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Layaway is Laid Away

posted by Katie Porter

Okay, don't flame me, but I shop at Wal-Mart sometimes. On a recent trip, I noticed large signs at each entrance announcing that Holiday 2006 is the official end of Wal-Mart's layaway program. The sign explained that Wal-Mart's decision was based on declining customer demand for layaway and said that consumers are instead using "gift cards and no-cost credit alternatives." I found the reference to gift cards completely puzzling. If you have the money to buy a gift card, why would you need layaway? The no-cost credit alternatives suggest zero percent teaser rates on plastic are financing Santa's shopping. The credit card industry admits that it makes loads of money off seemingly "no cost credit" and that teaser rates are one of its greatest marketing inventions (Watch the Frontline special The Secret History of the Credit Card if you haven't seen it and hear the man who invented teaser rates talk about why they are incredibly profitable). Is the end of layaway something we should mourn? Did layaway offer a valuable "savings" program for people that ensured they didn't end up making purchases they could not afford? Or does the availability of enough credit to kill layaway signal a positive development--Santa's helpers don't have to worry before the holidays about paying for gifts. With "no cost credit," they can ring in the New Year with new debt.


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