Layaway or credit card?

Thursday, December 4th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

What do you know about layaway? It was a shopping staple of a bygone era, but has all but disappeared from most stores.

News on 6 consumer reporter Rick Wells found a place Thursday where layaway is alive and well, even encouraged.

Josh Everett: "I just use layaway at Christmas time. Every year I buy a big item and use layaway to get it out." This year it's a computer. The computer was on sale and he got to take advantage of the sale price, with only 10% down.

His friend Erin Hunter is a veteran layaway shopper; it's kind of a family tradition. "My mom always used it like when we went school shopping, she's always put stuff in layaway." Most of our parents and grand parents used layaway routinely, but it's a disappearing art form.

Most retail stores don't offer layaway anymore. Credit cards have made layaway obsolete for many shoppers. In the few stores that offer it, like Wal-Mart, layaway is encouraged and it's popular.

Wal-Mart store manager Wes Morris: "It gives us an opportunity to store that merchandise for them, make payment plans on it, then after 60 days it comes out." In the case of holiday merchandise it must be redeemed by December 15th, everything else gets 60 days. Every week they do a complete inventory of the layaways, to make sure of the item's status and location.

At a Tulsa area Wal-Mart, there were dozens and dozens of bicycles, computers, TV's, DVD players in layaway. Wal-Mart charges no service fee for using layaway, and there is no re-stocking fee if you cancel.

The advantage over credit cards, there is no interest or other charges, the disadvantage; you don't get it until it's paid for.

The Federal Trade Commission has some layaway tips. Ask about the terms, how long you will have to pay it off. See if there are extra fees for using layaway or for canceling. And know the refund policy for things bought on layaway. Many stores offer layaway plans but don't advertise it, you have to ask.