smart spending

8 things you need to know about layaway

Different programs have different rules
Different programs have different rules

Layaway programs can vary widely. Every retailer has its own set of rules, policies and fees.

Even so, there are "a relatively low number" of consumer complaints, Hutt says.

Even complaints can be curbed if you "do your homework and ask a lot of questions beforehand," says Hutt.

Make sure to stick with merchants that have fixed layaway policies -- preferably in writing, says Samter. Some retailers post their layaway information on their websites while others may have an actual contract or pamphlet you can read before you buy.

And if you're required to sign anything, read and understand it before you sign, says Daniel Butler, National Retail Federation's vice president of retail operations.

Know what your purchases will cost you if everything goes as planned. What could they cost if you incur extra fees or pay late? And if you change your mind or miss a payment, how much of your money will you get back?

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