ROBINSON TOWNSHIP (KDKA) — It’s more than three months until Christmas, but Toys-R-Us is taking the lead to encourage early shopping by waiving the service fee right now for its lay-away program.

“Most of the time you’ll find a fee for layaway.  We are doing it absolutely free until Oct. 31,” Christy Blair, the Robinson Toys-R-Us store manager, tells KDKA money editor Jon Delano.

“Layaway is the holiday gift trend,” notes Point Park University business professor Paige Beal.

Beal says many retailers like Walmart and Sears are reducing layaway fees and expanding products covered.  And layaway is often financially better for the consumer than using a credit card.

“Unless you pay your credit card off every month, layaway does make more sense for consumers,” Beal says.

The big layaway items at Toys R Us, Blair says, include power wheels, bicycles, Monster High dolls, accessories and electronics.

Here’s how layaway works:

Suppose you want a $300 Xbox-360 as a Christmas gift, but you’re worried the product might run out before Christmas.  You just come into Toys-R-Us and put down 20 percent now.  They’ll hold the gift.  In 45 days, you pay 50 percent.  Then, by Dec. 16, you pay it all off, get the gift, and there’s no service fee at all.

Shoppers say they like having this choice to beat credit card fees.

“It’s definitely a good option, especially if you’re buying a lot for Christmas and things like that.  It’s definitely something to think about.  Good option to have,” notes Janel Gayliard of Kennedy.

“I think it would be a great thing.  If you can’t get it now, get it later — eventually,” adds David Morris of Canonsburg.

Blair says just take all the gifts you want to lay away to any cashier.

“We bag it up for you.  You put 20 percent down on your lay-away and we’re going to hold it in our store,” Blair says. “Get a head start.  Beat the Christmas rush.”

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