Nearly every piece of furniture and appliance Elizabeth Collins owns is from her local Rent-A-Center store at 800 Central St., Franklin, New Hampshire.
“Oh, my God, I should own stock,” jokes Collins, a native Bostonian with a heavy New England accent.
Collins, 58, estimates that she has spent $25,000 to $30,000 over the last two decades on bedroom furniture, dining room sets, couches, washers and dryers, computers, televisions and more from the nation’s largest rent-to-own company.
She says she receives a disability check every month for $791 and spends up to $150 a month at Rent-A-Center. That’s nearly 20% of her income.
Her loyalty landed her a spot in Rent-A-Center’s Inner Circle, a private forum the Texas-based retailer started in 2015 to connect with customers. In exchange for taking online surveys about their experiences, the hundreds of Inner Circle members receive coupons and other perks, Collins says.
Rent-A-Center’s executives declined interview requests from NerdWallet and Raycom Media. But the company gave the reporters Collins’ name and those of other customers it says are satisfied.
Collins says she logs on to the private Rent-A-Center forum at least twice a day to read what other Inner Circle members are saying and to post compliments and complaints.
She says she is mostly satisfied with the company. “If I had to build up my money to buy a 50-inch TV, it would take me forever,” she says. “I can handle it if it’s under $150 a month.”
She also enjoys shopping at the store, where she has gotten to know longtime employees whom she considers friends.
“Jason’s like my buddy, he’ll help me out with anything,” she says. “And Frank’s a nice guy.”
After she has finished paying for merchandise, they give her coupons for $25 or $50 off her next order, she says.
“With $50, I could start that out right now and not have to worry about a week’s payment,” she says. “It’s like giving you a free week or two weeks depending on the voucher.”
Rent-A-Center employees have also allowed her to make smaller payments when she didn’t have enough money to cover a bill.
“I’m having financial issues right now and just sent them $50 instead of $95,” she says. “They know I’m not trying to run out on them and ignore them.”
There have been exceptions, however. She says she has complained about Rent-A-Center workers who “need an attitude adjustment.”
One employee began pestering her the day after she missed a payment. “I don’t allow him to call my house anymore,” Collins says.
“I pay my bills on time and don’t deserve a phone call saying, ‘Where’s your payment?’ one day after it’s due. After 20 years I told them I deserve more respect.”
Collins also has mixed feelings about all the money she’s spent. She says she knows the company charges her twice or more what she would pay at a traditional retailer.
“That irritates me,” she says.
She is also bothered that the company does not always list the full price of merchandise, including fees: “You really don’t know how much it’s gonna cost you.”
But when she looks at the 17-inch Asus laptop that she is currently leasing for $95 a month, she says she doesn’t think about cost. She thinks about what it will feel like when she sends in her last payment.
“It’s a good feeling when it’s all paid off,” she says. “You don’t worry that you’ve paid double for it when it’s yours.”
Photo of Elizabeth Collins courtesy of Elizabeth Collins.