Rent-to-own stores let you buy new and used appliances, furniture and electronics under long-term payment plans. And they don't check your credit. So if you have poor credit, rent-to-own might look like a good idea — especially if something breaks or you need something that just can't wait. OK, what's so bad about paying a few dollars a week for a computer or a flat-screen TV?
What's so bad is that by law, the stores can set their own prices. And if you take a moment and multiply out the payments before you sign the contract, you find prices that'll make your head spin. Prices like these:
- A GE refrigerator that sells for $430 at Sears or $448 at Lowe's costs up to $1,700 when purchased over 24 months at Rentway.
- A Dell desktop computer, selling online for $559, costs nearly $3,500 when purchased over 21 months at Rent-A- Center.
- A 27-inch JVC television, selling for $215 on Amazon.com, costs nearly $1,000 over 15 months at Rentway.
The rent-to-own industry calls this filling a need in poor communities. I call it predatory lending. I call it other things, too, but I can't say them on the radio. By the way, if you ever miss a payment, the store repossesses the item and you lose every penny you've paid.
One of our clients here at DebtStoppers is a 65-year-old lady who takes care of her three grandchildren. She had poor credit and no car. Last year, her dryer broke during a snowstorm. She couldn't wait for layaway at Sears. She also needed a computer for her granddaughter.
So she ended up at Rent-A-Center, agreeing to pay $184 a month for both over 20 months. That's $3,700 for items that together sold for less than $1,000 in regular retail stores. As far as I'm concerned, they stole $2,700 from a poor lady trying to make a good home for her grandkids. DebtStoppers was able to help this lady, but there are thousands of other folks out there who need to understand the real cost of rent-to-own.
For $3,700, my client could have bought the dryer and the computer outright — and had enough left over to send one of her grandkids to college for a term. Instead, she dug herself deeper in debt.
So before you go to a rent-to-own store, ask yourself honestly whether or not you really need the item. Do the math and see just how much rent-to-own will cost. And always look at all your options:
- Wait and buy the item when you have saved enough money to pay cash.
- Try to buy the item through installments or layaway at a department or appliance store.
- Get a short-term consumer loan from a credit union or bank.
- Buy the item used from a garage sale, classified ad or second-hand store.
Go to a rent-to-own store only as a last resort.
People have to understand what rip-offs rent-to-own and payday loans are. Because if you're not in debt trouble now, these two scams can definitely put you there.