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Better Business Bureau- Understanding layaway agreements

ST. LOUIS, Mo. _It's less than three months to go before the holidays and that means lots of shopping for family and friends. The costs can add up quickly.

Many consumers are looking for alternative methods to pay for gifts. Some big box retailers are again offering layaway programs this year to help shoppers afford big purchases.

Better Business Bureau (BBB) advises consumers to read and understand a store`s layaway contract before agreeing to place items on layaway. Otherwise, they could be surprised by fees or other charges that could add to the cost of their purchases.

Chris Thetford joined us on FOX 2 News in the Morning to explain.

Layaway service lets a buyer space out payments on an item over months without using a credit card. A buyer claims the item only after the full purchase price has been paid. Some consumers prefer layaway because they are charged no interest on the payments, and when buying a present that will be given in the future, it is not important to receive the item immediately.

In-store layaway programs vary. Some retailers provide layaway services for items purchased through the retailer`s website. Third-party businesses also have sprung up, offering layaway plans online between customers and retailers that don`t have their own layaway program. Customers make periodic payments to the third-party layaway service provider. Once the item is fully paid for, the business then buys the item from the retailer and ships it to the customer.

When buying items on layaway, BBB recommends you get everything in writing and offers the following checklist of questions to ask:

• 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?

You can find a retailer`s BBB rating or read a BBB Business Review by going online to www.bbb.org or by calling 314-645-3300.