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Layaway makes comeback in holiday shopping plans

Alonzo Kittrels | Special to the NNPA from The Philadelphia Tribune | 9/25/2013, noon

— Layaway plans were also used for purchases other than clothing. If it was a television, you turned to layaway; a refrigerator, it was layaway; a sofa or dining room set, again it was layaway. If it involved toys that you told your children they would find under the Christmas tree as gifts from Santa Claus, often times, they got there by way of the layaway plan. The major problem was that if the item was being purchased for a special occasion such as Christmas you had to start making payments weeks, even months, far in advance. Interestingly, the reason why layaway plans came into existence in the past is the same reason why we see a resurgence of layoff plans in today’s retail environment.

An article by Bill Hazelton, CEO of Credit Card Assist, provides some background with regard to layaway. He indicates that layaway first became popular in the 1920s and 1930s when the Great Depression was in full bloom. It provided a way to make large purchases possible by breaking the purchase price down into more manageable payments. It is no secret that layaway plans started to disappear in the 1980s with the increase in the availability and use of credit cards. Thus, it should not be surprising to learn that layaways are returning because of the high interest rates that are now being charged for the use of credit cards. The return to layaway is welcomed news for some consumers who may have missed credit card payments and have poor credit. Missing a payment on a layaway plan has no impact on one’s credit score.

If you grew up back in the day and relied on layaway to make purchases on a regular basis, I know that you had some unexpected challenges. Did you ever have an item on layaway and the store went out of business? The reality is that you ended up without your merchandise and without your money. What happened after you made several layaway payments and then as sometimes happens your money became real tight and you were unable to complete the purchase? In some cases, because you did not have clarity with regard to the layaway rules, you forfeited the item as well as your money. Has anyone had an item on layaway only to have it go on sale? So, what occurred if a young lady made a layaway of a dress at this time of the year for New Year’s Eve and her eating habits were out of control? I do not know what happened when the new requirement is for a size 10 dress when the dress on layaway is a size eight.

While layaways of the past have seen a re-launch in recent years, such plans have drawn the scrutiny of congressional leaders such as U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer who is a staunch opponent of layaway plans.

Because there are no federal laws that control layaway plans, consumers must rely on the Federal Trade Commission Act against unfair and deceptive practices. The Federal Truth in Lending Act also comes into play if the consumer must agree to terms in writing to make all payments until an item is paid in full. Furthermore, there are those that argue that layaway plans are far worse in making purchases than credit cards.

Think about the old adage, “What goes around comes around,” as this is the case with the return of the concept of layaway today. If you are considering the purchase of something today, and you do not have cash and using a credit card may not be something that is available to you, layaway may be your only option. Just consider that it is one of those old fashioned ways to get things that you want and to get things you need today, just as our parents did, back in the day.

Alonzo Kittrels can be reached at backintheday@phillytrib.com or The Philadelphia Tribune, Back In The Day, 520 South 16th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19146.