Layaway plan makes comeback in trying economic times

CONSUMING INTERESTS

November 01, 2008|By DAN THANH DANG | DAN THANH DANG,dan.thanh.dang@baltsun.com

In the old days, when you saw something you really liked but couldn't afford, you didn't just charge it and take that sucker home. You put it on layaway.

Over a period of some weeks or months, you could make payments in installments - which was a little easier than forking out all the dough all at once. This meant you couldn't take home what you wanted right away, but it was yours once you paid in full. It was a great concept that went the way of the dinosaur once credit started getting handed out like so much candy corn on Halloween.

I remember my sister used to put stuff on layaway at C-Mart (sniff, sniff) and pick it up once she made all her payments. It made things far more affordable, especially when you didn't have a lot of money.

Then easy credit made layaway plans obsolete. Why wait when you could take it home now? So stores started phasing out the ability to put merchandise on hold as you paid for it a little bit at a time. Wal-Mart discontinued its layaway option in 2006.

Fast-forward a couple of years to more turbulent times, and guess what's making a slow comeback: layaway plans!

The Web site creditcards.com says, "Aside from a few large retail chains, including Kmart, Burlington Coat Factory Warehouse and select Marshalls and TJ Maxx stores, layaway remains difficult to find." Instead, the Web site said, a handful of companies are offering consumers the opportunity to make a series of incremental, interest-free payments over the Internet. "It's the same with grocery shopping - if you can do it online and have it shipped to you, why not?" says Robert Holland, owner of the appropriately named Web site Lay-away.com.

Kmart has had a layaway option for 40-plus years now. Last month, the discount chain launched a Kmart eight-week layaway ad campaign for the holidays that might make it a little easier for consumers to check off items on their gift list and pay it all off in time to ease post-holiday debt worries. With the exception of about a dozen things that you can't put on layaway, the choices are fairly open.

It's not instant gratification, but it might be a more sensible way to shop.

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