Special Segment: The Layaway Option

November 28, 2011 4:52:50 AM PST
One way to make sure gifts are ready to wrap by Christmas is the layaway option, which means paying a bit as you go.

"We do it every year," said layaway customer Cherie Ashley. "It just helps a lot that we can we pay little by little so we have everything we need for Christmas. So it really works out,"

At the Addison Street Kmart in Chicago, shelves are lined with layaway items waiting for pickup.

"For the past two months it's been extremely busy for us in layaway," said Olu Balogun with Kmart. "They can actually get want they want, pay conveniently in a certain amount of time."

Experts with the National Endowment for Financial Education say layaway is a good option for shoppers without credit cards or savings. They recommend making a shopping list that's realistic to pay off and understanding the pay-off schedule, including a down payment, how often and how much are the payments.

Layaway was a concept that has regained popularity since the recession. Best Buy now offers layaway at selected stores for items over $250, and Walmart restarted its layaway plan for this holiday season only on toys and electronics.

The Better Business Bureau urges shoppers to understand the fees associated with layaway including service fees, storage fees, fees to cancel plan and penalties for missing a payment.

"There's some stores that you can lose the item all together. There's a huge penalty fee, a $50 fee, that may be more than the item itself," said Steve Bernas, Better Business Bureau.

The layaway option is even making on leap onto the internet. There is e-layaway that works in the same way, but ultimately, the responsibility is on the shopper to determine if layaway is the best way for you. Some shoppers like Kim Mueller use layaway as a kind of holiday wish list. Mueller puts the thing she wants for Christmas on layaway and her aunt pays for them.

"I love it. And I know I'll forget what I got so it doesn't matter to me," Mueller said.

If you're considering layaway for yourself or others, experts suggest finding out the merchant's policy on returns. Find out if you can return the item, and if so, if you can get a full refund or store credit. Also, if your layaway item goes on sale, see if the merchant will adjust the item's price. Good questions as shopper can expect even deeper discounts as we wade deeper into the holiday season.

For more information, check out these websites: