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Archive for Sunday, November 13, 2011

U.S. senator warns of layaway’s cost

November 13, 2011

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— The return of layaway plans this holiday shopping season is raising concern that the break from credit cards might actually cost consumers far more.

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, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said Sunday.

Schumer is asking major retail associations to direct their members to more clearly present their layaway fees to customers. The Democrat says the ultimate cost of a layaway with a $5 fee can equal 40 percent interest over a month or two for many common purchases compared to the annual rates of most credit cards.

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. Historically, stores started dropping layaway plans in the 1990s in part because of these costs and inconveniences.

But it’s wrong to compare layaway fees to credit cards and the fees are already clear, a major retail association says.

“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.

Stores have noted that any fee they charge shouldn’t be seen as a windfall.

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