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Out Big Bucks and a Bed

An adventure with rent-to-own furniture.

Q: While living in Texas, my wife and I signed a rent-to-own contract on a bedroom set from Aaron Rents. When we moved to Utah, we took the set with us. Then one Friday afternoon, the local Aaron’s took back the set, saying we were late on our payments. Maybe one was late in the mail to Texas, but we had paid $4,976 and had only five payments of $254 to go until it was paid off. After calling both stores, the regional manager, and the national office, I was told that Aaron’s would not honor the past balance. We feel cheated. — Marc and Stacey Welsher, Clearfield, Utah

A: Aaron Rents is the second-largest rent-to-own outfit in the country, with 1,500 stores in 48 states and Canada. It has been a publicly traded company since 1982. That gave me two paths to pursue.

The corporate switchboard shuttled me to the legal counsel’s office. I shared your story with the receptionist and was promised a return call. I called the local store and was directed to a regional manager, Bryon Bartley, who told me you should have been able to transfer your account to the Utah store. He also promised to get back to me.

Legal counsel Jessica Rohde won the ring-back race. She confirmed that errors had been made—that you should have been able to keep your furniture. She apologized and arranged for the Utah store to provide you with a replacement bedroom set, including a new mattress and box spring. Glad we could help.

Caveat Renter

"If you don't like it, just return it" is the pitch, but the downsides of renting-to-own can be doozies. So take these precautions:

Shop Around Carefully. assess the merchandise and terms. Richard May of the Association of Progressive Rental Organizations says the industry is more competitive lately, but do yourself this favor before signing: total the ultimate tab. It can be two to five times the retail price.

Get Options. Your contract should let you buy the item within 60 or 90 days for an agreed-upon amount that’s close to the retail price. Also get a lifetime-reinstatement clause, which guarantees you’re credited for all payments in case you return an item and later rent it again.

Ron Burley is the author of Unscrewed: The Consumer’s Guide to Getting What You Paid For (Ten Speed Press, 2006).