By Amy E. Feldman

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Before you buy something on layaway, there’s small print you need to understand.

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It used to be that people waited until the day after Thanksgiving to start holiday shopping. Then, it was just after Halloween. Until Kmart came around and announced its new holiday layaway plans the first week in September. So infuriating. And also, kind of smart to start budgeting so you don’t overspend on that chia head your neighbor needs so badly.

But, before you pick your presents and buy on layaway either in store or on line, look at the fine print.

Consumer protection laws vary by state, and as you can imagine there is great variation in layaway plans.

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So first know how much it costs to open a layaway account that doesn’t go against the cost of the item. Many charge $5 or $10 which can be a big percent of the total owed.

Also, find out if there is a fee or a penalty for missed or late payments: Will your contract be cancelled? Will the merchandise be returned to inventory? And the refund policy: If you decide you don’t want the merchandise after you’ve made some or all the payments, can you get a refund? In cash or just in credit? And what happens if the product you picked on the first day of school goes on sale on Black Friday. Do you get the benefit of the sale?

Finally, remember that once you put something on layaway, there’s often a penalty if you rethink the gift in the first place.

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Wait, the chia head is kinda creepy. And so’s the neighbor. Forget it. I’m not buying him something he doesn’t need or want after all.