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Are Buy Now, Pay Later Apps Better Than a Credit Card?

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You might think BNPL saves you money and time, but it can cost you big if you’re not careful.

If you’ve noticed a lot more “buy now, pay later” apps popping up when you check out with online retailers, it’s because they’ve become increasingly popular.

This comes as no surprise when you consider how younger generations are hesitant to use credit cards. According to a new study on buy now, pay later (BNPL) apps done by The Ascent, 67% of millennials don’t have a credit card. For some, that’s because they can’t get approved, and others prefer to avoid credit. Many don’t think it makes sense to use a credit card for small, everyday purchases and are worried about the impact of credit cards on their credit scores.

Which one is better: BNPL apps or credit cards? The answer, as you might expect, is: It depends.

Better for ease of approval: Buy now, pay later

One of the main draws of BNPL apps is that they typically don’t require credit approval, and most don’t even involve a hard pull on your credit report.

This is good news for folks with bad credit or no credit at all, and it’s helpful for anyone who wants to keep credit inquiries to a minimum. Having multiple new inquiries on your credit report in a short period of time — and credit card applications are considered an inquiry — can cause your credit score to drop.

Shopping with an online retailer and paying with a BNPL app at checkout is certainly convenient. It means you don’t have to fill out a lengthy application and wait to see if you’re approved. However, just because it’s easy doesn’t mean it’s a wise choice.

Better for improving your credit score: Credit cards

Using a credit card regularly and paying it off in full and on time each month is one of the best ways to build credit. Of course, credit cards don’t inherently improve your credit — responsible credit card usage does. Late payments and delinquent accounts can completely wreck your credit score. And, as discussed above, the credit card application itself can ding your score slightly.

Many BNPL apps, on the other hand, don’t report on-time payments to the credit bureaus. This means you won’t get credit for them — pun intended. On the other hand, any failure to make your payments can be reported to the credit bureaus and damage your score.

Credit cards have the potential to either help or hurt your credit depending on how you use them. In contrast, a lot of BNPL apps only have the potential to drag down your score if you fail to pay off your balance.

Better for avoiding interest: It depends

Every BNPL option has its own set of terms and conditions, so it’s important to read the fine print before making a decision. Some come with an interest-free period, while others charge interest rates of up to 30%. You typically won’t be charged any fees to use a BNPL service if you take advantage of an interest-free promotion and pay off your full balance within the interest-free period and on time. That said, most of these services do charge late fees and returned payment fees if you don’t have sufficient funds in your bank account to make one of your scheduled payments.

The decision between a BNPL app and a credit card comes down to interest, so you should know the interest rate on your credit card. You can find that information on your monthly statement. If the BNPL app you’re considering charges interest, compare the rate to what your credit card would charge. In either case, you’ll likely pay a premium to put the purchase on credit, as the interest rates on credit cards and BNPL apps are extremely high.

Often, BNPL apps will offer an interest-free period, which is what can make them so enticing. A typical interest-free offer will break up the total cost of your purchase into four installments, asking you to pay 25% of the purchase price up-front and then make the remaining three payments every two weeks.

If you do this, you’ll have six weeks to pay off the purchase and won’t have to pay any interest. This makes it a slightly better deal than a credit card, which typically has a grace period of 21 days, or three weeks, before interest is assessed on a purchase.

However, if you miss a single payment or fail to pay off the full purchase by the end of the interest-free period, even if you only have a few dollars left to pay off, you could be in for a rude awakening. BNPL interest rates are typically far higher than those charged by credit cards. Some even charge what’s called “deferred interest,” meaning interest accumulates on the original purchase price, not the remaining balance. What’s more, some of these services charge late fees as a percentage of the original purchase value, which can be very costly.

In other words, BNPL services can save you money on interest, but they can also cost you a lot more if you’re not careful. They also give you a very short period of time to pay off your purchase interest-free, especially when compared to 0% intro APR credit cards with 18-month introductory periods.

Better for big purchases: Credit cards

Most BNPL apps are meant for smaller items — think a few hundred dollars — rather than major purchases. If you’re looking to finance something in the thousands of dollars range, you might have trouble finding a BNPL app that will help you out. Credit cards tend to come with higher credit limits, especially if you have good credit and a decent income.

That being said, financing an expensive purchase on a credit card is typically not a good idea either, due to the high interest rates. The only time you should consider putting a big-ticket item on credit is when you can take advantage of a good 0% intro APR credit card. Even then you need to be certain you can pay off the balance before the introductory period ends. Otherwise, you’ll end up getting slammed with massive interest fees.

Saving enough money to pay up-front is almost always the best way to pay

In most cases, the best way to pay for a purchase is to save up the money first and buy it outright. This ensures you’ll avoid interest fees, debt, and potential credit damage.

This isn’t always possible, but it is a best practice you should exercise for any non-essential purchases. Instead of swiping your credit card or using a BNPL app, open a free savings account specifically for that goal and transfer money into it once each week. Wait until you have enough money saved to buy the item you’ve had your eye on.

It won’t get you instant gratification, but it also won’t cause you to stress about making your payments or land you in debt. And that is priceless.

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Is There a Difference Between No Credit and Bad Credit?

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The short answer is yes, and understanding the difference could be instrumental in getting better credit.

No credit and bad credit often get grouped together. It’s understandable why, as they both sound similar enough. And if you have either, the next step forward is to focus on improving your credit.

The two situations aren’t the same, though. It’s important to know the difference, because the right way to build your credit often depends on whether you have no credit history or bad credit.

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The difference between no credit and bad credit

Having no credit means that there’s not enough information on your credit file to calculate a credit score for you. It’s also known as being credit invisible. Sadly, this is an issue that affects millions of Americans.

There aren’t any problems on your credit file; the credit bureaus just don’t have enough data on you. That means when a lender or any other third party checks your credit, there’s nothing to go on.

Meanwhile, “bad credit” is a common term used to describe a low credit score. That low score is because of negative items on your credit file, such as not paying your credit card bill.

When you have no credit, the solution is to build your credit. When you have a low credit score, the solution is to rebuild your credit. Now, let’s look at how you can do each one.

How to build credit for the first time

Here’s the simplest way to build credit:

  • Open a credit card.
  • Use the credit card for at least one purchase per month.
  • Always pay your credit card bill on time and in full.

It’s that easy; that’s all you need to do to get a good credit score. When you use a credit card and pay the bill on time, you establish a positive payment history. That’s the biggest credit scoring criteria.

The tricky part when you have no credit is finding a credit card you can qualify for. Secured credit cards are one of the most common options for consumers in this situation. You pay a security deposit for this type of card, so it’s possible to open a secured card even if you have no credit.

If you’re in college, credit cards for students are available. These are often an option for applicants without any credit history.

How to rebuild a low credit score

It’s a little more complicated to rebuild your credit. First, you need to find out what negative items are affecting your credit score. Here’s how to start:

  • Use an online credit score tool to check your score and learn about any items damaging your credit. If you have a credit card, there may be a credit score tool in your online account. If not, there are plenty of free ways to get your credit score.
  • Request your credit report from the three consumer credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). You can pull a free annual credit report from each bureau, and through April 2022, you can get free weekly credit reports. Your credit report will show you exactly what’s affecting your credit.

Once you know what’s affecting your credit, you can work on correcting it. Below are a few of the most common issues and how to fix them.

Problems with your payment history

This includes anything related to not paying a bill on time, from late payments to having accounts go to collections.

The first step is catching up on your payments. If you can’t pay in full, contact your creditors and see if you can set up a payment plan with them. They may be willing to work with you if that means you’ll be making regular payments.

Next is rebuilding your payment history. The easiest option is to use a credit card at least once per month and pay in full by the due date. Why do you need to use a credit card? Credit card companies report on-time payments to the credit bureaus, which helps your credit score. With other types of bills, your on-time payments typically don’t get reported to the credit bureaus. That means you may not be able to improve your payment history with rent, utilities, or other monthly bills.

If you already have credit cards, you can continue using them to rebuild your payment history. If you don’t, look for secured credit cards and apply for one you like.

Using too much of your credit

A big factor in your credit score is your credit utilization ratio — your credit card balances divided by your credit limits. If this number gets too high, it can lower your credit score. The standard recommendation is a credit utilization ratio of under 30%.

Let’s say you have one credit card with a $4,000 balance and a $5,000 credit limit. That would put your credit utilization at 80% ($4,000 divided by $5,000 is 80%), a very high number that would decrease your credit score.

Fortunately, only your current credit utilization matters. Once you pay down your credit card balance, your credit score will bounce back.

Errors on your credit history

A low credit score may be due to an error and not any action on your part. This is why it’s so important to pull your credit reports from each credit bureau. By reviewing those, you can see if there are any mistakes.

If there are errors on your credit report, you can go to the credit bureau’s website to dispute them online and get them removed.

A low credit score and a nonexistent credit score are both things you can change. After you determine exactly what the issue is, you’ll be able to choose the best solution to fix it.

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‘There is no new normal’: Worcester small business owner pivoted during COVID-19 and expects only more change after pandemic

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It took about eight minutes for the bank to reject Natalie Rodriguez’s application for a loan through the Small Business Administration.

Rodriguez opened Nuestra, a Puerto Rican inspired restaurant in Worcester, in January of 2020. When COVID-19 arrived months later she discovered Nuestra wasn’t eligible for the federal or state funding that thousands of other establishments received.

To qualify, restaurants were required to show payroll and salary for years before 2020. Those figures didn’t exist for a restaurant that weren’t open in 2019.

“[I was] determined and knew that ‘no’ is not an OK answer,” Rodriguez said. “A door may close but you may need to kick down another door.”

Rodriguez then applied for conventional loans only to be led to more closed doors. Less than 10 minutes after applying for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan, she received notice that her poor credit score resulted in her application being denied.

Rodriguez used the dead end with the SBA to create a new path for herself and Nuestra.

She not only learned how to improve her credit but wanted to ensure others didn’t have to follow her journey as an entrepreneur.

Rodriguez extended the “Nuestra” brand to include financial advising. She started Nuestra Financial in April of 2020.

“Now I’m helping others. I’ve been able to restore my credit,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve been able to help others restore their credit and be able to help them make a business themselves if they so choose. I’ve been able to survive.”

Without grants and other funding, Rodriguez managed to keep her restaurant open through funds generated from Nuestra Financial.

“I was very quiet about it in the beginning. I didn’t want people to be like, ‘Oh look at this girl, she just opened a restaurant in the middle of a pandemic,’ and talk smack,” Rodriguez said. “About a month or two later, a light bulb hit and I was like, nobody pays my bills but me. I needed to mind my own business and not worry about what other people thought.”

In creating Nuestra Financial, Rodriguez said she’s helped Worcester residents restore their credit and purchase new vehicles and homes.

Rodriguez said financial literacy is rarely taught to children in school and wasn’t something she learned. When a situation arises like a rejection notice for an economic disaster loan, many don’t know how to respond or where to find answers.

Rodriguez said she’s helped young and old people, along with those who have bad credit or no credit.

“We lack the confidence, including myself, because we weren’t taught,” Rodriguez said. “So if you don’t know something, you weren’t taught, you’re not going to be confident about it.”

Coming out of the pandemic, Rodriguez remains confident about both her businesses. Nuestra, the restaurant, while closed for daily service continues to provide catering services. Rodriguez is still preparing what the future holds for the restaurant but plans to announce an update soon.

As masks start to become less a part of daily routines, Rodriguez, as a small business owner, doesn’t envision many differences from this year to last.

So many aspects of life remain uncertain from rising food costs to a potential third booster for vaccines and whether the country will ever reach herd immunity for COVID-19.

The pandemic arrived with Rodriguez immediately pivoting. As it approaches its potential end, Rodriguez will continue to do what helped her to navigate it.

“I feel like there is no new normal just yet,” Rodriguez said. “I think we’re all just trying to adjust and pivot at the same time and getting creative. I think it’s where we all are.”

Related Content:

Owner of Worcester’s Nuestra restaurant, closing due to COVID impact, has something she’d like to say to Gov. Baker

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Columbus Mattress Wholesale moves to newer, larger Gahanna store

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More than four years back, Cathryn Clark’s boyfriend, Christopher Robbins, was on the hunt for a new mattress. He just couldn’t find one at an affordable  price. 

Clark, 29, and Robbins, 34, who are now engaged, were living in Franklinton, where they still live today.

They had no experience owning or operating a small business; Robbins worked as a retail assistant for SAS Retail Services while Clark worked as the communications director for two Methodist churches. 

But in 2017, Robbins, with Clark at his side, took the leap and opened Columbus Mattress Wholesale on the West Side, with the goal of  helping low-income consumers secure mattresses and other bedtime products.  

“We really wanted to bring a store to people that, you know, they weren’t paying an arm and leg, but they still could get a good night’s sleep,” Clark said.

Customers at Columbus Mattress Wholesale can pay cash or credit, for example, but the business also works with financing companies that serve people without credit scores, with bad credit or who are lower income. 

Last month, the business made a big move. It expanded from its original location on Harrisburg Pike to a store double the size at 435 Agler Road in Gahanna.

Clark said she and Robbins saw a need in the broader area, with many of their customers coming from outside the Hilltop, such as Linden.

Nestled between Dollar Tree and the Ohio BMV in Gahanna, the new storefront opened Memorial Day weekend and sells mattresses, bed bases, bed frames and pillows. Mattress prices range from under $100 to more than $1,000, depending on the size and brand, which includes some well-known names such as Serta, Beautyrest and Casper.

Clark said while she and Robbins originally sold solely Ohio-based brands, they’ve branched out to national brands as business has grown.

Columbus Mattress Wholesale also offers free same-day delivery on most orders from customers living in Columbus. 

Clark does a little bit of everything for the business, from running communications, to working on the sales floor, to managing the sales team, to ordering what they sell. 

She said a big mission for herself and Robbins, beyond doing business, is aiding the community.

“We’ve seen a lot of people struggle,” Clark said.

Clark said she and Robbins work to mentor other people who are hoping to open or currently own a small business. She added that the store starts employees at $17 per hour.

She and Robbins haven’t decided yet what they will do with the original location — which is currently closed — but said they might shift it into an accessory store.

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@SarahEDon

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