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Down Economy Propels Return Of Layaway

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And around the country, families have been doing their back-to-school shopping, many, of course, using credit cards to buy those backpacks, book covers and calculators. Some are turning to an old-fashioned payment plan.

NPR's Jack Zahora reports that the layaway is back.

ZAHORA: For those who never bought something on layaway, here's an overview. If you want an item, you put it on hold at the store, pay a small fee, say $5, then make regular payments until you've covered the full cost. Only then can you take it home.

Many large retailers discontinued layaway by the 1990s, sighting customer's lack of interest. These days, with many consumers in credit card debt and retailers needing every sale they can get, layaway has returned to stores such as Sears. And at Kmart, which never got rid of layaway, a recent TV ad campaign is giving it a push.

(Soundbite of television commercial)

Unidentified Woman: I'm going back-to-school shopping at Kmart.

Unidentified Man: But it's summer. I…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Woman: I like to plan ahead.

Unidentified Man: Ah, Kmart layaway.

ZAHORA: At a Marshalls store in Arlington, Virginia, Nicole Ryman(ph) just put a whole shopping cart full of stuff on layaway.

Ms. NICOLE RYMAN: Bed sheets, household items, (unintelligible), clothing, socks, shoes - you name it. Everything's in there.

ZAHORA: Ryman says she's using layaway because she's afraid of falling behind in her credit card payments. But just such as with credit cards, Ryman says layaway can be addictive.

Ms. RYMAN: Because it's easy. You don't have to put your money upfront right away.

ZAHORA: There are penalties if you don't finish your payments. They change from store to store, but there are usually fines, and in some cases, customers could lose all the money they've paid so far. But that's not stopping Ryman. She's already made her first payments on Christmas gifts.

Jack Zahora, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jack Zahora