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Wonga offers instant loan option on retailer websites

image captionWonga has been criticised for sponsoring football clubs and websites

Online loans company Wonga has begun offering "buy now, pay later" services directly on retailers' websites.

Until now, loans from Wonga, which have been highly criticised due to an annual interest rate of 4,214%, have been available only through its own site.

The company has partnered with furniture firm Cotswold Company to launch its Paylater service.

A spokesman for Wonga said it intended to roll out the service to other retailers soon.

"Essentially, Paylater is providing an alternative to credit cards," he said.

"It takes the cost of your purchase, you pay an upfront fee of 7%, then there are three payments over subsequent months that cover the outstanding costs."

It means for an item that costs £100, a buyer will pay an initial fee of £7, followed by three monthly payments of £33.33.

'Legal loan shark'

The interest rates on Paylater are considerably lower than on its core business - short-term "pay-day" loans.

This side of Wonga's business has been highly criticised, with one MP calling the company a "legal loan shark".

Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow, also led a campaign to have the firm's advertisements taken off the websites of teams in the Football League.

In May, Wonga was criticised by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) for using aggressive and misleading debt collection methods.

Speaking on Wonga's latest offering, debt advice charity StepChange told the BBC: "As with any form of credit, StepChange debt charity would urge people to carefully consider whether they absolutely need to use it.

"Crucially, consumers should familiarise themselves with exactly how much they may have to pay back in charges, interest and fees, and whether they can afford to make those repayments."

US expansion

Wonga's move will see it come into direct competition with the likes of Visa, Mastercard and other credit card companies that have taken their services online.

The planned expansion comes ahead of speculation that Wonga has its sights set on breaking into the US market as soon as possible.

A report in the Times newspaper earlier this month suggested Wonga had made a swoop to buy On Deck Capital, a US specialist online retailer.

But a Wonga spokesman dismissed the report as "rumours and speculation".

In 2011, Wonga chief executive Errol Damelin signalled his intent to expand the loan service worldwide.

"We built a platform that is definitely extendable and over time we will definitely be expanding the reach of the business to bring the service to customers around the world," he said during an interview with financial news service Bloomberg.

"The US has very particular regulatory constraints which make it an awkward market at the moment. We continue to look at the space and we will try and find a way to be able to bring the service to US consumers whenever we can."

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