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By Ben Popken

Summer isn't even officially over, but stores have already started trotting out their Christmas displays and holiday promotions.

If you're looking for someone to blame, look in the mirror, and take off that Santa hat!

Stores say they're doing this in response to customer demand. According to the National Retail Federation, 20 percent of all Americans have already started their Christmas shopping. By Halloween, they expect that number to double.

In a cheeky nod to to the season, Kmart rolled out a "not Christmas commercial" in order to prime customers to begin socking away goodies for the holidays. It touts the chain's new "no money down" layaway program that makes it even easier to start a layaway plan.

In some ways that's gentler on consumers' pocketbooks. But the change makes the layaway plan a little more like a different form of credit, and a little less like a tool for budgeting and saving.

That's potentially problematic as layaway is sometimes a choice of last resort for consumers who have either rejected or are unable to use credit cards. This year Americans are carrying more debt on their cards than they have in 6 years, totaling about 28 billion dollars. For some, that means they have less available credit. For others, it means they're more willing to run up a bit of debt for a while. 

After a lackluster holiday shopping season last year and middling back-to-school results, retailers are looking for low-risk ways to get shoppers to open up their wallets. Other retailers launched their layaway programs this month with looser rules as well, with Toys R' Us getting rid of its $5 service fee and Wal-Mart also easing up on its requirements.

It may seem like Christmas gets earlier every year but Kmart actually started promoting its layaway program the same time last year. The new normal is that "'tis the season" simply has a much longer ramp-up time to cater to interested customers. The rest of us just have to get used to seeing wreathes and pine cones mixed among the pumpkins and black cats on the store shelves.