In Your Debt: Buy now, pay later isn’t bad — but be careful

Oct 13, 2021, 4:00 PM | Updated: Oct 14, 2021, 4:03 am

Those cheesy TV infomercials promising “three easy payments of $19.99” were quite ahead of their time. Though calling a toll-free number to buy as-seen-on-TV items is no longer in style, the idea of paying in installments remains popular thanks to a booming marketplace of buy now, pay later services.

With companies like Affirm and Klarna, and credit card issuers like Chase and Citi, you now have a variety of ways to divide up the cost of large purchases. Of course, there are rules and limitations — some BNPL services partner with specific merchants, while credit card companies require you to carry one of their cards to participate.

But limitations haven’t stopped it from becoming a trend. In June 2021, Competiscan, a company that tracks and analyzes direct marketing activity, noted a 530% increase in BNPL email marketing campaigns in the past year, with 28% of retail emails mentioning BNPL in the first quarter of 2021.

BNPL is still a form of debt, though. If you’re debt-averse and would rather save up for major purchases and pay for them in full, that is indeed an excellent tactic. But debt isn’t inherently evil. It’s merely a financial tool that can make major purchases more manageable. As with any financial tool, it’s all about how you wield it. Here are some ways to use BNPL thoughtfully.


Andrew Gold, a financial advisor at Prestige Wealth Management in Southlake, Texas, has used BNPL services to finance large purchases, including travel bookings, business purchases and a new mattress. As someone who frequently discusses spending with clients, he recommends considering BNPL when you can afford to pay for something in full, but paying in installments would help you better manage your cash flow. Before you choose a payment plan, review what you have in your bank account and how much money you earn each month, so you know you can afford the payments along with your other obligations.

“This is not for somebody that is complaining about never having money, or is always borrowing money from people,” he says. “This is for people who have consistent income, who are looking for ways to take advantage of some of the benefits and the convenience of breaking up a purchase over a few weeks.”

Yes, you can spring for the nice shampoo and split the purchase into four $6 payments, but just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. BNPL services are helpful, but they also make it far too easy to impulse shop when your budget is tight. “We’re in a world of instant gratification,” Gold says. “There’s a ton of overindulgence and excess in everybody’s life.”


Before you make a major purchase, find out how you can get your money back if you return the item, it gets lost during shipping or it arrives damaged. What rights do you have if the merchant won’t refund your money?

If the merchant allows for refunds, you can get your money back. Affirm, Klarna and Afterpay will refund you in full, for example — though Affirm notes that if your plan includes interest payments, you won’t get that money back. Should you need to dispute a charge because the item is missing or damaged, your first step is to contact the merchant directly, much like you would if you paid with a credit card. In some cases, if the merchant grants you a store credit instead of a refund, you must still make payments on your installment plan.


Stay organized by using BNPL for very specific purposes, like a series of purchases for one event. Alexandria Broward used BNPL when she and her now-husband decided they wanted to elope in a month’s time.

With just three weekends to find a dress and sort out other logistics, Broward put some expenses on credit cards and used BNPL for her outfit. She ordered several dresses and fronted a fraction of the cost, returning all but one and getting money back for those returns. Her tactic was to avoid putting the whole cost on credit cards. She also used BNPL to divvy up the cost of her $400 wedding shoes . “They really tied the dress together,” she says. “If I ever have a daughter, she’ll get those.”

“It was a great solution and service to have in my situation, given how last-minute everything was,” Broward says.


This column was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Sara Rathner is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @SaraKRathner.


NerdWallet: What is buy now, pay later?

Competiscan: Trends in buy now, pay later

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

Judge rejects challenge to Southwest’s vaccine mandate

DALLAS (AP) — A federal judge has rejected a bid by pilots to block Southwest Airlines from imposing a vaccine mandate, saying the airline is within its power to require vaccination as a safety measure. U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn denied the request by the airline’s pilot union to issue a temporary restraining order against […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Concerts return, dining rooms open and Coke sales rebound

Coca-Cola Co. is getting its fizz back. Revenue jumped 16% to $10 billion in the third quarter as stadiums, movie theaters and other venues reopened around the world. That was ahead of Wall Street’s forecast. Analysts polled by FactSet expected revenue of $9.8 billion for the quarter. The Atlanta company also raised its revenue and […]
1 day ago
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg meets with Swedish prime minister Stefan Lofven in Stockhol...
Associated Press

NATO’s Afghan mission hit by ‘mission creep,’ official says

BRUSSELS (AP) — NATO’s security operation in Afghanistan became a victim of “mission creep” as the military organization allowed itself to be dragged into helping rebuild the impoverished, conflict-torn country, the official leading a process of drawing lessons from the mission said on Wednesday. Assistant Secretary-General for Operations John Manza and NATO’s 30 deputy national […]
1 day ago
French President Emmanuel Macron, right, and Poland's President Andrzej Duda shake hands before a w...
Associated Press

EU court tells Poland to pay $1.2M a day in judicial dispute

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union’s top court has ordered Poland to pay 1 million euros a day ($1.2 million) over the country’s longstanding dispute with the bloc over judicial independence. The Wednesday ruling by the Court of Justice came after the the EU’s executive commission asked for “financial penalties” to ensure compliance with a […]
1 day ago
FILE - A McDonald's sign is shown in Philadelphia, Monday, April 26, 2021. McDonald’s reported st...
Associated Press

McDonald’s sales surged 14% as virus restrictions eased

McDonald’s reported stronger-than-expected sales in the third quarter, boosted by larger orders and higher prices on the menu. The company has had to raise prices like other major restaurant chains to cover rising costs of commodities and labor, but it may have dodged at least some of the most severe labor shortages that have dogged […]
1 day ago
First lady Jill Biden, left, listens as President Joe Biden, right, speaks to the 2020 and 2021 Sta...
Associated Press

Not a trick: No White House treats for Halloween this year

WASHINGTON (AP) — Ghosts and goblins can scratch the White House from their trick or treating routes this year. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden will be in Europe on Halloween and won’t be at the White House to help hand out candy and other treats. Instead, the Pennsylvania Avenue side of the […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles


Medicare open enrollment for 2022 starts Oct. 15 and SHIBA can help!

Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner SPONSORED — Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, also called the Annual Election Period, is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, people enrolled in Medicare can: Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan and vice versa. Join, drop or switch a Part D prescription drug plan, […]

How to Have a Stress-Free Real Estate Experience

The real estate industry has adapted and sellers are taking full advantage of new real estate models. One of which is Every Door Real Estate.
IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
Swedish Health Services

Special Coverage: National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

There are a wide variety of treatment options available for men with prostate cancer. The most technologically advanced treatment option in the Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform.
Marysville Police Department

Police Opportunities in a Growing, Supportive Washington Community

Marysville PD is looking for both lateral and entry level officers. Begin or continue your career in law enforcement for a growing, supportive community.

Small, Minority-Owned Businesses in King County and Pierce County Can Now Apply For $10,000 Relief Grants Through Comcast RISE

Businesses in King County and Pierce County can apply beginning on October 1, 2021, at for a chance to receive a $10,000 relief grant.
In Your Debt: Buy now, pay later isn’t bad — but be careful