There are many different rental plans out there, each store makes up its own policy. It is up to you to figure out what will work for you and your personal needs. Some programs are strictly rental, while others are rent to won. All rent to own programs are not created equally. All of them will of course be to the advantage of the seller in some way, but some will be put the renter at a severe disadvantage. Be prepared to guarantee payments with a credit card, most policies will require you to have a credit card on file that the store can charge unpaid rent, sometimes they will even require the card to be used for all rental payments. I also know of some policies that require some additional information like social security numbers and other personal information.
Pick the Best Rental Plan for You're Needs:
Are you getting the most for your rental dollars? It may sound like a great deal now, but what about the future? You need to do your homework to decide what rental plan works best for you and your situation.
Here are a dozen or so questions you should have the answers to before you rent an instrument so that you can make an informed decision so that you can be comfortable with your plan.
* What is the "out the door cost" for the first rental period? What is the rental per month (both to start and to continue)?
You may find a rental plan with a low starting rental rate with the cost per month going up thereafter. This may be a good plan for you but remember to calculate the total cost for the year (and beyond if you think it might go that far). A plan that has a $35.00 for the first three months initial rental and then goes up to $25.00 per month will cost more than a $20.00 per month rate that stays the same for a 9 month rental period.
* How much of the rent applies toward purchase?
The rental credit you accumulate towards the instrument purchase may have a maximum allowable. Make sure this fits your situation. Some programs will offer 9, 12, or 24 month maximum credit, and then sometimes only a percentage of that amount. One shops policy states "100% of the first 18 months’ rent may be applied towards 65% of the purchase of an instrument". This equates to, on a $20/month rental of a $500 violin, less than 50%. While other programs offer 100% credit until the instrument becomes yours with no obligation. Some stores claim great policies, but the fine print always tells the truth.
* What happens when my child grows while I am renting and needs the next size? Will my rental money that I have paid in transfer?
Your child will grow. When you need a bigger size, what will be your financial responsibility? One type of rental program applies only to the initial rental instrument. If your child grows and you need an instrument in a larger size, the amount that you have accrued goes away. Other programs allow you to change sizes at no charge as long as you are a current renter.
* What happens after I own a rental instrument and need to trade it in for a bigger size? How much trade in value will I get?
Hopefully you will rent long enough that you will get to own your instrument. If this happens and you need to get a bigger size instrument of the same basic quality, you need to find out what your extra costs will be. With some programs, once you own an instrument it is yours and good luck trading it back in towards a bigger size, while other plans allow for size trades at a nominal fee.
* Is a Maintenance or Insurance plan available? What do they cover? What do they not cover?
Check what would actually be covered, many policies exclude theft, or limit what maintenance items are covered. Do you need strings covered or is that something that you probably won't ever collect on? Remember it is insurance and what you pay in is lost if it is not used. Pay the least that you can for the most coverage that makes sense to have. I have see one policy that only covered 60% of an insurance need, if the violin is damaged beyond use, that could mean as much as a $240 cost to you on a $600 violin. Also make sure that it is an insurance and not a maintenance plan.
* Do I have to make a decision at some point if it is to be a "rental only" or "a purchase"?
Some policies have a cutoff date that turn into a permanent rental after a certain time period. Be wary of that dreaded policy that requires you to decide if it is a rental only or a purchase. The "rental only" means that you never get any credit or the "rental towards purchase" may lock you into that instrument only.
* If I need to return the instrument early how much money will I get back, if any?
If you have paid into a 6 month or a 9 month discounted school year plan, find out what happens to all that money that you paid in up front if you have to cancel your rental policy. It is normal on those type of policies that any money paid in for a long term rental is lost if you cut the first rental period short. I recommend the shortest initial rental period possible so that you won't lose too much if your plans change, usually this will be 3 months since the store has to invest so much time for that initial rental process.
* Am I required to return the instrument in re-rentable condition, and if so, how much might that cost?
What are you responsible for when returning an instrument? Some policies require you to return the instrument in the condition that you rented it in. If you have used it for 3 or more months, this will probably include you needing to pay for new strings and a rehair at minimum - an additional cost of at least $60.00 when returning the instrument, that can easily add up to $5-10 more a month when averaged out.
* Are there deposits required above the rental costs?
Do you have to pay an additional amount above the rental fee and for how long is that extra money kept? Many policies will require a deposit equal to up to 6 months of rent and is kept until you return or purchase the instrument. If something happens and your instrument needs to be replaced and you are lucky enough to have replacement coverage, you are out that much more money.
* Does the facility specialize in the violin family of instruments or is it the corner music store that also sells and rents drums, trumpets, accordions, and electric guitars?
While a full service music store may have string instruments of adequate quality (many do not), more frequently than not you will be dealing with someone not versed specifically in the violin family of instruments and their unique needs. The child may not be properly fitted for the correct size instrument and you may be pushed to purchase an accessory that the store makes the most money on and not one that is the best fit for your child. You may have a sales person waiting on you that doesn't even know the name of the strings or that they are different than mandolin strings that have the same tuning.
* When my child becomes more proficient on the instrument, what are my options to trade up to a better quality of instrument?
If your child sticks with it and practices regularly they will get better. When this happens, you will find yourself in the situation of needing to get a better instrument. What quality of instruments does the store carry? Will they be able to assist you in the climb to an instrument with a better sound to keep up with your child's growth and interest? Does the store have the knowledgeable staff to assist you in selecting a better instrument? Does anyone on the staff play the violin well enough to do a proper set up on the instrument to bring out all that the instrument can give? How much of your rental equity will you be able to use on the step-up quality instrument?
* Does the store carry the other things that I will need?
Along with your rental or step-up quality instrument you will need some other accessories. Does the store carry a wide variety of violin family products like shoulder and chin rests and rosin or do they just have the very basic beginner stuff? You don't want to have to run all over town to find what you need and what the teacher recommends. Do the staff know hoe to fit you for the proper shoulder rest, or just sell you a "standard" one? The local everything music store typically won't come close to having what you might need.
* Does the store have an on-site repair department?
Check to see if the store does their own repairs on site or if they have to send them out. Even if they have their own repair department, check to see if it is on site and if they have specially trained violin family repair personnel. A guitar repairman is not the same as a violin repairman. Many teachers will have individual specifications and requirements. It makes the parents' job very difficult if they cannot talk to the repair person directly. In addition, it could take several weeks to get your instrument repaired if it needs to be sent out of the building to another location. General music stores might have an on site repair department, but do they have a violin specialist or is the guitar repair person the one that does the violins also, The violin is nothing like the guitar and should not be treated as such.
There are many things to consider when you rent an instrument, but remember, in the end, it is your money and your decision and only you can decide what plan works for you and your rental dollars.