“Buy now, pay later” has long been the approach to commerce in America. The shift to a more ubiquitous digital shopping experience has driven demand for payment programs – like Affirm, Afterpay, and PayPal Credit – which make it easier to break up the cost of our wants and needs into installments.

Despite the draw of convenience and instant gratification when shopping online, the online-based payment plan industry hasn’t experienced much growth since CivicScience last studied it in November 2019.

There are many companies in this space and, rebased among people who are aware of the services, PayPal Credit is by far the one that users say they have had the most positive experiences with. It’s also the one most heavily used, with Affirm and Afterpay being the second and third most popular.

It’s notable that outside of PayPal Credit, negative experiences outweigh positive ones.

With any new product – no matter how novel the idea may be – there are bound to be hiccups. As the numbers above show, hiccups seem to be the norm for many payment programs.

Digging deeper into those numbers, a few trends pop out – but not necessarily where expected.

For instance, while Gen Z and the 35-54 age cohort like these services the most, it’s not slam-dunk material.

A similar story appears when it comes to income: While households making more money report greater satisfaction with online payment programs, it’s not by crazy amounts.

The differences, in fact, start creeping into the psychological realm. People who say they have difficulty controlling their spending report much higher satisfaction with online installment plans than people who have a more frugal mindset.

Also, people who say their social media contacts influence their spending “a lot” report much higher satisfaction than those who say “not at all” when it comes to installment plans.

Further evidence comes from people who say they live without regret as they are over 17% more likely to have enjoyed using payment programs than people who are constantly reviewing their past decisions. This, perhaps above all else, might be the key.

One area of potential growth for these companies is still in everyday, low-priced goods and items. Nearly a quarter of Americans are interested in using payment plans for less expensive purchases, yet these numbers haven’t moved much since the beginning of the year.

In fact, there are some clear demographic winners and losers when looking at the idea of slowly paying off low-cost items. The 25-54 age group is significantly more interested in payment plans for less expensive items than their younger and older brethren.

An equally strong correlation is found in household income statistics, with households making under $50,000 being 50% more likely than households making $100,000+ to be interested in payment plans for low-cost goods.

Overall, taking the entire industry into account – and looking at data since the start of 2020 – 73% of people who have used the online payment plans say they like them, with 27% saying they didn’t.


For a myriad of reasons, installment plans are definitely attractive to consumers. Clearly, these companies have plenty of room to grow, and knowing which type of people would be most interested in making their purchases this way can – and will – go a long way toward getting the masses on board.