Wal-Mart sweetens layaway deal
More retailers are embracing layaway, but it's not always the best deal for shoppers. Here are the potential pitfalls.
This post comes from Kali Geldis at partner site Credit.com.
Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, recently announced plans to extend its holiday layaway program by a month this year, in addition to tripling its service fee from $5 to $15. The catch to the Wal-Mart plan is that consumers can get that $15 back in the form of a store gift card -- a new, more consumer-friendly perk that eliminates the cost without cutting the convenience.
While that can be a good deal for consumers who are going to follow through on their layaway purchases, there are still some considerations that prospective shoppers should keep in mind before signing up for a layaway program with their retailer of choice.
"Layaway is like that practical Christmas gift," says Gerri Detweiler, director of education for Credit.com. "It's not horrible, but it's not fabulous either."
Retailers are increasingly getting in on the layaway game, according to a spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation. Last year, they were even pushing layaway plans with major ad campaigns. (Post continues below.)
Here's how a typical holiday layaway plan works: First, you choose the item or items that you want to buy for the season. Then you make a down payment that's normally about 10% to 20% of the total price of the product, plus a service fee. That service fee can vary, but is typically about $5 to $15.
Next, you start making payments on the product on a weekly basis until the product is paid off. Here's where it can get tricky. Miss a payment, and the layaway is considered canceled by the retailer and you can get back the money you've paid for that product, but you will normally forfeit the service fee and have to pay a cancellation fee also.
Certain states like Ohio and Rhode Island have passed legislation limiting whether or not the retailer can keep the service fee, so make sure you read the fine print on any layaway contract before you sign up to fully understand what happens if you can't pay or just decide you don't want the item.
The other downside to layaway plans is something that many consumers don't think about, Detweiler says.
"By putting stuff on layaway you may pay more -- either because you stop shopping the sales for that item, or because you pay a fee if you don't end up buying it," she says.
Prices on holiday items can vary significantly depending on where and when you shop. Hooking yourself into a layaway program for a TV that costs $450, for example, means that you might miss out on the last-minute sale for that TV that cuts $50 off the purchase price. You sacrifice the flexibility for the convenience of a payment plan, but that may be a deal you're willing to make.
Detweiler says layaway can be helpful for some consumers in that you can use it to space out a payment plan on regular intervals in the runup to Christmas.
"It can help you stay out of debt. You can take down the holiday decorations knowing you won't be faced with a new debt you have to try to pay off," she says.
Is layaway preferable to paying the interest on a credit card? Let's crunch the numbers on that $450 TV as an example. If you were to sign up for the Sears layaway plan for that $450 TV on an eight-week contract, you would pay a $5 service fee and a $91 down payment to start off. Then, you would pay $91 every two weeks for the next eight weeks, totaling $455. So, the APR on that plan would be 15%, pretty competitive with current credit card APRs.
All consumers should note, however, that layaway plans are not traditionally reported to credit bureaus, so this won't help you rebuild your credit score and report. To check where you currently stand, you can pull a free copy of your credit reports once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com or you can check Credit.com's free Credit Report Card to see where you stand.
More on Credit.com and MSN Money:
If you're looking to use layaway what are the chances that you have an option to wait until the price comes down? Take the $450 tv for example. If the price for the TV comes down to $400 lets say on Black Friday ( about a month before Christmas) are you more likely to have $400 at this time than $450 today. Also your Layaway payments would be higher if you wanted the TV for Christmas.(Assuming Layaway is available less than 8 weeks before Christmas)
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