option at their brick-and-mortar store or on their website.

If the shopper doesn't already have an account with the specific pay-over-time provider the retailer works with, they'll need to apply and get approved before they can complete their purchase.

When creating their account, they'll typically provide their name, phone number, email address, date of birth, and Social Security number. Because the customer will not be required to provide their full Social Security number or approve a credit inquiry, the application will not affect their credit score.

The payment provider processes the application within seconds and displays their decision right on the screen. Once approved, the screen displays the shopper’s pay-over-time limit, letting them know how much they can spend at participating retailers.

The customer returns to the checkout process to complete their purchase and chooses the pay-over-time option. Before completing the transaction, the website will display the full purchase price, with the amount owed on each repayment date clearly indicated so the customer will fully understand the repayment details for financing the purchase in advance.

When the transaction is complete, the retailer is paid immediately by the financing company. The retailer pays a percentage of the purchase price to the pay-over-time provider, just like they pay a transaction fee when a customer swipes their credit card. The financing provider collects the customer’s payments, not the retailer.

The fees that a retailer pays for this option can be higher than a credit card transaction. However, retailers are willing to pay these higher fees to increase conversion rates at checkout and sell more inventory at full price.

After the purchase, the customer then makes the agreed-upon payments to pay back the financing company. In most cases, the payments are automatically deducted from their bank account. Additional payments can typically be made at any time to accelerate the payoff or to increase available credit for future purchases.

Who offers pay over time

Customers have numerous choices when it comes to paying for their purchases over time. If you're wondering how to get a loan for your planned upcoming spending, here are a few of the options that you may come across while shopping:

  • Affirm: This is a financing company that partners with many online retailers. Affirm has become very popular through its partnership with Peloton to finance bikes for its customers.
  • Afterpay: Afterpay allows shoppers to buy now, pay later in four installments with zero interest and no fees when you pay on time. Participating retailers include Rue La La, Athleta, and Houzz.
  • American Express: Amex offers cardholders a pay-over-time feature, branded quite simply as Pay Over Time. This feature can be used on qualifying purchases of $100 or more when using certain charge cards. Eligible American Express cards include the Business Centurion Card, Business Platinum Card, Business Gold Card, Business Gold Rewards Card, Classic Business Gold Card, Business Green Rewards Card, and Business Green Card, as well as Executive Business, Small Business, and Business Purchase Account Cards.
  • Klarna: Klarna allows customers to buy now, pay later through its app, with integrated brands, or anywhere Visa is accepted. Customers can pay for purchases over time in four interest-free payments.
  • PayPal Credit: PayPal Credit (formerly Bill Me Later) customers get six months of no interest on purchases of $99 or more anywhere PayPal is accepted.

The pros and cons of using pay-over-time services

Using this type of financing has many advantages and disadvantages, so it helps to understand both sides of the coin before signing up.

Pros

  • Many purchases will not incur interest charges
  • Spreads large purchases over multiple months so it's easier on your budget
  • No hard inquiry so it does not affect your credit score
  • Typically easier to get approved for than a new credit card
  • Approved spending limit usually can be used at multiple retailers
  • Positive payment history might help improve your credit

Cons

  • Simple and quick approval process could make it easier to get into debt
  • Low monthly payments may convince you to make larger purchases
  • Multiple pay-over-time payments could overwhelm your budget
  • New accounts can affect your average account age which impacts your credit score
  • Debt payments could affect your ability to get approved for other loans

Should you use pay over time instead of a credit card?

At checkout, you may have the option of using a pay-over-time service instead of your credit card. But should you do it? Let’s look at a few different factors that might go into your decision.

What if you want to avoid interest charges?

Both payment options allow you to borrow money to complete the transaction. Credit cards provide a no-interest grace period, but then they charge interest if the balance is not paid in full each month. Pay-over-time solutions typically offer interest-free financing on your pay-over-time balance when you agree to monthly payments deducted from your bank account.

What if you want to earn rewards?

Many members of our FinanceBuzz community would choose to pay by credit card. This would be one of the ways to meet the minimum spending requirement on a new card or earn rewards on the purchase. This works well when you have the cash to pay off the credit card to avoid interest. However, if the purchase is larger and it may take time to pay it off, a pay-over-time service offering 0% interest could be an attractive option.

What if you want to build your credit?

Some of the buy-now, pay-later financing companies will report your payment history to the credit bureaus. Typically, they only do this when your payments stretch over longer periods of time. For example, Affirm will not report your payments to the credit bureaus if the repayment term is less than three months.

Paying regularly on longer-term financing reflects positively on your credit report and could increase your score over time. This might help you repair or build your credit so you can get approved for a mortgage, personal loan, or rewards credit card in the future.

FAQs

What happens if I don’t pay my pay-over-time bills?

Pay-over-time accounts are just like any other financing used to make purchases. If you don't make your scheduled payments, the company can report your delinquent payments to the credit bureaus. For customers that default on the debt altogether, you could be sued in court by the company for repayment. Both of these options will reflect negatively on your credit report.

If you make late payments, you may be charged a late fee depending on which service financed your purchase. Similarly, you may be charged a fee if you fail to make the minimum payment each period.

Can you be denied by a pay-over-time service?

Yes, getting approved for pay-over-time financing is not guaranteed, therefore you can be denied. During the application process, the financing company will review your credit history and purchase amount. The credit limit, interest rate, and repayment terms you qualify for will vary depending on your credit history. Customers with lower credit scores may be required to make a down payment or be charged a higher rate in order to get approved.

Is using pay over time bad for your credit?

No, using pay over time is not bad for your credit as long as you repay your purchases as agreed. Many of these loans are repaid within a few months, so they are never reported to the credit bureaus. For longer repayment periods, as long as you pay the minimum amount by each due date, it should not negatively impact your credit.


Bottom line

The buy-now, pay-later financing option is attractive for many consumers because applications tend to be quick. Plus, approval can be easier than with a traditional credit card. Most companies perform only a soft credit check, so applying will not affect your credit score. However, before applying, research which other retailers accept this same financing so you can avoid opening too many accounts that could lead to financial trouble.

Pay-over-time accounts are becoming more popular because they offer an interest-free way to make purchases now and pay gradually. Although they don't earn rewards like a credit card, the no-interest financing spread over multiple payments could be a smarter way to go for some consumers.

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