Buy now, pay later.
I have to admit, the first time I came across Afterpay at a clothing store counter, my Gen X hackles were raised to high alert.
The few times in my life I have tangled with credit, the plastic quickly flipped me into a chokehold.
Instant gratification is a fine thing, I decided early on, but spiralling debt is not. And twice – once in my twenties and again in my thirties – I cut the offending card in two.
Now that I’m older still, my electricity bill costs almost as much as my first car did, and my attitude towards debt has relaxed a little.
But not to the point where I see a new line of credit spring up, obviously aimed at cash-strapped millennials, and I don’t feel outraged on their behalf.
Until, that is, I looked into it.
Afterpay, I’ve since decided, may not be so bad after all – providing you play strictly by the rules.
If you’re already juggling debt between two or more cards, then forget about it. You need to get your finances under control.
But if you are a tidy spender who’s been caught short at the till, then Afterpay has a few features to recommend it.
No. 1: You get to take your purchase home straight away. Just like using a credit card, that thing is yours straight up.
No. 2: You can sign up online or you can sign up in-store. No dramas there.
No. 3: The purchase cost is broken into four even repayments, each spaced two weeks apart. The money is taken from your bank account or credit card and you pay it off over eight weeks.
No. 4: You can pay it off sooner by logging into your Afterpay account and paying manually. That’s up to you.
No. 5: You won’t pay any interest to Afterpay. However, if your repayments come from a credit card, you may pay interest on those. Normal credit card rules apply there.
So, how does Afterpay make money, I hear you ask. From the retailer, mostly. The big guns – including Myer, Big W, Jetstar and a whole host of clothing chains – pay a percentage of the sale to Afterpay. They figure it’s a sale they wouldn’t make otherwise, as you clearly have no disposable money.
And that leads us to the downside:
No. 1: Late fees. If the money isn’t there to make a repayment, you’ll be charged $10. And if it still isn’t there a week later, you’ll be charged another $7. Just a few slugs like that make your purchase seem less of a bargain.
No. 2: Debt recovery. The consumer magazine Choice reports that Afterpay reserves the right to sell off its debt to a third party, which is a nice thing to call a debt collection agency. Trust me when I say it won’t be nice or a party when debt collectors start hassling you for their money.
No. 3: Life going to hell in a handbasket. I said it before, but it bears repeating: if you’re playing with a full deck of plastic cards, don’t do Afterpay. You need a financial plan, not a dress.
Ultimately, though, the words that won me over to Afterpay’s side was this quote its managing director Nick Molnar gave to The Sydney Morning Herald: “If a customer has overdue payments, our system will not allow them to make another purchase.”
For as long as that’s the company’s policy, the danger of overspending would appear limited.
And that’s a credit to them.