With back-to-school right around the corner, many families will be turning to alternate forms of payment, such as layaway services, to make ends meet. Layaway is an old fashioned concept that recently has made a comeback as consumers tighten their budgets. Back-to-school shopping is the biggest selling period before the holidays, so some retailers offer layaway programs as a way to attract customers during this busy shopping season.
Layaway may be ideal for parents who want to get an early start on back-to-school shopping but have limited cash, who do not have or want to use credit cards, and don’t want to pay interest. However, if you don’t read the contract carefully, you could lose money.
BBB has received hundreds of complaints from consumers whose layaway purchases went awry, and provides the following tips to consumers who may be considering layaway plans:
n Read the fine print.
Ask the company for a written contract for the layaway, and read it carefully. Keep in mind that layaway policies may differ from one company to another.
n Layaway period.
Ask how long the item can be on layaway? The length of time that items can be placed on hold varies from store to store.
n Merchandise holds.
Find out if the item being placed on layaway is put on hold immediately or when it is paid for. Some consumers were informed that the product they were paying on had been sold to another consumer.
n Payment dates.
Make sure you know the specific date when each payment must be made by. If a payment is not made by that date, the layaway item can be sold to another consumer or returned to stock, and you may lose the money you have paid down on it.
n Refund policy.
Read the company’s refund policy carefully. Retailers’ policies may differ: Some give all the money back; others may charge a non-refundable service or restocking fee; still others may offer a merchant credit for the amount you paid.
n Order date.
If the product is not in stock, be sure to find out when it will be ordered. Will it be ordered when the layaway is opened or when the last payment is made? Consumers report that some items are not ordered until after the last payment is made and then the product is not available
n Delivery dates.
If the product you have on layaway has to be delivered to you, make sure that the delivery date is listed in the contract. Consumers report delivery delays due to the product not being available or other consumers having their delivery dates scheduled before layaway customers.
n Layaway fees.
Make sure you find out if there are any additional fees to layaway merchandise. You should also find out if the additional fees will be refunded if you cancel the layaway.
For more tips on how to be a savvy consumer, go to bbb.org. To report fraudulent activity or unscrupulous business practices, call the BBB Hotline: 903-581-8373.