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You Can Now Pay in Installments at Online Stores. Caution is advised.

When you check out this holiday shopping season at your favorite online retailers, you may discover that your payment choices have grown beyond credit or debit cards. However, there’s a lot to learn about these new services, and you don’t want to get ahead of yourself.

A slew of new services integrated into retail checkout systems aims to allow you to purchase and enjoy all those products in your basket now while paying for them later, similar to a reverse layaway plan.

Companies like Citrus North, for example, provide a quick financing option that works an easy loans just as they are ready to purchase something. These loans may have 0 percent interest and be paid back in as short as six weeks with four equally divided installments, depending on the provider. They might also come with a 30 percent interest rate and a repayment period of 39 months.

The idea isn’t to brand new. You know the drill if you’ve ever chosen a monthly payment plan for a new iPhone, piece of furniture, or even braces. However, large retailers such as Walmart, Anthroplogie, Nordstrom, Urban Outfitters, Ulta, and Revolve increasingly offer similar plans as a method to fund smaller, non-essential items.

And the ability to pay for a new T-shirt or pair of shoes in installments rather than paying the entire price upfront appeals to many buyers, particularly younger ones unfamiliar with conventional credit cards, and may find them scary. “People prefer the regularity of these payments and knowing when they would finish,” says Jaclyn Holmes of Auriemma Research, which has investigated installment payment programs.

According to statistics given to The Wall Street Journal this year by consultancy company 451 Research, over 40% of customers stated they would be more ready to finish a transaction if they had the option to finance the purchase at checkout.

Given the holiday pressure to buy the right gift to pamper your loved one, that willingness is likely to grow in December. According to a CreditKarma poll, more than a quarter of respondents anticipate going into debt to fund their holiday shopping, with almost one in ten planning to take out a personal loan.

Why Do Retailers Adore Payment Plans for Online Shopping?

Afterpay, an Australian company that provides zero-interest loans that must be paid back in four even bi-weekly installments, had 2.6 million active customers at the end of October, up 50 percent in only four months. Last year, total revenues more than quadrupled to $3.5 billion.

Affirm, a competitor founded by Max Levchin, a co-founder of PayPal, is growing at a similar rate. Affirm often provides bigger loans than Afterpay, with interest rates ranging from 0% to 30% based on the borrower’s credit history and the merchant, and terms ranging from a few weeks to 39 months. Affirm has over 3 million active users and ended 2018 with $2 billion in loan volume, up from $1 billion the year before.

Shoppers aren’t the only ones who are quickly joining up. On almost every large retailer’s checkout page, at least one of these relationships seems to be active. In the United States, Afterpay has over 9,000 merchants, whereas Affirm has over 3,000.

While these services generate money by collecting late penalties or interest costs, they also charge merchants a tiny portion of each transaction made through their financing alternatives. Retailers anticipate selling more as a result.

“I’ve heard these installment lending firms’ sales presentations, and they undoubtedly boast that it would increase conversion rates and lower the high proportion of cart abandonment that many shops experience. “Merchants will lose fewer clients on the way to the register,” Holmes claims.

While Holmes and the Auriemma Group don’t have complex data to back up these point-of-sale installment loan firms’ claims, the fact that Afterpay experienced a 96 percent rise in store signups in a year shows they’re doing what they say they’re doing: generating more online sales.

Millennials and Generation Z love it.

These services are becoming more popular among younger buyers, particularly Millennials and Generation Z, and debit card users. According to Afterpay, 86 percent of its customers between the ages of 23 and 36 enrolled with the service using a debit card, while those younger than that did so 91 percent of the time.

What is the explanation? According to a Bankrate poll, one in three younger millennials has a credit card. Many are unwilling to use them, preferring to pay cash or debit for discretionary purchases. These services provide a more appealing type of borrowing.

According to Auriemma Research’s research of various payment plans, people feel more in control and find it simpler to budget since this financial choice gives a defined route and timetable for payback. “Unlike a credit card, where they don’t know how much interest they’ll pay or when it’ll be paid off, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” Holmes adds.

The fact that these plans are transparent isn’t the only advantage. Shoppers who anticipate a return, such as when trying on multiple sizes of a clothing item or ordering various outfit options for an event, can use a zero-interest plan to avoid having the total purchase amount withdrawn from their account and then being locked up for several days while waiting for the store to receive the returned items and process a refund.

How to Save Money on Fees

Even though some of these services have no interest, it’s vital to remember that they are still a financing alternative. You’re still borrowing money, indicating that you’re probably spending more than you can afford or are comfortable spending.

And, unlike using your debit card or cash, you’ll be responsible for repaying the loan, which might result in late fines, interest rate surcharges, and even credit-score blemishes.

While Afterpay claims that 95% of individuals worldwide return their loans on time, if you don’t, you’ll be charged an $8 late fee for each outstanding payment, with total late penalties limited at 25% of the original purchase value. Affirm doesn’t impose late fees, but outstanding bills may be sent to collections, and if you’re 90 days late, you’ll be reported to the credit bureaus, which might hurt your credit score.

But the main worry isn’t about making these payments; it’s about how these modest bi-weekly or monthly costs will build up and affect your entire budget, perhaps depleting cash required for essentials like rent or food.

According to Affirm, consumers borrow roughly $700 each transaction on average, while Afterpay users borrow less, about $150 per transaction, but return more often. People who have used Afterpay for more than two years returned to the service 22 times each year in Australia and New Zealand. That implies that if they spent $150 on average each time, they would have borrowed $3,300 on non-essential things like apparel and cosmetics over a year.

“These services have the potential to be rather hazardous. “They’re preying on our want to have something that outweighs our ability to pay for it,” says Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist. “Splitting the payments up might fool us into believing that $200 boots are just $50 since that’s the payment we see, and we reason that it’s only $50 for the time being.”

While these services can help you afford necessary purchases and avoid credit card interest rates, they can also tempt you to overspend, causing you to lose track of how much money is leaving your bank account each week. It’s essential to use these services sparingly and consider whether the thrill of owning these items will outlast the payment period.