It’s not easy being a consumer. In fact, it can be downright confusing because of all the payment choices.
First, you have your cash, your checkbook, credit, and debit cards. And then you have deferred billing, easy payments, skip-a-payment, nothing down, no payments, and the semi-popular deferred double-digit interest rates. And on top of all of that, the fine print. See what I mean? Confusion, pure and simple.
Prehistoric consumers had it easy. Only one choice: chickens. They traded poultry for things they needed. The rules were simple: No fowl? No food, fuel, fun or futons!
Then along came the invention of currency. That gave consumers a second choice—one that caught on quickly since folding a chicken to fit neatly into ones wallet is messy.
A third option was born the day some unknown retailer came up with a creative payment plan, surely named in memory of the good ole’ chicken days: Layaway.
There was a time and not so long ago that every major retail store in the country allowed customers to buy merchandise on layaway. The item was placed in a backroom and customers could take all the time they needed to pay it off. Interest-free. And when they made the last payment, they took the item home.
Layaway was more simple than credit-card purchasing. There was a start and a finish. Customers got delayed gratification together with a sense of responsibility and anticipation. They could even change their minds, cancel the whole thing with no penalties. With layaway, there were no surprises.
The layaway pay-as-you-go method for Christmas shopping was particularly effective because it produced none of the fiscal shock that comes with post-holiday credit-card bills.
Sadly, layaway programs quietly slipped away in 1980s. Jumping on the consumer credit bandwagon, retailers convinced consumers it was better to take everything home right away, avoid those annoying progress payments and then commence to make interest and principal payments for the next 15 or 20 years. Retailers did such a good job of convincing, layaway plans all but disappeared.
You’ll be happy to know that a good number of of your favorite chain stores have reintroduced layaway:
The Kmart Layaway program is for any item marked “Layaway Eligible.” This includes N-store, online and mobile purchases. Payments must be made every two weeks and the balance cleared within 8 to 12 weeks, depending on the total amount. Required deposit of $10 plus a service fee of $5 or $10, depending on the duration of your layaway
The Sears Layaway program promises that you can “pay your way with layaway.” Good for in-store or purchases made online with the app. Limited to an 8-week contract under $400, or 12-weeks for purchases of $400 or more. Must make makes payments every 2 weeks.
The Walmart Holiday Layaway Program is available in stores only during the Holiday Season, which begins in late August and runs through early December.
Visit the customer service desk at any Burlington or Burlington Baby Depot store to learn more about its Layaway program. Generally, the layaway terms are 60-days with a 20% deposit. Nonrefundable $5 service charge.
Marshalls stores that offer layaway will hold items for up to 30 days with a minimum payment of $10 or 10%, whichever is greater, plus a $5 nonrefundable fee. See individual stores for details.
Offers a layaway program at most locations. To find a location that offers layaway, use the TJ Maxx store locator and if the store has a blue hanger icon, then that store offers layaway. TJ Maxx requires a 10% down payment and a nonrefundable $5 service fee to get started. You will have up to 30 days to make payments.
Offers in-store layaway only and policies vary by location. So make sure you check with at the customer service desk before to learn your HomeGoods store policy and specific guidelines.
The GameStop layaway program is available in-store and only during the Holidays on certain game systems. Requires a $25 deposit and there is no service fee. No scheduled payments required, weekly or bi-weekly payments are encouraged. Check with your local store for any other rules or requirements.
While cash upfront is always be the best choice in your columnist’s humble opinion, making payments on layaway is better than making payments on a credit card account because:
- The store keeps the items until they are paid in full.
- There are no interest charges because there is no debt incurred, although some stores charge a small layaway service fee and/or restocking fee if you cancel.
- Typically the customer is protected if the item goes on sale during the layaway period and the price is reduced accordingly.
- There is no legal obligation. If you change your mind, you get a refund.
Clearly, layaway and early holiday shopping were made for each other. Getting started ahead of time means you’ll be less likely to fall into the trap of weary, last-minute shopping when everything is expensive and you are prone to buy frivolous gifts just to have something—anything—to check a name off your list.
To avoid misunderstandings, get specific information about a store’s layaway terms before you participate. Ask for a written description of the store’s plan and read it before you agree to a layaway purchase.
No matter how you choose to do your Holiday shopping this year, make sure you start early. And pay as you go with cash or layaway, which remains just slightly more convenient than paying with chickens.
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