Rental Rip-off

Why buy when you can rent? Furniture and appliances, that is.

Rental companies use that ploy - and enticingly cheap rates - to sucker consumers into leasing everything from sofas and bedroom sets to washers, refrigerators and televisions.

Their usual prey: lower-income people who don't have ready cash (credit is easy, the rental companies boast on their websites.) But now recession-hit middle income folks are turning to rentals too for many basic, big ticket home items they would have previously bought.

With home foreclosures and unemployment so widespread, "there's a larger segment of people without other options," notees Drew White, chief financial officer of Sageworks, Inc., a financial forecasting firm.