Tri Now, Pay Later: Should You Use a Payment Plan for Your Next Triathlon Purchase?

Lenders like Klarna, Affirm, and Afterpay are making it easier than ever to finance even the smallest of online purchases. Here’s why you should think twice.

Photo: Triathlete

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You’re shopping for a wetsuit at, and as you’re entering your credit card info, you notice a new option: You can pay the full price of $545 for your Maverick MX right now, or you can choose to make “4 interest-free payments of $136.25 with Afterpay.”

If you’re a frequent online shopper, you’ve likely seen the rising phenomenon of “buy-now, pay-later” (BNPL) services like Klarna, Affirm, and Afterpay. Once solely the realm of big-ticket items like cars or even bikes, these online programs are finding a smaller and smaller barrier to entry. You may have even considered using them for your next triathlon splurge.

Paying over time can make a big purchase sting a little less — but is that a good thing?

RELATED: Why Is Triathlon So Expensive?

How much are we spending on triathlon?

For most triathletes, financial investment grows alongside commitment to the sport. In your first season, you made do with secondhand, rented, or entry-level gear. But over time, you started spending more on equipment, coaching, marquee races, and travel.

For an experienced triathlete headed to USA Triathlon Age Group Nationals, one season may look something like this:

  • Triathlon bike: $4,000
  • Wetsuit: $545
  • Helmet: $200
  • Bike shoes: $200
  • Running shoes: $150
  • Bike maintenance: $300
  • Coaching: $400
  • Registration for three local sprint or Olympic-distance races: $450
  • Race entry for Age Group Nationals: $209
  • Race wheels rental: $195
  • Airfare, bike transport, and hotel for Nationals: $1,400
  • Grand Total: $8,049

According to 2022 data from the credit bureau Experian, the average American carries more than $100,000 in debt. Thanks to inflation and rising interest rates, Gen X Americans (ages 42-57) saw a 15% increase in average credit card balances from 2021 to 2022, while millennials (ages 26-41) saw a whopping 23.5% increase.

Justin Waller, CFP, owner of California-based Waller Financial Coaching and author of Foundations of Financial Independence for Triathletes, recommends no more than 10% of anyone’s net worth be tied up in things that go down in value. This includes your car, but also applies to triathlon gear such as bikes, race wheels, and wetsuits, as well as travel.

As your goals become more ambitious, it can be tempting to take on small amounts of debt to make upgrades before you can truly afford to do so. That’s when BNPL apps can become a risky proposition.

“We all want to use good equipment that we feel comfortable on and go fast,” Waller says. “I would just recommend that you use your own money to buy those things.”

RELATED: Save Money, Prioritize Your Tri Gear Purchases

How does “buy-now, pay later” actually work?

BNPL lenders partner with online retailers, acting as an intermediary between seller and shopper. Roka gets that $545 right away, while you make your four installment payments directly to Afterpay. Lenders make most of their profits from retailer transaction fees — so, each time a shopper on chooses to pay over time, Roka pays a percentage of the total purchase price to Afterpay. On the consumer side,  lenders offer a bi-weekly or monthly payment model.

Lender Payment Schedule Interest Rate Late-Payment Penalty
Affirm “Pay-in-4” every two weeks, or monthly installments None for pay-in-4 model; 0-36% for monthly installments No late fees; delinquent payments may be reported to Experian
Afterpay “Pay-in-4” with first payment at purchase, or monthly installments for 6 or 12 months None for pay-in-4 model; varies for monthly installments Late fees of up to 25% of purchase price
Apple Pay Later “Pay-in-4” with first payment at purchase, additional 3 payments over 6 weeks. None No late fees; payment history may be reported to credit bureaus
Klarna “Pay-in-4” every two weeks; monthly plan with flexible financing; or “Pay in 30 days” model None for pay-in-4 model; variable APR on monthly plans Up to $7 for late payments after 10 days (not to exceed 25% of installment payment amount); late payments may be reported to credit bureaus
PayPal “Pay-in-4” with first payment at purchase, or monthly installments for 6-24 months None for pay-in-4 model; 9.99-29.99% for monthly plan No late fees; payment history may be reported to credit bureaus

Waller cautions against using the buy-now, pay-later model unless you are 100% certain you’ll have the funds to make your payments on time. Like most loans, missing a payment has consequences — typically in the form of late fees or impacts to your credit score.

Lenders like Affirm and PayPal don’t charge late fees, but they do have the option to report delinquent payments to credit bureaus. And each BNPL loan you take out counts as a separate account on your Experian credit report, which can affect your average account age and bring down your score.

If your payment plan has interest, forget it — taking out a loan on a nice-to-have tri purchase, knowing it will cost you more in the long run, is just throwing your money away.

“The human brain is not designed to calculate percentages well, and often banks use this against consumers,” Waller says. While a 15% interest rate may seem trivial, “Think of it this way. You’re coming out of T1. You’re a 150-pound athlete. A 22-pound monkey jumps on your back and is going to go along for the ride throughout your triathlon. That’s the equivalent of a 15% financial burden being added on.”

It’s not just the late fees

Returns are also trickier. If you return or exchange that wetsuit before you’ve paid your four installments, it’s your responsibility to make sure the refund you receive, or the cost differential, is correctly applied to your Afterpay loan. Most merchants assist with this process, but it’s not a guarantee.

Finally, paying over time can make triathletes blind to the all-important feeling of sticker shock. Buying that Canyon Speedmax triathlon bike outright will cost you $8,000 — but paying just $278 per month for a year doesn’t seem so bad. Tread lightly: you just removed the “wow” factor, and you may be more likely to spend on other purchases throughout the year without realizing it.

The bottom line? Feel free to use the BNPL model if you understand the risks and have a secure source of income to make the payments — but take caution.

“As triathletes, discipline is an important part of what we’re doing,” Waller says. “We need to be responsible with our resources and make good decisions, financially as well as athletically.”

RELATED: Triathlon Doesn’t Have To Be Super Expensive

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