Layaway To Save

Almost half of all Americans are using their credit cards less. And an old way to pay-layaway-is on the rise as ore merchants offer extended payment plans.

Consumer Reports ShopSmart checked out the expanding world of layaway and whether it can help you land a good deal.

Jody Rohlena of Consumer Reports says, "Today you can buy iPods, concert tickets or even pay for your honeymoon on layaway. You put a bit of money down, pay for your purchase over time until it's paid off. And then you have your item or take your trip."

While stores like Sears, Kmart, and Burlington Coat Factory have had layaway for years, now they offer layaway online.

There's also E-Layaway that allows you to pay for items from Home Depot, sports tickets, or pet supplies over time.

And with Lay-Away-Travel, you can pay for your vacation with installment payments.

Rohlena says, "A big advantage to layaway is that you don't have to pay interest like with a credit card. But there are drawbacks."

Many plans charge a cancellation fee, which can be as high as $150.

Some even charge a service fee. And if the store files for bankruptcy, you lose your money.

Rohlena says, "To shop smart when you do layaway, sign up for automatic billing. You're less likely to miss payments and lose your merchandise."

And if you're buying more than one item, be sure to bundle those into one order.

That way if the store charges a service fee, you only pay once.

Toys "R" Us is another big retailer that recently started offering a layaway program. It's called "Big Ticket Layaway" and it's available for expensive items like children's furniture, bikes, and dollhouses.

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