Over the last few years, many Americans have opted for buy now, pay later (BNPL) services, such as Affirm and Apple Pay Later, as an affordable way to finance their purchases. They have grown particularly popular among lower-income grocery shoppers and those looking for payment tools to combat inflation and economic uncertainty. However, recent reports call into question whether buy now, pay later services are a riskier option than credit card financing. For example, some buy now, pay later programs have high late fees and long-term loan options with high-interest rates – making BNPLs, in some cases, more expensive than credit card financing. 

Given their mixed reviews, where do BNPL services stand among consumers today? A close look at CivicScience tracking data shows that buy now, pay later adoption fluctuated throughout the year, but has ultimately grown from this time last year. As of July 26, 2023, a third of U.S. adults report using BNPL services – up three percentage points from July 2022. BNPL intent has remained relatively stable over the past year, standing at 12% today. This means that 45% of U.S. adults are either current or potential buy now, pay later users (rebased among those familiar with BNPL).

Despite increased adoption, the ease of buying can add up fast. CivicScience data show that BNPL users are more likely to say they’ve accumulated credit card debt. As of July, 54% of users report they have credit card debt – compared to 35% of intenders and 38% of non-users. One potential reason for this is that some BNPLs have the potential for debt accumulation, such as Klarna, which offers short-term loan installments to be paid with a credit card; whereas, other BNPLs only permit debit cards or bank transfers (such as Apple Pay Later, which states they do so in order to help users avoid credit debt accumulation). 

That said, usage and credit card debt may imply a correlation, not causation. For instance, additional CivicScience data show that people who typically use these services are also more likely to use credit cards daily and much more likely to believe they don’t use their credit cards wisely than those who don’t currently use BNPLs – ultimately making them more susceptible to credit card debt.

Relying on payment plan services for lower-priced items could also be contributing to the debt levels of users. CivicScience data show that over one-quarter of U.S. adults (27%) are very or somewhat interested in using payment programs for lower-priced purchases. This figure has jumped over the last two years, when 20% reported the same in 2021. It’s worth noting, though, that the majority of respondents are not interested in paying for low-priced goods over time.

With a large percentage of U.S. adults, either current or potential users, the BNPL market has a lot of growth potential. CivicScience data show that these users exemplify certain spending habits when it comes to credit card usage, which ultimately shapes the BNPL user base today. 

5 Additional Buy Now, Pay Later Insights

In addition to their spending habits, the InsightStore uncovers unique insights about BNPL users, across various categories: 

  • Buy now, pay later services are popular among those planning a wedding. Nearly three-quarters of U.S. adults planning to have a wedding in 2023 have used BNPL services (73%). While those planning to have a wedding in 2024 or later are the biggest BNPL intenders. 
  • Over 6-in-10 Bitcoin investors report using buy now, pay later services (61%), which triples the percentage of non-investors who use BNPL. 
  • Sixty percent of Apple Pay Later users are very interested in using payment programs to pay for lower-priced items over time. 
  • Streamers could be interested in using buy now, pay later services for their subscriptions – roughly half of Netflix users and Amazon Prime Video users are either BNPL users or intenders.
  • Thirty-eight percent of grocery delivery users and 52% of grocery delivery intenders express interest in using payment plans for low-priced items.

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