What Christians should know about buy now, pay later programs

August 3, 2022

Apple has recently announced that it will include “apple pay later” in Apple Pay when it releases ios 16 this fall. “Apple pay later” is part of a growing trend among companies to offer buy now, pay later payment options. Analysts estimate that at least $100 billion in transactions annually are paid with buy now, pay later, and this amount is predicted to dramatically increase within a few years, with some analysts predicting that this amount could reach between $1 trillion and $4 trillion within a few years. Because buy now, pay later is such a widespread phenomenon, it is important for Christians to be aware of its effects on low-income individuals. 

What is buy now, pay later? 

Buy now, pay later allows consumers to purchase products and pay for them in installments over time. Consumers often pay for items in four installments over several months, rather than paying for items all at once. Buy now, pay later is, essentially, a short-term loan that allows people to purchase items they may not be able to afford if they had to pay for them all at the time of purchase. Buy now, pay later does not cost more than traditional payment methods if consumers make their payments on time. These “loans” can be used to purchase necessities, household items, and technology, among other items. 

However, while credit card companies check credit scores prior to issuing loans, buy now, pay later does not. Thus, these programs are particularly attractive to people who have a low credit score or who do not have a bank account, which are more common among low-income individuals. Studies show that a large percentage of users are young people, who may not have a full understanding of debt and who tend to have lower incomes. 

Why are buy now, pay later programs predatory toward the poor?

Buy now, pay later programs encourage people to spend more money than they otherwise would. A 2020 survey by Cardify.ai, a data firm that tracks consumer spending, found that nearly half of buy now, pay later shoppers increased their spending by 10% to over 40% when they used buy now, pay later instead of a credit card. Another survey of 6,500 adults found that around half of people who use buy now, pay later worry it will lead them to overspend, and 57% of people who have used the program have regretted purchasing an item because it was too expensive. This is particularly troubling in light of the fact that a disproportionate number of low-income individuals use this method of payment. 

While buy now, pay later does not cost more than traditional payment methods up front, it often charges high interest rates and steep fees for people who are late on payments. Unlike credit cards, buy now, pay later is not heavily regulated by the government. Consequently, it is not required to clearly state late fee policies and is not prohibited from issuing interest rates above a certain amount. These exorbitant fees and high interest rates can trap low-income individuals in a cycle of debt. 

Evidence also suggests that people are likely to be late on buy now, pay later payments. A study by CR Research, a market research agency, found that over half of buy now, pay later consumers have fallen behind on a payment. Additionally, a 2020 study by Cornerstone Advisors found that two thirds of consumers who were late for a payment lost track of payments and paid late, despite having the needed money. This high rate of late payments is due in part to the complexity of the service and difficulty of keeping track of required payments. It also points to the reality that many low-income individuals may be forced to take on more debt to make these payments and that these programs are targeted toward young people who disproportionately overdraft. 

Consequently, buy now, pay later is predatory toward the poor because it disproportionately attracts low-income individuals, often involves very steep late fees that are not clearly advertised, and can make keeping track of payments difficult. It can trap low-income individuals in cycles of debt. 

Can buy now, pay later programs be helpful?

If people make careful and informed decisions about when to use buy now, pay later, it could serve as a helpful budgeting tool for those with limited resources. People may be able to purchase items that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. And if buy now, pay later programs reduced their interest rates for late fees and more clearly advertised their late policies, they could be beneficial to low-income individuals. Regulations to ensure that these criteria are met would reduce the risks associated with these programs.

Why should Christians care about this issue? 

Christians should care about the rise in popularity of buy now, pay later programs because Scripture is clear that we are called to seek justice and care for the poor. “And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). High interest rates on these loans are unjust and harmful to the poor, so supporting reasonable regulations on their excesses is a way to promote justice in our society. Additionally, Christians are called to love our neighbors. Opposing predatory lending practices is one way that Christians can live out this call to love. 

Scripture strongly condemns usurious and exploitative lending practices. Recognizing the dignity of every person extends to business and financial relationships as well as interpersonal ones. As the Southern Baptist Convention affirms, “God is opposed to those who take advantage of the weak, poor, and vulnerable” and “predatory lending fails to respect the dignity of the person created in the image of God and interferes with human flourishing.” For this reason, Southern Baptists are opposed to predatory lending practices that target financially unstable persons. Any lending practice that intentionally uses and exposes vulnerable individuals is unacceptable and should be strictly regulated by government protections. By being aware of the pitfalls of buy now, pay later, Christians can support policies that are beneficial to their neighbors and more effectively advocate for the poor. 

The ERLC is committed to strongly opposing exploitative lending practices and is working to support regulations and legislation that would stop these practices that are harmful to our neighbors.


Rebecca Fried

Rebecca Fried serves as an intern in the ERLC's Washington, D.C., office. She is a rising senior at the University of Notre Dame majoring in Theology and Philosophy. At school, she attends Redeemer Church in South Bend, Indiana. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24