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Buy now, pay later (BNPL) services let you make purchases today and pay them off over time. Payments for purchases are usually split into four equal installments due every two weeks.
While BNPL first became popular for online shopping, it's now offered widely in physical stores. Here's how to use BNPL in stores and when it might be best to use another payment method.
How to Use Buy Now, Pay Later at Retail Stores
The process for using BNPL in stores may vary depending on what BNPL service you're using, but here's a general overview of the steps.
1. Find Out if a Store Accepts BNPL
Do a bit of research to see what BNPL services are accepted in the stores where you want to shop. You might be surprised to find that many major stores now let you use BNPL in-store, including big box stores and well-known retailers like Walmart, Target, Macy's and Sephora.
2. Download the BNPL App
If you haven't already, download the app of the BNPL service you want to use for your purchase. This is important because you'll need to use the app to request a payment plan for purchases before checkout. Often, BNPL apps are free to download in the Apple and Android app stores.
3. Request a One-Time Virtual Card
Most BNPL providers have a process where you request a virtual card in the app to pay for in-store purchases. A virtual card works like a prepaid card, but it's only for one-time use. You can use it as a payment method by adding it to the digital wallet on your phone.
When requesting a virtual card, you may be asked to enter the amount you want to spend, or the BNPL company may offer a preapproved card spending limit. Check your BNPL provider for instructions on how to set up a one-time virtual card.
4. Use Your Digital Wallet to Pay
Once the virtual card is added to your digital wallet, tap the virtual card against the store's contactless payment symbol at the checkout terminal to make your purchase. After the in-store transaction is processed, your installment plan for the purchase will show up in the BNPL account and you can make payments until you pay off the balance.
5. Use a One-Time QR Code
In some cases, a QR code shopping method is offered by BNPL retail partners for an even easier in-store shopping experience. In this scenario, you generate a QR code in your BNPL app that the cashier scans at checkout, and then you confirm the purchase in the app. Afterward, the transaction shows up in your account, and you make installment payments from there.
Benefits and Risks of Using BNPL In-Store
If you've already used BNPL to pay for a shopping trip, you're not alone. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) data shows that BNPL shopping has exploded in the last few years, with loan originations for major lenders up 970% between 2019 and 2021. While there are many perks to using BNPL, there are some drawbacks. Here's what you need to know:
- Flexible qualifying criteria: BNPL providers may use financial information besides just credit to qualify you for a payment plan. First-time borrowers specifically may find it easier to get approved for BNPL plans than other debt vehicles.
- Instant approvals in many cases: Payment plan approvals can happen immediately, giving you access to the cash you need to make a purchase quickly.
- Usually interest-free: If you pay for purchases in four biweekly installments, there's usually no interest charged. This can make BNPL plans completely free (except for the cost of whatever you bought) if you pay on time. This will also help you avoid late fees.
- Can lead to overspending: The opportunity to get credit easily could encourage shoppers to make rush decisions at checkout, and being able to pay for purchases later might encourage you to spend more than you would in cash.
- Interest is charged in some cases: If you choose a BNPL plan where payments extend over several months, you might be charged interest on the purchase.
- Other potential hidden costs: Missing BNPL plan payments can trigger late fees. And using a credit card to make BNPL payments could move shopping debt to a credit line that charges high interest and is harder to pay off.
When to Use Buy Now, Pay Later
BNPL services may be a good way to spread out payments for necessary purchases you don't want to pay for upfront. Say your clothes dryer breaks and you'd prefer not to draw $1,000 in cash from your bank account all at once. Using BNPL allows you to pay 25% of the purchase biweekly, which could be convenient if payments align with your paydays.
However, it's important not to overextend yourself with BNPL plans or use BNPL for unnecessary splurges that you might have trouble paying off. Having many BNPL plans open simultaneously can affect your ability to keep up with other bills, and paying late can cause late fees to add up. The consequences of not paying at all can also be steep. Unpaid balances could be sent to collections and get reported on your credit report, affecting your ability to qualify for credit or loans in the future.
Although BNPL plans are convenient, also consider that there are perks of using credit cards (as long as they're used responsibly). With a credit card, you might earn rewards on purchases, and the value of those points, miles or cash back could pay for trips or other merchandise. Just be sure to pay off your purchases when you receive your bill to avoid paying interest.
The Bottom Line
Using buy now, pay later in physical stores is simple and fast. You could download a BNPL app while browsing store aisles and have it set up and ready to pay by the time you get to the checkout counter. However, before using BNPL for your next purchase, consider weighing the pros and cons of other borrowing options.
If you use a credit card for shopping hauls and pay off the balance each month to avoid interest, you could take advantage of rewards and other perks like purchase protection. Having strong credit can help you qualify for credit cards with the most competitive rates and better rewards. Using Experian CreditWorksSM, you can check your credit score and history to see where you stand before shopping for a new card to add to your wallet.