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Rent-to-Own: How Your $700 Computer Can End Up Costing You $2,000

Most of us would quickly run the other way if a merchant told us they were going to charge us $2,000 for an item that is only worth $700, right?  Our response, and rightly so, would probably be somewhere along the lines of “You’re  CRAZY if you think I’m going to spend that much on something that isn’t worth half of what you’re charging!”

But the scary thing is, people do it all the time and don’t realize it. It isn’t uncommon for people to pay extremely high interest rates on items purchased from “Rent-to-Own” companies – which can translate into spending 2-3 times more than an item is worth.

Rent-to-Own companies typically target those who can’t afford to pay the full up-front cost of an item and who may have credit issues that prevent them from obtaining traditional financing. In an instant gratification society, we are programmed and even encouraged to “buy now, pay later” – the trouble is, paying later comes with some pretty big drawbacks in this case.

rent to own computer

Consider this: You need or want a laptop computer. Amazon.com lists a 15 inch Acer laptop for $473. A local Rent-to-own store will give it to you for “only” $24.99 a week for one year. It may be easier to come up with the $24.99 a week right? Maybe, but if you had saved $24.99 each week, you would have enough cash to pay for that computer in a little less than 5 months. If you pay the same amount through the rental store over the course of a year, you will pay a whopping $1,299 for that same computer. That’s a pretty steep price to pay to have it five months sooner! In fact, it’s $824 more.

The thing that these merchants are counting on is that you are either in a bind (as in, your washing machine died and you must have another one quickly) or you are simply not paying close attention to the details and you just want it now. Either way, in most cases, the consumer stands to lose and the stores stands to gain.

So, what should you do if you are in a bind and you need to purchase a larger ticket item? Here are a few alternatives to consider:

  • Start a dedicated savings account. Take the same amount that you would pay a rental company each week or month and put that money in a savings account instead. You’ll end up owning the item sooner, pay far less, and maybe earn a little interest.
  • Buy refurbished or reconditioned items. They come at a greatly discounted price.
  • Buy secondhand. Check out online lists, classified ads, yard sales, auctions, consignment shops or thrift stores.
  • Consider a short-term loan from a relative in a true emergency situation.

So what do you think?….Is it worth paying three times as much to go the rent-to-own route? In what situation does this make sense for the consumer? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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