Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Buffalo News : Tips for making the most of layaway season

Monday, October 21, 2013
The Buffalo News

Tips for making the most of layaway season
More stores are offering plans for shoppers to set aside items and pay for them a little at a time. But watch out for fees and other fine print that can turn a budgeting convenience into a bad deal.

BY: Samantha Maziarz Christmann

Before there were store credit cards, there was store layaway.

Since the Great Depression, shoppers have used layaway to set items aside at a store and pay for them a little at a time until the purchase is paid in full. Once everything is paid for, the consumer brings their purchases home, debt free and without paying a cent in interest.

Amanda Huttenmaier of Buffalo uses layaway every year when shopping for her three children’s Christmas presents.   Layaway helps her secure hot toys early and keeps the gifts out of the house, where her curious 8-year-old twins can’t find them.  “I usually don’t have $250 to $350 up front to buy gifts,” Huttenmaier said. “It’s easier for me to pay $20 to $40 a week.”

Many frugal shoppers prefer layaway to interest-charging credit cards, which can tempt them into buying more than they can afford, lead them into debt and wreak havoc on a credit score.  Most stores phased out layaway as more profitable credit cards became more popular. But after the Great Recession hit, some stores brought it back.

The difference now is that some retailers offer the service only at Christmas, charge a service fee and don’t keep your physical purchases on hand in the store.  And in some cases, stores offering layaway have transferred the risks associated with paying installments from the retailer to the consumer.

While there are no interest fees or credit checks, there are usually exclusions, cancellation fees and service charges. Sometimes, stores won’t adjust prices if a layaway item goes on sale, or won’t apply promotions to items on layaway. That’s why it’s important to read the fine print before deciding which layaway plan – if any – is right for you.  We’ve rounded up some layaway plans available locally and included the finer details of each.

Service fee: None
Downpayment: $10 or 10 percent, whichever is greater.
Cancellation fee: $10
Ends: Dec. 13
Requires a $50 minimum purchase. Individual items must cost at least $15 each. Only certain toys, electronics, sporting goods, small appliances and jewelry are eligible. If the price of an item drops at Walmart, the store will adjust the price of the item in your order. If you find a better price for any of your layaway items at another store, bring the ad to the service desk and Walmart will match the price for exact items.
Layaway is not available on Black Friday. Some items may not be held in the store, but will be made available within 10 days after your account is paid and no later than Dec. 13.

Service fee: $5
Downpayment: $20 or 20 percent, whichever is greater.
Cancellation fee: $15
Available in eight-week and 12-week payment plans with payments due every two weeks. If an item goes on sale within 14 days of putting it on layaway, you’re allowed one price adjustment. Home electronics, appliances, computers, gift cards, doorbusters, early-open specials, clearance and some other items are not eligible for layaway.

Service fee: None during the rest of the holiday period ($5 to $10 the rest of the year).
Downpayment: $15 or 10 percent for the eight-week plan; $30 or 10 percent for 12-week plan.
Cancellation fee: $10
Available online and in stores. Only certain electronics, toys and gifts are eligible. Payments are due every two weeks. If an item goes on sale within seven days of putting it on layaway, a price adjustment can be made unless it’s a seasonal or clearance item.
Merchandise is returned to shelves seven days after a missed payment. Online orders must be picked up five days after the order is paid in full.

Toys R Us and Babies R Us
Service fee: None during the free holiday period, $5 the rest of the year.
Downpayment: 10 percent of the total order.
Cancellation fee: $10
Ends: Dec. 15
Layaway orders can’t be changed once they’re made. If you want to take something off, you’ll have to cancel the whole order. Only certain toys, electronics and baby gear are eligible.
Payments must be made every 15 days. If you miss a payment (or fail to pick up your purchases 15 days after your final payment), your order will be canceled.

Marshalls and T.J. Maxx
Service fee: $5
Downpayment: $10 or 10 percent, whichever is greater.
Cancellation fee: $5
Orders must be paid for and picked up within 30 days. Jewelry, food, furniture and marked-down items are not eligible.
Layaway is only available at the T.J. Maxx location at 7210 Niagara Falls Boulevard in Niagara Falls and the Marshalls location at 2152 Delaware Ave. in Buffalo.

Burlington Coat Factory
Service fee: $5 (refunded in the form of a gift card once the account is paid in full).
Downpayment: 20 percent.
Cancellation fee: $10
Final payment is due by Dec. 24 to receive refunded service fee. Unlike many stores, Burlington does not exclude clothing, coats or bedding from layaway.

Service fee: From 1.9 percent to 3.9 percent based on the transaction total.
Downpayment: Varies by merchant.
Cancellation fee: $25 or 10 percent, whichever is less.
Available year round, with up to 13 months to pay. Orders must be paid by Dec. 2 to be shipped in time for Christmas.
eLayaway allows you to pay for online purchases in installments through the Web site or its participating merchants.
Payments are made on a flexible schedule of your choosing, but many items for sale on eLayaway.com or through its participating merchants can be found cheaper in other stores or elsewhere online.
Payments are automatically deducted from your bank account and a $5 insufficient funds fee will be charged for unsuccessful payments. Terms vary from merchant to merchant. Items are shipped soon after the final payment is made.

Niagara Hobby & Craft Mart
3366 Union Road, Cheektowaga
Service fee: None.
Downpayment: 10 percent.
Cancellation fee: $10.
Available year round with a 90-day pay period. Payment schedules are flexible. Every item in the store is eligible for layaway. All items in a layaway order are kept in storage at the store.

Vidler’s 5 & 10
676-694 Main St., East Aurora
Service fee: None.
Downpayment: 10 percent is preferred to hold an item for 60 days. No downpayment necessary to hold items for 7 days.
Cancellation fee: None
Available year round. Vidler’s has been offering layaway since the 1930s, when it was commonplace. All layaway items are kept in storage in the store. Payments are flexible.