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Holiday Shoppers Vulnerable to Zero-Interest Offers

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Monday, December 17, 2012   

AUSTIN, Texas - 'Tis the season for splurging. And why not, when stores make it so easy - even if you're short on cash. Half of the nation's major retailers offer so-called "zero-interest" financing plans. But consumer advocates are offering their own holiday message: read the fine print. Deferred-interest deals, they say, can wind up increasing total financing costs by more than 27 times.

The catch, according to the Texas Legal Services Center attorney Judy Doran, is that, after the grace period, interest is retroactively applied to the entire purchase price, regardless of how much of it has already been paid off.

"If, originally, the price was $100, and you've paid it down to $50, instead of interest on $50, the interest rate is on $100."

A recent report by www.CardHub.com provides details on the deferred-interest plans of leading retailers. It calls out 14 companies for not being transparent enough about their policies. Included on Card Hub's "wall of shame" are Home Depot, Walmart, Apple, Best Buy, Victoria's Secret and Amazon.com.

Doran manages her legal-aid organization's Elder Exploitation Project. She says one of her clients - a 70-year-old living on Social Security - bought a $1,000 TV last year, and now owes more than $650 in interest. She says seniors on fixed incomes are particularly vulnerable during the holidays.

"It's an emotional time, and you want to buy something for your children or grandchildren. It sounds like a good deal. But if you think you're getting too good a deal, you probably are."

While it is possible to avoid the excessive interest by paying off an entire purchase before the end of the grace period, Doran says, the safest way to beat the system is to avoid it altogether.

"If you see something that says you can buy this with a deferred interest plan - no interest for a year - run away from it. And if you have already bought something, see if they'll take it back."

She says retailer deferred-interest plans should not be confused with introductory deals from credit card companies that charge interest only on remaining balances after a zero-interest grace period.

More information is available from the Elder Exploitation Project, http://bit.ly/UZBOXT. The TEEP hotline is 888-612-6626. The Card Hub report is at www.cardhub.com.




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