Walmart Adds New Payment Option to Self-Checkout, But Experts Urge Caution
BNPL programs can come back to haunt you in the form of debt and data harvesting.
Folks wanting to stock up on last-minute gifts or extra groceries for the holiday season will now have the chance to utilize Affirm's Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) option at most Walmart stores across the U.S. In a Dec. 19 press release, the payment network, which allows users to shop upfront and pay over time, announced that it had reached a new agreement with Walmart to add its BNPL method to self-checkout kiosks at more than 4,500 Walmart locations nationwide.
Essentially, this means shoppers will now be able to pay for their in-store or online Walmart purchases over a specific period of months, if they choose to pay with Affirm. The network doesn't charge late or hidden fees, but customers will accrue interest for paying over time, per Affirm's website. That amount will be determined and explained at checkout.
The release didn't specify whether Walmart customers will need to spend a certain amount in order to qualify for BNPL—Target has a $100 minimum for Affirm purchases—but it did note that shoppers will also be able to pay with Affirm in the Walmart app, as well as at Walmart Vision and Auto Centers.
"Recent Affirm research revealed that more than half of Americans (54%) are looking for retailers to offer a buy now, pay later option at checkout. Moreover, we've found that 76% of consumers would either delay or not make a purchase without Affirm," Pat Suh, Affirm's senior vice president of revenue, said in the release. "Expanding our partnership with Walmart and bringing Affirm's transparent monthly pay-over-time options to their self-checkout kiosks in the U.S. will help even more consumers increase their purchasing power during the holiday shopping season and beyond."
BNPL methods like Affirm, Afterpay, and Klarna can be a lifesaver when money is tight. At the same time, financial experts are urging people to tread carefully, as pay over time programs such as these can lead to an overwhelming amount of debt, overspending, and, in certain cases, data collecting.
Speaking with Scripps News, Steward Willis, co-founder and co-owner of Asset Preservation Tax and Retirement Services, explained that Gen Z and millennials are likely to suffer from these programs the most, because they may not yet have the aptitude for financial planning or disposable incomes.
"The people that need it most easily are the ones most susceptible to this kind of abuse as well. So we don't want you to get in over your head," Willis told the news outlet. "You want to have a real plan and at the end of the day it's always best to pay by cash."
The terms and conditions of BNPL programs vary by network. While some may offer interest-free loans, others can charge interest but allow late payments without penalty.
In 2021, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau put out a report that found that 10.5 percent of BNPL users were slammed with a late fee that year. Consumer protections were also inconsistent, and overextension was becoming more common as well.
"Because most Buy Now, Pay Later lenders do not currently furnish data to the major credit reporting companies, both Buy Now, Pay Later and other lenders are unaware of the borrower's current liabilities when making a decision to originate new loans," the report explained.
Best Life reached out to Walmart for more information on the BNPL option at self-checkout, and whether customers should be cautious about using it given concerns from financial experts. We will update this story with their response. In the meantime, you can follow these experts' advice by always reading the fine print, and having a plan in place to pay off the total in full as soon as possible.
Best Life offers the most up-to-date financial information from top experts and the latest news and research, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the money you're spending, saving, or investing, always consult your financial advisor directly.