"Everybody assumes they're not going to pay late or miss a payment," says Josh Frank, former senior researcher at the Center for Responsible Lending. "But things come up."
Ask what happens to your money and your item if you can't make the payments or change your mind.
"Find out what the fees are and whether there are penalties for late or missed payments," says Samter. "What happens to your contract?"
Also ask about returns. "Some stores have different return policies for layaway merchandise," she says.
Make sure to find out what happens if you make the payments but your items aren't there when you go to pick them up -- or worse, when it's crunch time.
While that sometimes occurs, "we don't like that to happen," says Yala. So it's reasonable to expect the retailer to make it right, she says.
Some solutions Sears and Kmart use are upgrading the item that was on layaway to a more expensive item; getting the item from another location by the customer's deadline, and -- if the customer wants a refund instead -- waiving all fees and perhaps including a gift card, she says.
"Our objective is to err in favor of the customer, especially if it's our fault," Yala says.