- New versions of layaway. Credit cards offering payment plans.
- There are more ways than ever to buy things you might not be able to afford.
- Here's what you need to know.
There are more ways than ever to buy things you shouldn't.
The offers are hard to refuse.
That $140 plaid tunic from Anthropology could be yours for "4 interest-free installments of $35." Your living room could have that $1,029 cranberry leather sofa for just $257.25 – and three more such payments down the road.
These companies charge interest rates ranging from zero to 30%. Regardless, you wind up with another line item on your budget.
Credit card companies have also stepped into the so-called point-of-sale financing space.
For example, you could split a $422.30 payment for, say, a new laptop over 12 installments of $38.73.
By the end of the year, you could pay around $42 more than the item originally cost. That would be an effective interest rate of around 10%.
"Each customer will get somewhat different terms, but the general pitch is that the Plan It fees will be lower than the card's typical APR," said Ted Rossman, industry analyst at CreditCards.com. Indeed, average credit card interest rates stand at 17%.
Even if the rates look good next to typical credit cards, experts warn that you can still get yourself in a pickle.
"They make it easy — sometimes far too easy — to make purchases you ordinarily couldn't afford," said Sara Rathner, a credit cards expert at NerdWallet.
Rathner recommends people first calculate how much they'll wind up paying for an item using one of these options, including fees or interest.
"There may be less expensive ways to pay for something," she said. For example, some credit cards come with introductory offers where you pay no interest.
Keep in mind, she said, it might take some work to save yourself money: "The most convenient option may not be the best option for you."
If paying for an item over time allows you to afford the cost of medical bills or other necessary expenses, then doing so might make sense, Rathner said. "But that doesn't mean you should finance everything this way," she said.
Instead, she said, considering saving up "the old-fashioned way."
One way to avoid an impulse buy is to give yourself a little time, said Daniel Crosby, chief behavioral officer at Brinker Capital.
"Anything you can do to slow down that emotion will help," Crosby said. "Walk away for a day and see if you still need it as much.
"Imagine as vividly as possible the amount of work you will have to do over time to pay for it."