You might think layaway is a throwback to the last century. But for consumers who don’t have access to a credit card, layaway can be a money-saving alternative to short-term installment loans.

Layaway programs allow buyers to space out payments on an item over time, without using a credit card. A buyer claims an item only after the full purchase price has been paid. Some consumers prefer layaway to credit because they are charged no interest on the payments. When they’re buying a gift that won’t be given for some time, it’s not so important to take the item home immediately.

Large retailers like Walmart, Kmart and Sears offer seasonal layaway programs, but some are available only for the holiday season. Layaway programs vary, and it’s important for consumers to read contracts and understand the terms and any fees before making a purchase.

Some retailers allow customers to buy items available on their websites while others allow layaway only on items in stock at the store. Some allow customers to use coupons, but only on items that aren’t already on sale. There may be fees to open an account or to terminate it.

When placing items on layaway, Better Business Bureau recommends that you ask the following questions:

• How much time do I have to pay off the item?

• When are the payments due?

• How much do I have to put down?

• Are there any storage or service plan fees?

• What happens if I miss a payment? Are there penalties? Does the item return to inventory?

• Can I get a refund or store credit if I no longer want the item after making a few payments?

• Is there a fee if I decide I no longer want the item?

• What happens if the item goes on sale after I’ve put it on layaway?

• Does the retailer or third-party layaway service have a good BBB rating?

For more holiday tips, to find a retailer’s BBB rating or to read a BBB Business Profile, go to or call 417-380-5074.