Personal loan balances hit a record high in the fourth quarter of 2018, with Americans having over $138 billion in outstanding debt, according to TransUnion. This was up 20% from Q3.
What’s driving these record-breaking numbers? It’s companies like Affirm, Afterpay, and PayPal Credit, which offer online, fixed interest (and in some cases, zero interest) loans that are granted in about the time it takes to make a piece of toast. Known as “FinTech” loans, these short-term loans (usually no more than 12 months) are simple, quick, and an alternative to credit cards.
And plenty of people have discovered them, and are thrilled with the results. According to a CivicScience study, 15% percent of U.S. adults have tried and liked them, with another 4% planning to give them a whirl. Only 6% of respondents tried them and didn’t like them. To be clear, the study shows nearly 1 in 4 Americans have tried them.
Despite the record-breaking personal loan numbers, there is still plenty of growth for these loans, as 24% of those polled have no idea they even exist.
So who’s using these loans? The growth is led by Generation X, with 27% of that cohort saying they’ve tried them (Millennials are at 23%, and Boomers at 14%).
Not all debt is created equal, of course. Credit card debt will continue to accrue until it’s paid off, while these online programs often have set time limits.
Those with credit card debt are more likely to have tried these loan options than those without credit card debt. Fifteen percent of those polled with credit card debt have tried and liked loans from Afterpay, Affirm, PayPal Credit and the like, while only 4% did not like the experience. But of those without credit card debt, people who aren’t used to making the monthly nut? Nine percent tried and liked it, but 4% did not like the experience.
Confidence in the economy as a whole seems to have a slight correlation with Americans’ thoughts on (and adoption of) these loans. CivicScience tracks if consumers think the economy is poised to get better, get worse, or stay the same over the next six months. Seventeen percent of people who thought the economy was on the rise have tried these loans, and a close 18% of those who thought we were headed for a downturn have also tried the loans. People who thought the country would tread water (‘stay the same’) economically? They came in a touch higher, at 19%, and are more likely overall to be satisfied.
Clearly, these types of loans are on the rise. The TransUnion report shows no signs of abatement, these loans are easy to acquire (literally just a few clicks away), and there’s still a large segment of Americans who haven’t even heard of these loans yet in each age bucket.
They don’t come without some risk, however. Missed payments can trigger late fees, returned items can prove to be a headache when trying to cancel the loan, and some fine print can jack up interest rates. But with the 25-44 age group leading the way in adoption, these loans – especially of the zero interest variety – are only going to get more popular.