Buyer beware: Interest-free offers can come back to bite you

Buy now, pay later offers on big purchases sound great. You can often get on-the-spot approval for a loan you might not have to pay off for years.

But Consumer Reports says beware. Miss a bill deadline by just one day or carry a balance past the no-interest promotion period, and you could get slammed with mountains of interest.

The terms of deferred-interest cards are hard to understand. The disclosures on those cards are really not enough to help consumers understand what they are actually buying.

Best Buy, Home Depot, Walmart, and other retailers promote deferred-interest loans. You will also find solicitations for deferred-interest credit cards designed for health care expenses in doctors' dentists' and veterinarians' offices, settings where people struggling to pay for care could be most vulnerable.

Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, says deferred-interest cards, though legal, are dangerous financial products and often carry high interest rates.

Consumers Union has asked the new federal watchdog, the Consumer Financial Protection Board, to look into deferred-interest credit cards.