The Investigators

Nov 30, 2011 11:59 PM

Layaway plans are back, watch for pitfalls

TUCSON - Something old is new again for your holiday shopping this year. After an almost 20 year stay away, layaway plans are back.

The plan sounds simple enough; stores hold an item for you while you make payments and when you pay it off it's yours.

Layaway is a flexible alternative for shoppers who can't or won't tap credit cards. But be sure to know the store's policies going in to avoid holiday heartache.

Tana Kelch runs Bohemia Artisan Emporium in midtown. She's offered a layaway option ever since opening her store nine years ago. "Some people, just really focused on their budget," says Kelch.

Bohemia offers customers a simple layaway contract, with simple terms that spell-out payments. There are no service fees if you chose this plan.

For shoppers like Leticia Davis layaway means they can get an item they otherwise might not be able to afford.

"I can actually find a piece I want, put some money down on it," says Leticia, "continue to pay on it and actually get the piece and take it home, rather than wishing I could buy it."

Nick LaFleur of the Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona said customers should get the store's layaway policy in writing.

Look for service fees, restocking fees and cancelation policies.

Make sure the store has the item you want or can deliver it when you expect it.

"They make all the payments for three or four months, then they come to get the item and they say 'oh, we haven't got it yet.' Makes for some pretty angry consumers."

Keep in mind layaway is not credit. It's designed to be an inexpensive alternative to credit cards, allowing you flexibility without racking-up debt. But the fees and the fine print may get you, if you don't watch out.

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