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Walmart holiday shopping: The return of layaway

Consumer Reports News: September 09, 2011 09:48 AM

Recalling a shopping era when people used to set up Christmas Club accounts at savings banks, Walmart will be offering a layaway program for holiday shoppers this year that lets you choose toys and electronics, put them aside, and then pay for them over a period of time.

The pay-as-you-go program, to be available in all Walmart stores, kicks off on October 17 and runs through December 16. To be eligible for the program, an item has to cost at least $15, and the total minimum order is $50. The layaway program is limited to toys and electronics (and most cell phones aren't eligible), and it applies only to in-store purchases. You have to put down at least 10 percent of the cost of the total order when you put the items on layaway.

Although you don't get charged interest on deferred purchases, the layaway program isn't free: Walmart is charging a one-time non-refundable $5 service fee for the service, and you'll get hit with a $10 fee if the layaway order isn't paid in full and picked up or canceled by the end of the day on December 16. (Cancellation fees and service fees may vary by state.)

At Walmart stores, you can put items on layaway—and pick them up—at counters inside the store; payments can be made at any register. The company says that layaway orders and pick-up will not be accepted on the day after Thanksgiving.

"We're always looking for ways to ease budget strain for our customers, and we know this holiday season in particular brings with it additional financial pressure," said Duncan Mac Naughton, the company's chief merchandising officer, in a statement.

With more consumer credit-financing options available to its customers, Walmart had suspended its layaway programs for all goods except fine jewelry about five years ago. But with credit tightening, layaway is back, and not just at Walmart. Both Kmart and its parent company, Sears, have offered year-round layaway options for in-store and online shoppers for years a a wide variety of items, including toys and electronics as well as appliances, furniture, and clothes. The stores also charge a services fee of either $5 or $10, depending on the length of the layaway.

How do you feel about layaway plans in general? We'd like to know if you'll be taking advantage of one this holiday season, and if so, how it affects the type—and prices—of the gifts you'll be buying.

Walmart: Holiday layaway program

Kmart: Layaway program

James K. Willcox

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