Klarna is at the forefront of "buy-now-pay-later" and is the current market leader in the UK. It offers point-of-sale credit to consumers, allowing them to spread the cost of purchases. For most of its services, the short-term debt is interest free and won't feature on your credit file. It also has a longer-term Klarna Financing option, which is more akin to a standard credit card and allows buyers to pay in instalments over 6-36 months, although interest is payable (representative APR 18.9% variable) and it necessitates a full credit check.
Klarna stands out from its competitors due to its slick marketing, easy-to-use app and market share - if you shop online, it is very likely you will have encountered it as an option at checkout for many of the retailers you use. It positions itself as a 'safe' option and claims that using its services won't damage your credit rating and that you won't be charged fees, even if you are late making payments. However, as we will discuss later in this review, users do still need to exercise caution when using any buy-now-pay-later provider, Klarna included.
How does Klarna work?
Klarna works in partnership with more than 5,000 merchants in the UK to provide customers with the option to pay for goods or services in instalments rather than upfront. It offers this service for free to the end-consumer and makes its money from the retailers by charging a percentage of every sale made using its service.
As Klarna has grown, it has increased the number of options available to customers. These include:
Klarna Pay in 3
Best for: Those wanting to budget for slightly more expensive purchases that they can't afford to pay for upfront
Payment schedule: The total cost is split into three equal instalments, the first taken at the point-of-purchase and the following two payments taken after 30 days and 60 days
Application process: At the checkout, customers provide their name, address and credit or debit card details. Klarna performs a soft search on the customer's credit file and gives an instant decision on whether they have been accepted for the service and what their maximum credit limit is
When is money taken? The first payment is taken when the retailer confirms the product has been shipped. The following two instalments are taken automatically using the card details provided at checkout after 30 calendar days and then, finally, at 60 calendar days. A reminder is sent a few days before each payment is taken
Klarna Pay in 30 days
Best for: Those who may want to buy several items to try, with the option of only paying for what you end of keeping, without tying up funds in the meantime
Payment schedule: You will be liable to pay for any items that haven't been returned after 30 days. You do not have to pay anything upfront and you can make payments at any time during the 30 day period.
Application process: You do not need to provide your credit or debit card details at checkout to make the purchase, but you will need to give your name and address to facilitate the soft credit check. Again, you will be told whether you have been accepted almost instantly. It is then your responsibility to make payment direct to Klarna within 30 days
When is money taken? The payment window opens from the point that the order is shipped
Best for: Making larger, more expensive purchases that require a longer period to pay off
Payment schedule: In much the same way as with other lines of credit, you have the option at the point of purchase to choose the terms of the financing, with a payment term of between 6-36 months. You will be informed at this stage how much interest will be payable on the loan
Application process: As this is a longer-term credit product, customers have to complete a full application form and a hard credit check will be performed, which will feature on their credit report. Customers will be informed if they have been accepted within a few minutes and they won't have to undergo the same application process again for subsequent purchases
When is money taken? Customers can set up automatic monthly payments or make manual payments at any point during the payment period
What happens if I miss a payment on Klarna?
Unlike its main competitors Clearbuy, Laybuy and Paypal - who charge between £6-£12 for every late payment - Klarna doesn't charge a late fee. It also promises it won't pass on details of missed or late payments to credit reference agencies, so, in theory, they shouldn't feature on your credit report. However, if you persistently don't pay over a period of time, in spite of repeated communication from Klarna, the debt is likely to be passed on to a debt collection agency and this certainly will then feature on your credit file.
Another impact of not making your payments on time is the possibility of being banned from using Klarna's services in the future. Indeed, your line of credit is directly affected by the way you use Klarna, with your credit limit increasing gradually as you build up a borrowing history with the company.
How easy is it to use Klarna?
In terms of the application process, Klarna is designed to be simple and straightforward, with minimal steps to take you from the checkout to setting up a payment plan. Some may argue that the process is a little too efficient, with buyers able to enter into what is, in practice, a short-term credit arrangement without giving enough thought to whether it is right for them. Klarna attempts to address this with a "KlarnaSense" section on its website and app, which is geared towards assessing the "psychology of shopping" and helping you work out your "shopping personality". This is an attempt by Klarna to encourage users to avoid making impulse purchases and properly consider if they can afford the purchases they are making. It also flags that it is a credit product during the application process.
Klarna also has an app, which allows users to manage their accounts from their mobiles, keeping track of payments, notifying Klarna of returns and refunds and reporting any problems. It is also designed to give personalised suggestions for brands and retailers that might be of interest, as well as offering exclusive discounts and offers.
Is Klarna safe?
Putting aside the issue of taking on unnecessary additional debt, Klarna is safe in the way it takes payments and stores customers' details. It has built its reputation on posing no risk to customers in terms of levying hidden fees or damaging credit reports and, indeed, can increase safety by allowing customers to just sign up to a Klarna account rather than having to provide their details to numerous online retailers.
However, a key criticism of Klarna - and other buy-now-pay-later providers - is the fact that, by using it as a third party to make purchases, customers forego their consumer rights under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. This means that, even if they use their credit card to make payment for an item or service over £100, they are not protected by law if it is faulty, not as described, not delivered or if the retailer goes bust. While Klarna has its own Buyers' Protection Policy, which is pretty comprehensive, it is still a company policy rather than being enshrined in law. For more information, read our article "Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act explained - your rights and how to claim"
Should I use Klarna?
On the one hand, Klarna is a low-risk, interest-free and fee-free way of accessing short-term credit, with a number of options to suit different situations. It is particularly useful if you are buying clothes or shoes in a few different sizes to try on at home as it allows you to do this but only pay for the items you keep. This is great for people who don't want a large chunk of money tied up while they wait for a refund to be issued.
On the other hand, debt charities have been critical of the buy-now-pay-later culture and the fact people are falling into debt as a result of a number of small, impulse purchases. Buy-now-pay-later encourages people to accrue debt that they might not be able to service in the future, even if it is just a month or two further down the line, particularly if their financial situation changes.
When compared with other buy-now-pay-later providers, it is easy to see why Klarna has captured the market, with its sleek app and promise of no late fees. It is important for consumers to keep in mind though that, however accessible it is, this type of debt is not free money and requires careful consideration.
To find out about buy-now-pay-later, read our article "Everything you need to know about buy-now-pay-later"
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