Walmart Layaway Still Sucks

Oct 11, 2013 by

slash through layawayThe upcoming holiday weekend in the U.S. fires the starting gun for the vital (to retailers’ bottom lines) holiday shopping “season” that doesn’t end until the post-Christmas sales have at last physically and financially exhausted consumers. So it’s a good time to revisit layaway, that clever marketing tool of subversion intended to help you spend more than you can afford while nicely camouflaged as a consumer convenience. Ha!

Walmart Layaway

Mega-retailer Walmart has led the pack of merchandisers in resurrecting layaway, so let’s pick on it. Evidently concluding that its 2012 layaway program left a few coins in consumers’ pockets that rightly belonged to it, Walmart has altered its layaway terms for 2013.

First, Walmart’s 2012 layaway terms:

Walmart 2012 layaway details

And now, Walmart’s 2013 layaway program terms:

Walmart 2013 layaway terms

Walmart Layaway: 2012 vs. 2013

Help me out here, but here are the changes I could identify:

  • “Open Fee” Dropped  In 2012, you had to pay $5 to open a Walmart layaway account. If you behaved yourself and fully paid for everything you put in layaway (by the December 14 deadline), Walmart would “refund” your $5 open fee. (Walmart defined a “refund” as giving you the opportunity to spend another $5 at Walmart.) In 2013, there’s no open fee.
  • Date Changes  No big deal, just a function of the calendar. In 2013 you have to make your final layaway payment and haul away your junk treasures by December 13 or else Walmart turns into the pre-Cindy Lou Who enlightened Grinch.
  • Cancellation Fee Added  This one’s interesting. In 2012 if you cancelled your layaway account, you’d forfeit your $5 “open fee.” In 2013, you’ll pay a $10 cancellation fee. Clearly Walmart wants to discourage cancellations, which likely torture its inventory management gurus.
  • Timing  Walmart’s formally giving itself some time—up to 10 days—to actually deliver a “laid away” item to you after you’ve fully paid for it. Again, the inventory management group must have really squawked about certain aspects of the 2012 program because you can see its fingerprints on the 2013 changes.
  • Black Friday Blacked Out  Walmart’s service desk staff have enough challenge on Black Friday breaking up brawls among shoppers without having to deal with tons of layaway business. A vague warning in 2012 of “limited hours” on Black Friday has been changed for 2013 to the seemingly definitive “Layaway not available on November 29.” I’m probably not as bright as the average Walmart shopper, but I’m unclear whether this means that on Black Friday you can’t open a layaway account, you can’t add more items to an existing layaway account, both, or something else.

Walmart Layaway Program Changes: What’s It All Mean?

Of the five I’m able to identify, the only change to Walmart’s layaway terms that I find meaningful is the termination of the $5 open fee in favor of the addition of a $10 cancellation fee.

Why the change? I think the answer is simple: by eliminating the hurdle to open and increasing the penalty to cancel a layaway account, Walmart aims to a) suck more shoppers into layaway, and b) cut the portion who ultimately drop out. That should be good for Walmart’s shareholders, but it’s bad for you, the Walmart shopper.

No Matter the Terms, Layaway Sucks, for You

Let’s think about this for a minute: Why does layaway exist?

A retailer’s public relations representative will say layaway is about convenience. I agree! Layaway makes it more convenient for you spend even more than you can afford to spend. And by providing this convenience, the retailer transfers even more cash from your pocket to its. That’s why layaway exists, period.

Think about it. You don’t have the cash to buy that $300 flat screen television. But hey, you can squeeze out of your budget $25 a week for 12 weeks, right? Great! Except one thing: if you don’t have $300 spare cash today to spend on a non-essential item like a flat screen TV, then, my friend, I’m sorry, but you can’t afford a $300 flat screen TV! It’s really that simple.

Don’t Succumb to Layaway

The world’s awash with clever marketing tools designed to entice you to spend more than you can afford. Some—credit cards, consolidation loans, and “no payments for X months” propositions come to mind—will directly cost you money if you use them irresponsibly or somehow screw up. Others, like layaway, may not appear to cost you anything up front, but you’ll pay a big price for routinely living beyond your means, which is what you’re doing if you use layaway.

Besides, do you really want, during the holiday shopping season, to stand in line at the Walmart service desk to open a layaway account and then stand in line again at a cash register to make each of your layaway payments? And what about the December 13 Walmart layaway deadline? If you wait—along with several million other Walmart shoppers—until then to make your final layaway payment, may the force be with you friend. You’ll need it just to find a parking space.

Do You Layaway?

Do you plan to use layaway this shopping season? If so, please share: why would you do that?

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  • MoneySmartGuides

    I completely agree!! Why let Walmart hold your money? It is not benefiting you in any way to do that. Just save up the money and go buy the item when you have enough. I know for a lot of people it is not that simple, but for me it is!

    • Yes, if you’re determined to buy the $300 flat screen TV you can’t afford, then give your trusted friend $25 a week for 12 weeks to hold for you. You won’t have to stand repeatedly in line at Walmart, you won’t be at risk of paying a $10 cancellation fee, and you won’t have a Dec 13 deadline. Brilliant!

  • I hate the layaway concept and never understood why people use it. I mean, I know why they use it, but come on. You can’t afford anything you are laying away. Stop purchasing the crap and do something about the real underlying problem.

  • I’ve never used layaway, and I probably never will. I don’t see the value in it. After all, the items that go on layaway are hardly expensive enough to justify payments on them. Plus, those extra fees can be a big chunk of the item’s value.

  • FedUpFed

    Made a bad decision signing up for a lawaway that I ultimately canceled. Now, Wal-Mart is holding onto my money. As of today, over 30 days. When I called the store and spoke to an asstiant manager, I was told that all layaway refunds are being processes in Bentonville and she has no clue how long it may take….another ripoff I’d say. Lets hold onto several hundred thousand dollars (or more) in customer refunds, for a few months. It’s free money (loan) for them to utilize for who knows how long. By the way, I thought there was a 30 time limit on refunds on situations like this, anyone know for sure?

    • Wow, that stinks big time. Sorry, but I don’t know the law governing this sort of refund. Maybe another reader will.

      If I were you, I’d file a complaint pronto with the Federal Trade Commission. You can do that here:

      And I’d raise (non-threatening) hell through social media–post on Walmart’s and your own Facebook and Google+ pages, tweet like mad about it, etc. And get your friendly neighborhood blogger to write a post about your situation. Please contact me separately, and I’ll be happy to consider publishing your story: kurt(at)

  • jhodle

    It took me over 3 months to finally get a card from Walmart that I could finally pick up my deposit. I’ve seen many similar posts complaining of the same thing. So let’s see Walmart holds your money for 1/4 of the year gaining interest on your money and then releases it to you. But tells you there charging you a $10.00 fee. How about all the interest they are making on everybody nationwide for that three months, shouldn’t that be payable back to the consumer. I don’t think its by accident that they are holding your money for over 3 months. There needs to be a class action law suit

    • Yep–if layaway didn’t boost WalMart’s bottom line, WalMart wouldn’t offer layaway. Your story indicates to me that retail layaway programs generally are screaming out for regulation.

  • ibshopping

    I use layaway for items that are in high demand (I.E.- a popular toy) during the holiday season, as I shop around and make sure that’s actually what I want to purchase. If not, then I do not cancel the item, but once I purchase it I return it. There’s no fee for that, but at least I don’t have to search and search for that if it turns out to be the one item that they have to have.

    • Does the retailer guarantee availability of an item put in layaway? Best to read the fine print of that layaway agreement!

  • Michael Vegas

    Sorry but I DISAGREE with you, I use Layaway at Kmart a couple of times a year, And Walmart when it is around. You see I live on a VERY fixed disability income, now I can not afford a gift for Christmas for my wife of say $100,…BUT I can give them $20 or so every payday, I just will eat less for that month and my wife does not have to see. But its not her fault I am sick and dying, but I will be damned if I will not get that angel of a woman at least something for Christmas. So say what you will, and I do see people piling toy after toy spending $500 or more for their kids, which I am sure they can not afford, but it really helps those of us who if I didn’t pay on the layaway I would spend the money on meds or food, and have a empty plastic tree, I would rather be hungry or pain then let someone I love be without

    • Can you explain please why you don’t put the $20 per payday in a jar marked “Gift Fund” hidden in your closet instead of giving it to WalMart to hold for you? Or, if you might be tempted to spend it, why wouldn’t you give it to a trusted friend or relative to hold for you instead of to WalMart?

      • Michael Vegas

        I thought I more then explained this but here we go again, I am sick, disable, EVERY single cent I get goes for doctors, medicine and bills, most months we are eating beans, rice, mac and cheese days before I get money again, so if I put $20 in a jar marked gift fund, I wonder what would happen before the next payday, when I need a new medicine, or have to go to the doctor, my wife would see the money and say here, spend this on what you need, I do not need anything and that is the kind of person she is. She is always thinking of others before herself, so the ONLY way I can get her something is if when I get Paid I IMMEDIATELY go to Walmart and pay the $20 on Layaway. And I am not the only one like this, what did Walmart ever do to you where you hate them for helping the poor guy out. So what if they make money at least it helps those of us who can not get things any other way. Have a little compassion.

        • If you take time to look around Money Counselor, you will see that the entire site is motivated by my compassion for people exploited by credit card companies, financial “advisors,” big retailers, payday and other exploitative lenders, etc. WalMart sponsors a layaway program because doing so is very good for its business, period, not as an act of altruism. Layaway programs make it more challenging for people to succeed financially and in my opinion are exploitative. I’m sorry that you can’t see any other way to safely and reliably stash away $20 per payday for your wife’s gift other than turning it over to a mega-corporation. I wish you the best, sincerely.

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