Rent-To-Own Agreements: Purchases Or Rentals?

Michael H. Anderson, Raymond Jackson


The rent-to-own (RTO) business has emerged as an important component of the retailing sector. By offering immediate access to household goods for a small periodic fee without a credit check or down payment, RTO has strong appeal to low income and financially distressed consumers.  A common perception of RTO is that they are disguised, high-interest installment agreements as most consumers eventually acquire the contracted merchandise by making all scheduled payments. We examine the nature of these agreements by using a unique data set of more than 350 thousand transactions drawn from 100 RTO stores in 46 states. Our main result, derived from an analysis of disposition and duration, is that RTO agreements are more frequently used for short-term needs rather than as a method of acquisition.  Legislative and legal efforts to classify RTO agreements as primarily installment contracts cannot be justified by their pattern of use in the marketplace. 

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