A few days ago, I was reminded of why I do everything that I can to avoid being on a payment plan. One of my dreams in life has been to have the perfect smile, but I had to put it off for years because I was always too broke to get braces, or due to job restrictions (my duty station didn’t allow anyone on active duty to get them). Last year, I finally had freedom and money saved up to get braces. Although I had enough to pay the full cost of the orthodontic treatment, the office assistant mentioned that I could put a certain amount as a “down payment” and then make monthly payments with no interest. Small monthly payments with no interest? Hmmm. Doesn’t sound like a bad deal, huh? I decided to do as the office assistant suggested, and paid a lump sum, and had been paying $90 a month for the past year.
My most recent payment was due the week before Thanksgiving, and payments have to be made in person at the office. I was extremely busy with classes and preparing for my trip to Houston, so it totally slipped my mind to go by the office and make my payment. When I returned from my trip, I was scheduled for an appointment, but called to reschedule because my nose had turned into a non-stop faucet. Moments later, the orthodontist’s office called back to ask if I had made my payment for the month. I said I hadn’t, and told them I could have my husband come by to make the payment.
My husband called me later on to tell me that there was going to be a $25 late fee on top of my regular payment. Anyone who knows me knows how much fees irk my spirit, and I immediately face-palmed myself for my slip-up. Then I thought: “None of this would have happened if I had just paid for my braces in full!”
This isn’t the first time that I got lured into the seductive arms of a payment plan, even when I had the money to pay in full. I bought my first bedroom set from a local furniture store a few years ago, and was ready to make my purchase. The salesperson gave me the same “make a down payment now, and interest-free payments for the next several months” speech, and I had the same thoughts that there would be no harm in making interest-free payments. Every month I went into the store to make my payments, until one day I just felt silly about it all. If I had the money, why waste time and gas to go to the store once a month? I went in one month and told the sales clerk that I would be paying the remainder of the balance on my account. She gave me a strange look, but of course she wasn’t going to refuse money, so I swiped my card and walked out with a proud smile and “PAID-IN-FULL” receipt in my hand.
I find it interesting (and sometimes frustrating) that even when you set out to have a new mindset, almost everyone around you can make you feel like a freak of nature for not following what’s considered normal. America is fixated with the “buy now, pay later” mentality, to the point that it’s considered weird if you choose to (gasp!) save your money and pay for something all at once. As you can see from my experience, even the no-interest payment options come with consequences if you’re late just once. In most cases, I think payment plans create a false sense of security and perpetuate a culture of being comfortable with debt. The next time I have the money to make a purchase in full, I’ll have to read my own post before I fall for the payment plan trap.