It’s back-to-school time, and many online shops are offering pay in installment services which target high school and college-age buyers. These buy-now-pay-later services are new and quickly gaining in popularity. They allow shoppers to purchase just about anything — from electronics to a pair of shoes — by agreeing to pay a series of smaller installments. Of course, as with any financing option, consumers should do a little research before signing up, so they can make informed purchasing decisions and avoid getting in over their heads.

Paying in installments could help you stay within budget.However, before choosing to do so, make sure you do your research to determine if it actually helps your family’s finances long-term.

How Paying in Installments Works

As you start the checkout process with an online store, you notice that in addition to the option to pay with a debit or credit card, you can choose to pay for your purchase in a specified number of installments. The opportunity to split up payments is appealing to many shoppers, but especially younger shoppers who don’t tend to have and use traditional credit cards.

Most of the time, this option comes from a third-party financing company that makes money by charging retailers a small percentage of each sale made through their financing options and by collecting late fees and interest from consumers. Interest rates on pay in installment purchases can range between 0% to 30%, depending on your credit history and the retailer. Installments can last for as little as a few weeks or as long as 39 months. You’ll likely need to be approved by the financing company before you can take advantage of an installment payment plan.

Pay in Installment Smart Shopping Tips

Don’t forget you are borrowing money. Even though many installment payment services come with only a few small payments and zero-percent interest, it’s critical you keep in mind you are still borrowing money to enjoy a product before you’ve paid for it in full. Ask yourself if paying the total price means spending more than you can actually afford, and make your decision accordingly.

Stick to your budget. Think about how bi-weekly or monthly payments could affect your budget — even if the payments seem small. Will they cut into the funds you’ve set aside for necessary expenses, such as your rent or groceries?

Read the fine print. Before you sign up to pay in installments, be sure you understand exactly how the service works. Find out what company is financing your purchase, how long you have to pay off the purchase and in how many installments, how they handle late payments, and how much interest you’ll be charged, if any.

Get to know the financing company. If you do decide to take advantage of an installment payment plan, look up the financing company on BBB.org to make sure they are a reputable company with honest business practices.

Know how your credit could be affected. Keep in mind that unpaid debts can be sent to collections agencies and after a delinquent period of 90 days can be reported to credit bureaus. This could have a negative impact on your credit score.

For more tips on how to be a savvy consumer, go to bbb.org. To report fraudulent activity or unscrupulous business practices, please call BBB at 903-581-5704 or use BBB ScamTracker.

About BBB: BBB is a nonprofit, business-supported organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. Most BBB services to consumers are free of charge. BBB provides objective advice, free BBB Business Profiles on more than 5.3 million companies, 11,000 charity reviews, dispute resolution services, alerts and educational information on topics affecting marketplace trust. Visit bbb.org for more information. There are over 100 local, independent BBBs across the United States, Canada and Mexico, including BBB Serving Central East Texas, which was founded in 1985 and serves 19 counties.

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