Just over a quarter of customers used credit cards to pay for their purchases. Buy now, pay later (BNPL) service users also borrowed from family and friends, used money from their bank overdraft, and took out loans and payday loans – a type of short-term loan that usually incurs high interest – to meet repayments, the charity said.
“Buyers are piling on more borrowing and hoarding themselves into increasingly desperate situations that can seem impossible to escape,” Clare Moriarty, managing director of Citizens Advice, said in a press release.
Young users were most likely to take on more debt. The charity found that 51% of 18-34 year olds had borrowed money to pay for BNPL purchases, compared to 39% of 35-54 year olds and 24% of people aged over 55.
The charity surveyed 2,288 people in March who had used BNPL’s services in the past year.
While BNPL companies say they offer a safer and more accessible alternative to credit cards, many consumer advocates say the services can encourage people to spend more than they can afford. Many BNPL companies do not perform external credit checks on customers or communicate with each other to ensure that a user is not racking up debt across multiple platforms.
UK financial regulators have already started asking some BNPL companies to make their payment terms fairer and easier for customers to understand, despite there being no laws to enforce their demands – something the government is seeking to change.
Millie Harris, debt counselor at Citizens Advice, said in the press release that most of the BNPL users she advises “live on overdrafts and credit cards”.
“It’s heartbreaking to see parents who can’t afford to buy clothes or shoes for their children, turn to buying now, paying later, thinking it’s doing them a favour.” she declared. “Really, it’s just more debt and more creditors, on top of what they’re already dealing with.”