NEW YORK (MainStreet) Layaway has made a comeback over the past few years as another tactic for retailers to lure customers into stores.
The premise of layaway makes sense: lock in the price of an item now and make monthly or weekly payments up until the holidays.
Layaway ensures you won't rack up any credit card debt, since you're making payments before you get to take the item home. It buys you time to gather some cash together, while still making a dent in paying for the item along the way.
There are some downsides to layaway that could end up costing you if you're not careful.
1. Layaway comes with fees
Check to see if the retailer charges a fee to open a layaway account. For example, Walmart used to charge a $5 open fee (with a $5 gift card reimbursement after the layaway period ended), but decided to scrap this fee for this year's holiday shopping season.
While not a fee, also be prepared to make a 10% to 20% down payment on the cost of the item at the start of the layaway term, which usually runs up to end of the holiday shopping season.
Layaway gets expensive if you change your mind and decide you no longer want the item. In that case, cancelling the layaway program results in a $10 to $15 fee. Commit to layaway for gifts you know you'll be giving or for popular items that tend to go out of stock.
Plus, in the event that you miss a payment, you may be charged additional fees or your layaway account may be terminated. Failure to pick up the item by the end of the layaway term will also result in a cancellation fee, though the retailer should refund your prior payments.
The flexibility layaway offers could easily turn into another bill if you don't read the fine print of the agreement.
2. Layaway encourages you to buy more
To be part of layaway, each item must cost at least $10 to $15, and some stores require you meet a total layaway minimum upwards of $50, which prompts your spending to swell.
If you find yourself adding items to your layaway account that you don't exactly need just to meet the minimums, you're defeating the purpose of a program that's intended to make the holiday shopping season more affordable and manageable.
3. Price adjustments
With layaway, you're locking in a price at the time you start the program.
The prices of items are always fluctuating, and if the price drops, the store may not throw you a bone and honor the new price.
"You already agreed to that set price this is one of the risks with layaway," says Jeanette Pavini, a savings expert with Coupons.com. "Check the fine print to see if the retailer's price adjustment policy includes items on layaway."