Last updated: February 16. 2013 10:43PM - 107 Views

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NEW YORK — The layaway wars are heating up ahead of the winter holidays.

Kmart, a division of Sears Holdings said Friday that it's waiving the fees that shoppers pay to open its interest-free pay-over-time program at its discount stores and online through Nov. 17.

The parent company plans to do the same for its Sears, Roebuck and Co. stores, but Jai Holtz, vice president of financial services for Sears Holdings, says it's still finalizing the time frame. Both Kmart and Sears have charged $5 for an 8-week layaway contract and $10 for the 12-week program.

Kmart's move comes three days after Wal-Mart Stores said it was lowering its holiday layaway program fee to $5 from $15. The program, which starts Sept. 16 and runs through Dec. 14, will last a month longer than last year's and will include more items than the toys and electronics featured last year. Shoppers who make their final layaway payment will get a full refund of the fee on a Wal-Mart gift card.

Toys R Us Inc. said Monday it was eliminating the upfront service fee for layaway orders created in store from Sept. 4 through Oct. 31. After Oct. 31, a $5 service fee will apply.

Before the most recent recession, easy credit had made layaway largely a thing of the past. But when credit dried up and the job market soured, merchants added back or expanded the service. Kmart has offered layaway since the 1960s.

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