Neither Fish Nor Fowl But Some Call It Foul

Charlene Mathis wanted to buy a 19-inch television set to keep her three children entertained. But when she walked five blocks to a store near the housing project where she lives in Jersey City, N. J., and offered to pay cash, the store wouldn't sell her one. Instead, a friendly salesman said, she could have a TV and a videocassette recorder for just $20 a week. "He just said over and over, 'You can just rent these for a couple of months, then they're yours,' " says the 30-year-old clerical worker, who agreed to the deal. What she didn't realize until many payments later--and what the salesman didn't point out--she says, was that payments would add up to $1,840 for items whose retail price was maybe $500.

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