Pay off high-rate debt with a personal loan and save thousands. Learn more.

What Is Buy Now, Pay Later?

By Janet Siroto · November 28, 2023 · 8 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

What Is Buy Now, Pay Later?

Buy now, pay later (or BNPL) is a kind of installment payment plan. It can give consumers the option of making a big purchase today and spreading out payments over subsequent weeks or months, possibly interest-free. You may find these services offered under such names as Afterpay, Affirm, or Klarna.

Many of the country’s largest retailers — including Saks Fifth Avenue, Target, Walmart, and Amazon — offer buy now, pay later services. This kind of short-term financing can be helpful for shoppers hoping to buy an item over time, but there are pros and cons to purchasing this way.

Here, take a closer look at BNPL, its benefits and drawbacks, and whether it’s a good option for you.

What Is a Buy Now, Pay Later Plan?

Buy now, pay later is a way of purchasing an item in which you pay it off over time. It’s similar to layaway, but you get to take possession of the item right away rather than wait until it’s fully paid off.

For instance, if you are buying a new refrigerator with all the bells and whistles, using BNPL means you can get the fridge delivered ASAP and pay it off over time. With layaway, you’d have to wait until your series of payments were made and then, and only then, would you get the appliance.

A couple of other important points to note:

•   BNPL can come with fees and interest, depending upon the particular program you use. In this way, it may be similar to using a credit card and not paying the full balance off at the end of the month.

•   Most buy now, pay later services run a soft credit check (which won’t affect your score) or no credit check at all. Since they don’t require strong credit, these plans can be an appealing option for consumers with a poor credit rating or no credit history.

•   Buy now, pay later services make money by charging interest and fees on delinquent payments. These lenders also typically charge the merchants fees. Retailers are often okay with this because these financing programs allow customers to spend more at their store, either in person or online.

💡 Quick Tip: Did you know online banking can help you get paid sooner? Feel the magic of payday up to two days earlier when you set up direct deposit with SoFi.

The Rise of BNPL Services

You may wonder how popular buy now, pay later services are? Currently, there are approximately 79 million Americans paying for merchandise this way, and research indicates that the percent of adults using this method has risen from 18% in summer of 2022 to 20% in summer 2023. The fact that one in five people in the US are paying by BNPL shows that this has become a popular option.

How Buy Now, Pay Later Works

If you are wondering how BNPL works, here’s an example. Say you want to buy a $300 Vitamix Blender, but you hesitate to fork over the entire purchase price upfront. When you click on one of these buy now, pay later apps or sign up at checkout, you can purchase and receive the item right away. You are usually able to break up the $300 into several (often four) equal, interest-free payments. Typically the first payment is due at checkout, and the remaining three are each due two weeks apart.

Process of BNPL

When opting for BNPL (a form of a short-term loan), you’ll likely be asked for some credentials, such as name, address, phone number, birthdate, and Social Security number. A soft credit check, which does not impact your credit check, is typically conducted to approve or reject your request to use these installment payments. If you get the green light, payments are typically deducted via your credit card, debit card, or bank account.

You will see this kind of BNPL option offered in various ways, whether you’re shopping for handmade jewelry on Etsy or booking a vacation.

BNPL and Fees

Short-term BNPL programs often don’t involve the consumer paying any interest or fees over, say, four payments. However, with longer-term BNPLs, interest may be charged, potentially at a high rate. In addition, if you don’t make payments on time, you can be hit with fees.

Common BNPL Providers

If you’re curious about buy now, pay later providers, here are some of the names you may see:

•   Addi

•   Affirm

•   Afterpay

•   Apple

•   Klarna

•   Laybuy

•   Limepay

•   Mastercard

•   PayPal

•   Revolut

•   Splitit

•   Sunbit

💡 Quick Tip: Bank fees eat away at your hard-earned money. To protect your cash, open a checking account with no account fees online — and earn up to 0.50% APY, too.

Advantages of Buy Now, Pay Later

Now that you know what is buy now, pay later purchasing, here’s a closer look at the pros of this kind of payment service.

Enhancing Purchasing Power

Buy now, pay later can allow you to buy something pricey without paying for it upfront. You get to take the item home and have the subsequent payments paid via credit card, debit card, or bank account. Unlike layaway plans, you don’t have to wait until the item is fully paid for before taking possession.

Saving Money

Some BNPL programs may offer consumers the opportunity to save on a major purchase. For instance, if you were to buy a new couch with BNPL and pay it off over four months, drawing funds directly from your bank account, you might fare better financially than if you bought it with your credit card and didn’t pay your balance in full. In this scenario, BNPL could help you avoid paying interest on your credit card.

By reading the fine print of a BNPL offer, you may be able to avoid interest and late fees, depending on which service you use.

Quick Approval

If you apply for BNPL, you typically don’t need to wait more than a few seconds to be approved. This can be considerably quicker than seeking a line of credit via other means.

Recommended: Can You Build Credit With a Debit Card?

Considerations Before Using BNPL

Now that you know about the upsides of BNPL services, dig into the potential drawbacks.

Potential for Overspending

This type of payment plan can be so appealing, it may entice people who are already struggling to pay their bills to splurge. It can be quick to apply and be approved, and consumers may overlook the possibility of being charged interest and fees (or even being put in for collection) if payments are late.

Paying Interest and Fees

If a BNPL plan is paid off as planned, the shopper may not incur any interest or fees. But if funds aren’t paid on time or a longer-term plan is chosen, an interest rate of up to 36% may be assessed. Late fees can run anywhere from one dollar to 25% of the purchase price. As you see, it can wind up being a very expensive proposition if you cannot stick to the original schedule of paying for your item.

BNPL and Your Credit Score

The other factor to consider is that BNPL may mean that you miss the opportunity to build your credit score. For instance, if you make on-time payments with a credit card, it can contribute to building your score. Those payments are reported to the credit bureaus, but many BNPL providers do not update the bureaus about funds they receive on-time.

Possible Loss of Rewards

You can earn credit card rewards and cash back if you use your plastic to pay for a purchase. When you pay via a BNPL service, you miss out on that opportunity.

Comparing BNPL With Other Payment Options

If you’re contemplating using BNPL on a major purchase, take a moment to compare options.

Credit Cards vs BNPL

As noted above, BNPL plans may be able to help you avoid credit card interest fees if you pay the amount due on time and don’t wind up adding it to the balance on your plastic.

However, these plans could encourage you to overspend and possibly add to your credit card debt. In addition, if you pay your BNPL bills on time, you may be missing out on the opportunity to build your credit score. You may also not receive the cash back or other rewards that could be coming your way when you use your credit card.

Personal Loans vs BNPL

If you are making a single big purchase and feel confident you can stick with the terms of paying off a buy now, pay later plan, that may be a fine option.

However, if you are, say, redoing a kitchen and need to replace every major appliance, you may not want to wade into that many BNPL payments. If you can’t wait to save the money from your salary either, you might want to look into a personal loan, which can offer a more affordable interest rate vs. credit cards, and help you pay for what you need.

Worth noting that you will likely have a hard credit check vs. a soft pull if you go the personal loan route.

Is BNPL Right for You?

To decide if a BNPL is right for you, consider the following:

•   Is a buy now, pay later offer encouraging you to buy something you really cannot afford right now?

•   Do you feel confident you can fulfill the schedule of BNPL payments, avoiding interest and fees?

•   Do you really want or need to take the item home now vs. later via layaway?

•   Is it a concern that you will probably miss out on the opportunity to build your credit by paying with a credit card?

•   Are you comfortable with using BNPL vs. a credit card and thereby not reaping any of the rewards you might get via using plastic?

The Takeaway

Buy now, pay later plans can allow people to make purchases that they might not be able to easily afford otherwise. If you purchase an item this way, you will be spreading your payments out over a number of weeks or even months. This can be an attractive option; most of the time, there will be no interest.

However, your installment payments won’t build your credit history, and if you miss payments, you’ll likely be stuck with fees and may damage your credit score.

Another way to afford a major purchase is to simply save up in advance by putting some money aside each month in your bank account until you have enough to pay in full.

Interested in opening an online bank account? When you sign up for a SoFi Checking and Savings account with direct deposit, you’ll get a competitive annual percentage yield (APY), pay zero account fees, and enjoy an array of rewards, such as access to the Allpoint Network of 55,000+ fee-free ATMs globally. Qualifying accounts can even access their paycheck up to two days early.


Better banking is here with up to 4.60% APY on SoFi Checking and Savings.


Photo credit: iStock/Mikolette

SoFi® Checking and Savings is offered through SoFi Bank, N.A. ©2023 SoFi Bank, N.A. All rights reserved. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.
The SoFi Bank Debit Mastercard® is issued by SoFi Bank, N.A., pursuant to license by Mastercard International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.


SoFi members with direct deposit activity can earn 4.60% annual percentage yield (APY) on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Direct Deposit means a deposit to an account holder’s SoFi Checking or Savings account, including payroll, pension, or government payments (e.g., Social Security), made by the account holder’s employer, payroll or benefits provider or government agency (“Direct Deposit”) via the Automated Clearing House (“ACH”) Network during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Deposits that are not from an employer or government agency, including but not limited to check deposits, peer-to-peer transfers (e.g., transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc.), merchant transactions (e.g., transactions from PayPal, Stripe, Square, etc.), and bank ACH funds transfers and wire transfers from external accounts, do not constitute Direct Deposit activity. There is no minimum Direct Deposit amount required to qualify for the stated interest rate.

SoFi members with Qualifying Deposits can earn 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Qualifying Deposits means one or more deposits that, in the aggregate, are equal to or greater than $5,000 to an account holder’s SoFi Checking and Savings account (“Qualifying Deposits”) during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Qualifying Deposits only include those deposits from the following eligible sources: (i) ACH transfers, (ii) inbound wire transfers, (iii) peer-to-peer transfers (i.e., external transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc. and internal peer-to-peer transfers from a SoFi account belonging to another account holder), (iv) check deposits, (v) instant funding to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, (vi) push payments to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, and (vii) cash deposits. Qualifying Deposits do not include: (i) transfers between an account holder’s Checking account, Savings account, and/or Vaults; (ii) interest payments; (iii) bonuses issued by SoFi Bank or its affiliates; or (iv) credits, reversals, and refunds from SoFi Bank, N.A. (“SoFi Bank”) or from a merchant.

SoFi Bank shall, in its sole discretion, assess each account holder’s Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits throughout each 30-Day Evaluation Period to determine the applicability of rates and may request additional documentation for verification of eligibility. The 30-Day Evaluation Period refers to the “Start Date” and “End Date” set forth on the APY Details page of your account, which comprises a period of 30 calendar days (the “30-Day Evaluation Period”). You can access the APY Details page at any time by logging into your SoFi account on the SoFi mobile app or SoFi website and selecting either (i) Banking > Savings > Current APY or (ii) Banking > Checking > Current APY. Upon receiving a Direct Deposit or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits to your account, you will begin earning 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% on checking balances on or before the following calendar day. You will continue to earn these APYs for (i) the remainder of the current 30-Day Evaluation Period and through the end of the subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period and (ii) any following 30-day Evaluation Periods during which SoFi Bank determines you to have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits without interruption.

SoFi Bank reserves the right to grant a grace period to account holders following a change in Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits activity before adjusting rates. If SoFi Bank grants you a grace period, the dates for such grace period will be reflected on the APY Details page of your account. If SoFi Bank determines that you did not have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits during the current 30-day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, then you will begin earning the rates earned by account holders without either Direct Deposit or Qualifying Deposits until you have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits in a subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period. For the avoidance of doubt, an account holder with both Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits will earn the rates earned by account holders with Direct Deposit.

Members without either Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits, as determined by SoFi Bank, during a 30-Day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, will earn 1.20% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances.

Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 10/24/2023. There is no minimum balance requirement. Additional information can be found at https://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet.


Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website .

SOBK1023035

All your finances.
All in one app.

SoFi QR code, Download now, scan this with your phone’s camera

All your finances.
All in one app.

App Store rating

SoFi iOS App, Download on the App Store
SoFi Android App, Get it on Google Play

TLS 1.2 Encrypted
Equal Housing Lender