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Have you ever wondered how retailers can possibly afford to offer the no-interest, no-payments, no money down kind of deals you see advertised? That was the subject of a question I received recently.

Woman with hand to her chin wondering about no-interest no-payments retail offers

Dear Mary: There are several appliances, electronics, and furniture stores in our area that run television commercials offering nothing down, no-interest, no-payments until 2022. It sounds like I can just walk in and take what I want and not pay for three years! How do these companies really make money? Kate

Dear Kate: First, these offers are on approved credit and come with a lot of other fine print.  You need pristine credit to qualify for those attractive terms.

Good luck qualifying

One retailer told me only about 25% of the people who apply for these amazing no-interest no-payments offers,  designed only to get buyers through the door, can actually qualify. The other 75% are offered some other deal with horrible terms. People often accept these terms because, by the time they fill out the paperwork, they’re so emotionally involved and have their hearts set on that “free” absolutely awesome deal, they’re anxious to sign anything.

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Just recently American’s consumer debt—that’s everything except mortgages—hit $3.789 trillion.

So what’s a trillion? It’s a million million; a thousand billion or 1,000,000,000,000. A billion is a thousand million. Or 1,000,000,000.

young woman with a shocked expression examining a document with a magnifying glass

A billion seconds ago it was 1986 and Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev opened talks at a summit in Reykjavik, Iceland. A billion minutes ago it was the year 117 A.D. A billion hours ago our ancestors were living in the Stone Age.

But a billion dollars ago in consumer debt was something like just two weeks ago!

Learning how to manage your debt starts with understanding what’s in the fine print.

The principle of fine print. Never trust the flashy print, the cool logos or the enticing promises. There’s always a catch in the fine print. Remember this: What the big print giveth, the fine print taketh away!

Changing the rules. When you signed by your signature you gave the company the right to change the terms at any time. They can raise rates, shorten grace periods and basically change the rules and terms to their advantage whenever they feel like it. But they must tell you in writing.

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