Afterpay is a buy now, pay later lender (similar to Klarna or Affirm) that divides your total purchase amount into four twice-a-month payments. If a retailer uses Afterpay, you can leave the store with your item (or order it online) after putting down 25% of the total price.
Afterpay started out in Australia in 2014 and came over to the U.S. in 2018. The company grew over the years, buying up other buy now, pay later services—including one in Spain for $82 million. (Hmm. I wonder if they paid for that in four installments.) And in 2021, Square bought Afterpay for $29 billion.
Here’s a red flag I see when I’m looking at their website: Afterpay really pushes the agenda of instant gratification—which doesn’t last! And Afterpay says they want to help you find “financial wellness” . . . in purchases . . . in buying stuff you can’t afford right now. But that is not where true financial wellness is found. Ever.
Okay, let’s keep digging.
How Does Afterpay Work?
Here’s how Afterpay works:
- A customer downloads the app.
- They set up the digital Afterpay Card and connect it to their Apple Wallet or Google Wallet.
- They shop online or in a store (or on Afterpay’s app).
- The customer sees something they want—but can’t afford right now.
- They tap to make the first payment (25% of the cost).
- Then they pay another payment every two weeks for six weeks, until the item is paid off.
- The customer will lather, rinse, repeat with as many purchases as they want, racking up as many of those payment plans as they want (as long as they keep making payments).
- The customer can use the app to manage all these payments (which Afterpay says is “staying in control” of your money—when it’s really letting retail therapy control your money).
- If the customer misses a payment, it’s fee time—and they can’t make another purchase. (More details on that coming in a second.)
- The customer can fall deeper into the lie that buying everything they want when they want it (even though they can’t afford it) is the key to happiness.
Okay, you can tell how I’m feeling about this “service.” But let’s keep going.
How Does Afterpay Make Money?
Since Afterpay doesn’t charge crazy amounts of interest on your purchases like a credit card would, how do they make money? Great question.
Retail Partnerships: For one, Afterpay makes money through their retail partnerships. Currently, they work with tens of thousands of brands and have “helped” 19 million customers use their service to “get everything you need now.”1,2
These companies give Afterpay a portion of every sale. And they get a lot of sales from Afterpay. A lot. (More on that in the section “Is Afterpay Safe?”)
Late Fees: If you’re late on one of those payments, Afterpay charges an additional $10 on top of what you owe. One week later, that’s followed up with another $7 fee and continues every week until one of two things happens: the balance is paid or the fees total either $68 or 25% of the loan’s value (whichever is less, depending on the loan amount). If your purchase is less than $40, your late fee will be a max of $10.3
I know what you’re saying. “But I’ll make all my payments on time.” Everyone thinks that at first, but our research shows that three in four who used a buy now, pay later plan missed a payment! And that fee might seem small at first, but anything extra you’re paying on something, especially so you can “have it right now,” is too much.
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Also, huge fees or not, Afterpay is in the debt business. Debt is owing money to anyone for any reason. Buy now, pay later companies fit that definition. And you can’t get ahead with your money when you’re always paying for the past.
Does Afterpay Check Credit?
When you sign the “Terms of Service Agreement” for Afterpay, you agree to allow them to perform at least a soft credit check, meaning they can peek in on your credit report. And any time you use the “Pay Monthly” option while checking out, Afterpay will run a credit check.4
Okay, but does Afterpay affect your credit? First, you need to know I’m not a fan of the credit score. It’s a made-up number that shows how you juggle debt—not how responsible you are with money. But if you’ve got debt, you’ve got a credit score, and I want you to know how Afterpay relates to that.
Purchases with this company won’t affect your number—but hear this: If you don’t make payments, Afterpay can turn you into debt collections. Yep. It’s one of the reasons a retailer likes having this middle man in place: “Afterpay takes on the risk of payment default while conducting the debt collection process, if necessary.”5 If you’re in debt collections, it will totally show up on your credit report and can send your credit score into a nose dive.
And yes, if you aren’t making a payment you said you would make, that’s no good. But this is all “no good.” Think about it: Afterpay might claim they weren’t technically the bad guy in this debt collections situation. But they sold you to the bad guy, washed their hands, and moved on.
Is Afterpay Safe?
This depends on how you define “safe.” Do you mean are they going to take your Apple Wallet, Google Wallet or bank info and deposit loads of your money into an offshore account as their CEOs sip Mai Tais and laugh at your loss? Not likely.
Now, any time you’re putting your personal and financial info into an app or on the internet, there’s some sort of risk. But it doesn’t look like that particular threat is worse with Afterpay specifically.
When it comes to gaining true financial security, though, Afterpay isn’t the way to go. If you’re a shopper at heart like I am, or you ever impulse buy—having Afterpay at your fingertips isn’t safe for your money goals, your budget or your contentment. You. Will. Overspend.
They literally claim on their website (when encouraging retailers to partner with them), that “shoppers who use Afterpay spend +40% more than those who do not” and “shoppers who use Afterpay shop +50% more frequently than those who do not.”6
You guys, Afterpay knows you will spend more money and shop more often when you use their services. They might limit their fees, and they might block you from taking on more purchases when you miss a payment—but they won’t stop you from shopping again and again and again, as long as you keep up with the payment juggle.
You’re better than a payment juggler. You have a future to think about! Don’t let any company tell you instant gratification is the key to financial wellness or freedom. That’s a lie.
The Best Alternative to Afterpay
Listen, you know this by now: I enjoy spending money. I can out-shop just about anyone.
But I don’t need Afterpay to do it, and guess what—neither do you! You can break the cost of anything into four parts on your own: Put that money away in the budget yourself with zero risk of late fees and absolutely no debt involved. Then pay cash! Don’t Afterpay for it. Actually pay for it. Patience is important in all areas of life. Have patience with your money too!
I don’t want you stuck juggling payments. I don’t want you believing the lie that you can’t wait for what you want. I want you to know the real freedom that comes when you own instead of owe. I want you to feel real contentment! It starts by taking control of your money with a budget. And it ends with you feeling a true sense of security and empowerment with your money.
You can do this!
It Starts With the Budget
Ready to actually pay? To own instead of owe? Download our free budgeting app, EveryDollar, and truly take control of your money!Download EveryDollar