For those who aren't old enough to remember, layaway is the way lots of people shopped back before credit card debt was fashionable — or shall I say, tolerable.
With layaway, instead of bringing all of your purchases home and the cost of them being on your credit card bill for many years to come, you leave your selections at the store and make a down payment at the time of purchase. Then you make regular payments to the store, with no interest added. Once you've paid in full, you get your purchases out of layaway. The benefit is that you can shop early at your leisure, make multiple smaller payments and pick up items once they are paid in full.
Years ago, layaway programs were designed for people who could not get credit cards. As plastic became more available to the masses, layaway became unnecessary, and many programs disappeared.
Since the economy has been going through an upheaval, causing so many to flee from using credit, smart retailers like Sears have dusted off their layaway programs in hopes of attracting customers like us who would enjoy that debt-free convenience. Plus, it helps the retailers shore up their bottom line.
TOYS R US. This retailer not only offers layaway for the hottest toys and game consoles of the season but it also holds items for you so curious children can't find them in your closets. A minimum deposit of 10 percent of the total cost of your purchase and a $5 service fee are due when items are put into layaway. Upfront fees are waived during a promotional free layaway period. All payments can be made at any register or online 24 hours a day. Make your final payment in the store, and take your items home right away. Or, if you make your final payment online, you will be notified of the earliest time you can pick up your items.
WAL-MART. There's no setup fee, but there's a payment of $10 or 10 percent down (whichever's greater) and a $10 cancellation fee. Individual items must be $10 or greater, and your total purchase must be at least $50. Layaway is available for electronics, toys, infant toys, infant furniture, small appliances, large furniture, auto electronics, select sporting goods and jewelry. You can't layaway wireless phones that require contracts. But you can use coupons on layaway items.
SEARS. For an eight-week layaway contract, pay zero dollars down in store, 1 cent online, a $5 service fee and a $15 fee if you cancel. For a 12-week layaway, pay zero dollars down in store, a $10 service fee and a $25 fee if you cancel. The only items available for layaway online will be marked as such on the individual product page.
KMART. For an eight-week layaway contract, expect to pay a $10 down payment, $5 setup fee and a $10 cancellation fee. For a 12-week layaway contract, you'll have to pay $10 down, a $10 setup fee and a $20 cancellation fee. No down payment is required when you start a new contract between 9/15 and 11/26, and only one penny is required down for online layaway.
BURLINGTON COAT FACTORY. This retailer offers 60-day layaway for clothing and household goods, and 90 days for Baby Depot items like baby furniture and strollers. Buyers must stick to a payment schedule, deposit at least 20 percent and pay a $5 service fee. There is a $10 cancellation fee if the layaway purchase is canceled and not completed.
TJ MAXX AND MASHALLS. These retailers only offer layaway at certain locations, and there are quite a few rules and restrictions. Where it's available, you must make a 10 percent down payment on brand-name and designer items. Jewelry and clearance items cannot go on layaway. The payment term is 30 days. Because the program is only offered at certain locations, it's best to call ahead and inquire.
Mary invites questions, comments and tips at [email protected], or c/o Everyday Cheapskate, 12340 Seal Beach Blvd., Suite B-416, Seal Beach, CA 90740. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of www.DebtProofLiving.com, a personal finance member website and the author of "Debt-Proof Living," released in 2014. To find out more about Mary and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.