BlueHippo lures thousands of consumers with its lack of a credit check and "guaranteed approval." However, there are other, fiscally superior, options that also do not require a credit check.

For about $500 to $600 at any number of reputable retailers, mail-order and Internet outlets, you can get a complete computer package with a monitor and printer. Individuals will find it useful and it's a necessity for families with children. A computer is an essential research tool for school and for such crucial tasks as finding a job.

BlueHippo sells computers to people who have bad credit by putting them on a layaway plan. The consumer does not actually get the computer until they have paid nearly the full value of the machine. Even after the consumer finally gets the computer, BlueHippo continues charging for it.

It doesn't have to be this way. Instead of doing BlueHippo's $2,000 layaway plan, you could just as easily get a computer by doing your own layaway plan.

If you need a new computer but have credit problems, layaway is a great option. To do it, open a new checking account at your bank, which most banks will do for free or very little. Then, every week, instead of giving BlueHippo $40, deposit $40 into that account. Most banks will even automatically make those deposits for you from another account if you want.

After just four months there will be $640 plus whatever interest may have accrued. That should be plenty to buy a new basic computer package.

If you're on a tight budget, you may also want to consider buying a used or refurbished computer. There are lots of used computers on websites such as You can find excellent buys at Dell's online outlet.

Many local computer stores will also sell used computers and can usually provide good advice based on the consumer's needs. Besides Dell,, and are good sources for refurbished or overstocked computers.

Once you have saved enough money, do as much research as possible. See what other consumers are saying about various manufacturers on our computer complaint page. Also be sure to shop around to see what the going rates for certain specifications are.

Here are a few guidelines on what to look for in a personal computer (PC):

1. If you need a computer to take out of the home, then get a laptop. If not, get a desktop. Desktops are cheaper, faster and easier to fix and to upgrade.

2. If you're on a budget you probably should avoid Apple computers since they are generally far more expensive than personal computers that run on Windows software. The Apple warranty is also slim to non-existent in many cases.

3. When buying a PC with an Intel processor, make sure it has at least a Pentium 4, Centrino or Celeron processor. If it has an AMD processor make sure it is at least an Athlon XP. Don't be sold by processor speed. More megahertz does not mean more speed. For example, a Pentium 3 with more megahertz than a Pentium 4 will not be perceptibly faster.

4. A computer should have at least 256 Megabytes (MB) of random access memory (RAM). That's a minimum, most of today's programs run better with 512 MB of RAM. Adding RAM is by far the cheapest way to make a computer run more efficiently and thus, faster. Basically, a computer can't have too much.

5. Computers must have an updated operating system to run many of today's programs. So make sure the PC is utilizing any version of Windows XP because Microsoft no longer supports its older operating systems. Microsoft's new operating system, Windows Vista, which the company hopes to release in late January, is not necessary. Only the highest-end computers will take advantage of Vista's capabilities. For most computers, it will slow them down because it requires about double the RAM of XP.

6. A computer needs a pretty spacious hard drive. Like RAM, this is a fairly inexpensive way to keep the computer running efficiently. Consumers should avoid a computer with less than 40 gigabytes of hard drive space.

7. The cheapest monitor is usually the best one for the price. Standard cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors -- basically the big cumbersome ones -- have an excellent picture, are cheap and have long lives. They may be heavy, but a CRT won't weigh down your checkbook like a new liquid crystal display (LCD) monitor will.

8. For word processing, any version of Microsoft Word 2002 or newer should be adequate. Better yet, don't buy your word processing and spreadsheet progams. Google now offers free online word processing and spreadsheets. (Go to More Google Products" and choose "Docs & Spreadsheets"). You can buy Star Office online for about $70. It's comparable to Microsoft's products and a lot cheaper.

The computer market is as fluid as any, but with the above specifications, a computer should be able to perform basic tasks for years. There's no need to go deep into debt by paying more for less to the BlueHippos of the world.