The Best Layaway Plans for the 2012 Holidays

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Several companies have improved their layaway plans for the 2012 holiday shopping season, which means it's easier to tell the good plans from the costly ones.

In recent years, the recession has influenced holiday layaway programs: After having discontinued layaway, Sears brought it back in 2008 and Walmart in 2011.

This year, the still-struggling economy continues to impact holiday shopping. While competitors JCPenney and Target still don’t offer a layaway program, some stores that do have slashed fees, making layaway free – assuming you pay on time and don’t cancel your plan.

So while smart shoppers took the time to pick the best layaway plan last year, the decision is simpler this year. And we’ve made it even easier by breaking down the plans at popular holiday-shopping spots and categorizing them into two categories: free plans and not-free plans.

Layaway plans that are essentially free

Kmart

  • Eligible items: Most items (if you shop online, look for the words “Available for Layaway” on product pages)
  • Down payment: $15 or 10 percent, whichever is greater, for eight-week contracts; $30 or 10 percent, whichever is greater, for 12-week contracts
  • Upfront fee: $0 through Nov. 17; $5 for eight-week contracts or $10 for 12-week contracts, both nonrefundable, after Nov. 17
  • Cancellation fee: $10 for eight-week contracts, $20 for 12-week contracts
  • Final payment due: N/A – you make a payment every two weeks over a period of eight or (for $300-plus purchases made in stores) 12 weeks. (Note: The fine print says, “You have a 7 day grace period after your payment due date before your contract is cancelled and items are returned to stock.” The cancellation fee will apply.)
  • Available: In stores and online

Toys R Us and Babies R Us

  • Eligible items: All toys at Toys R Us and most items at Babies R Us
  • Down payment: 20 percent
  • Upfront fee: $0 through Oct. 31, $5 after Oct. 31
  • Cancellation fee: $10
  • Final payment due: Dec. 16
  • Available: In stores only

Walmart

  • Eligible items: Toys, electronics, small appliances, jewelry, and select sporting goods (Note: Each item must be $15-plus and the total purchase must be more than $50.)
  • Down payment: $10 or 10 percent, whichever is greater
  • Upfront fee: $5, refunded on a Walmart gift card upon full payment
  • Cancellation fee: $0
  • Final payment due: Dec. 14
  • Available: In stores only

Layaway plans that’ll cost you

Best Buy

  • Eligible items: Most items (Note: The total purchase must be $250-plus.)
  • Down payment: 25 percent
  • Upfront fee: 5 percent, nonrefundable
  • Cancellation fee: N/A
  • Final payment due: N/A – you make a payment every two weeks over a period of eight or 12 weeks. (Note: The fine print says, “If a payment is missed, Best Buy reserves the right to return the product(s) to store inventory.” So since they don’t mention a cancellation fee, it’s possible you won’t get back all the money you’d already paid toward the purchase.)
  • Available: In stores only

Sears

  • Eligible items: Most items (if you shop online, look for the words “Available for Layaway” on product pages)
  • Down payment: $20 or 20 percent, whichever is greater, for eight-week contracts; $35 or 20 percent, whichever is greater, for 12-week contracts
  • Upfront fee: $5 for eight-week contracts, nonrefundable; $10 for 12-week contracts, nonrefundable (Note: It’s rumored that Sears – owned by the same parent company as Kmart – may drop this fee through Nov. 17 as Kmart did, but the company has yet to make an official announcement.)
  • Cancellation fee: $15 for eight-week contracts, $25 for 12-week contracts
  • Final payment due: N/A – you make a payment every two weeks over a period of eight or (for $400-plus purchases made in stores) 12 weeks. (Note: The fine print says, “Layaway merchandise will be returned to stock seven (7) days after a missed payment.” The cancellation fee will apply.)
  • Available: In stores and online

Karla Bowsher covers consumer, retail, and health issues. If you have a comment, suggestion, or question, leave a comment or contact her at [email protected].

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