Warning over fees as more stores offer layaway

GLENDALE, AZ - At Bears and More in Glendale, layaway has been part of the business plan since they opened 19 years ago.

"We are seeing more people take advantage of it," said co-owner Valerie Burner. "We also have long-term customers that have always done layaway with us."

"It makes something that you assume is unaffordable to you then affordable," said customer Karen DeLaet.

While Bears and More charges no service and no cancellation fees, it has been a good option for customers wanting to spread out their holiday shopping.

However that is not always the case, and at least one lawmaker is concerned that layaway fees are deceptive to customers.

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer said Sunday for example, a Rock 'n Roll Elmo doll that requires a $5 layaway fee and a 10 percent down payment for a month can equal a credit card that charged more than 100 percent interest.

Schumer is asking major retail associations to direct their members to more clearly present their layaway fees to customers.

He said if stores don't better present the cost of layaway purchases, he will ask the Federal Trade Commission to determine whether the increasing use of layaway is a deceptive or misleading business practice.

"It is a leap to suggest that $5 on a $100 purchase is twice the going rate on credit cards, which today averages 14.99 percent nationwide," said Brian A. Dodge of the Retail Industry Leaders Association.

"Layaway is not credit, period," Dodge said Sunday. "Layaway programs provide consumers with a responsible, low-cost alternative to credit cards that allow customers to buy an item that they want, but the flexibility to pay for it over time without accumulating debt.

"These programs typically accommodate a segment of consumers who are either unable to or unwilling to access credit," Dodge said. "They are remarkably simple and transparent. And unlike credit cards, the fees and terms never change."

Michelle Ahlmer with the Arizona Retailers Association said layaway even with fees is simply another option for consumers to use to gauge how they spend. 

"The stores set a base fee whether it is a small or a large purchase. So proportionally it may be a higher percentage, but people know right up front what it is," she said.

She urged shoppers to research and pay attention to the details in any layaway contract they sign.




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