Thinking of Using a Buy Now, Pay Later Service? Try This Type of Credit Card Instead
- Buy now, pay later is a way to pay off purchases over time.
- Consumers interested in financing purchases are normally better off using a 0% APR credit card.
- Credit cards can be used for a variety of purchases instead of just one, but BNPL is easier to get approved for.
Buy now, pay later might be readily available, but 0% APR credit cards have more to offer.
If you've done much shopping lately, especially online shopping, you've probably seen a "buy now, pay later" (BNPL) option. Affirm, Afterpay, Klarna, and other similar services are practically everywhere now.
As a general rule, it's best to pay for purchases in full up front. Payment plans often end up being a bad decision. Consider this shocking fact of buy now, pay later -- two-thirds of users end up continuing to pay for items after they no longer own them.
But maybe you have an important purchase to make and you need to break it down into smaller payments. While buy now, pay later is convenient, that doesn't mean it's the best choice. In fact, 0% APR credit cards are another way to go, and in most cases, they're the better option.
BNPL vs. 0% APR credit cards
Buy now, pay later and 0% APR credit cards are both ways to pay off purchases over time. The latter have a 0% APR on purchases that lasts for an introductory time period. When you compare everything they offer, 0% APR cards have some clear advantages.
Let's start with the most important detail, which is how long you have to pay off what you buy. While there are several buy now, pay later services, most offer six-week plans with no interest. You make one initial payment, and then additional payments every two weeks. Some services have longer zero-interest plans available, but usually for no more than six months.
If you look at the best 0% APR credit cards, most offer the intro rate for at least 12 months. So, where a buy now, pay later plan will let you spread out payments over weeks, a 0% APR card will let you spread them out over a year or longer.
You also have much more flexibility with a credit card. Imagine you get a card with a 0% APR on purchases for 12 months. You can pay for any purchases you want during that time period, and they'll all have that 0% introductory rate.
With buy now, pay later, the deal often only applies to a single purchase. If you want to finance items at multiple retailers, you'd need to set up multiple payment plans.
It's also worth mentioning a few more benefits that many 0% APR cards have.
- Sign-up bonuses: An introductory offer where you earn a bonus for spending enough. For example, "spend $500 in the first three months and earn $200 cash back." If you're going to spend that much anyway, sign-up bonuses are an easy way to get some of that money back.
- Rewards: Points or cash back earned on eligible purchases. This is another way of getting something back on money you're already spending.
- Purchase protection: Complimentary protection against damage and theft on eligible purchases. Credit cards with this benefit usually offer it for the first 90 days, so it gives your new purchases some extra protection.
The benefit of BNPL
There is one area where buy now, pay later has the edge. It's much easier to get approved, because many of these services don't have minimum credit requirements. Even if you have a low credit score, you could still qualify.
That's not the case with 0% APR credit cards. They're typically intended for consumers with credit scores in the good credit range, meaning from around 670 to 700 or higher. If you're currently trying to improve your credit, you may have better luck applying for a buy now, pay later plan.
If your credit score is high enough for either option, a 0% APR credit card is almost always a better value. You can get more time with no interest, more flexibility on how you use it, and possibly some money-saving extras, like a bonus and rewards.
Alert: highest cash back card we've seen now has 0% intro APR until nearly 2025
If you're using the wrong credit or debit card, it could be costing you serious money. Our experts love this top pick, which features a 0% intro APR for 15 months, an insane cash back rate of up to 5%, and all somehow for no annual fee.
In fact, this card is so good that our experts even use it personally. Click here to read our full review for free and apply in just 2 minutes.
Our Research Expert
We're firm believers in the Golden Rule, which is why editorial opinions are ours alone and have not been previously reviewed, approved, or endorsed by included advertisers. The Ascent does not cover all offers on the market. Editorial content from The Ascent is separate from The Motley Fool editorial content and is created by a different analyst team.
The Ascent is a Motley Fool service that rates and reviews essential products for your everyday money matters.
Copyright © 2018 - 2023 The Ascent. All rights reserved.