The beauty of renting furniture or appliances is that you can get them immediately, with little cash.

Plunk down your $40 or $50 and you can be sitting on a new couch the same day. Fork over slightly more and you can be listening to tunes on a stereo system and watching videos on the VCR.That's the way it is with furniture rental outlets. No credit checks. No waiting for shipment. No worrying about repairs on equipment or faulty merchandise.

"Our slogan is `If you want it now, you can have it now,' " said Richard Gamble, managing partner of Northwest Rent-to-Own in Redding, Calif.

Rental stores offer all types of furniture and appliances. There are sofas, love seats, easy chairs, recliners, dinette sets, hutches, bedroom sets, coffee tables, lamps, washing machines and dryers, portable dishwashers, refrigerators and freezers.

At Frontier Home Furnishings in Redding, manager Ralph Bagley said monthly rental fees range from $30 to $150, with payments required from four to 24 months. If payments are made on the full term of the agreement, the renter owns it.

Furnishings available for rental may be new or used, and that information is always disclosed.

Many people select something with the intention of eventually owning it. But if employment goes sour, or they tire of the item, it can be returned at any time. "They're under no obligation to keep it," Gamble said.

Those in the rental business say there is no single profile of their customers, with the exception that almost all are apartment dwellers or home renters.

"We deal with such a variety of customers. Some have no credit at all, and some have very good credit," Gamble said.

Bagley said 40 percent of Frontier's customers are men or women in business who are in town temporarily or those who move here and take an apartment while they search for a house or property to buy.

"It's a lot cheaper than staying in a motel," Bagley said.

Gamble said he recently furnished a whole apartment for an Internal Revenue Service representative who was working in Redding for two months. It happens often enough that Frontier soon plans to offer a "corporate apartment" package, which will include acomplete set of furnishings, even dishes.

While some people sell all their belongings before moving, others are forced to wait for furniture to arrive and require something on a temporary basis.

Others drawn to the convenience of renting household furnishings are senior citizens and people with low incomes. Because all repairs are the responsibility of the rental company, Bagley said the option can be particularly attractive to seniors.

"We do all the manual work," including delivery and set-up, said Bagley. In addition, if a rented item breaks down or doesn't work properly, its repair will be taken care of and paid for by the business. If it has to be removed from the home, a loaner is arranged.

For those with low incomes, renting can be the way to furnish a residence, primarily because large sums of cash aren't required up front. "The rent-to-own option is attractive to low-income people," Bagley said. "Granted, it's a little more expensive to do it this way, but it's worth it in the long run. We take care of (the item) and they build up credit," Bagley said.

With such a policy, the rental business may seem a risky venture. However, both Gamble and Bagley said they are rarely burned by a customer. During eight years in the business, Gamble said he can think of only two instances when a piece of furniture was damaged. In one case a sofa cushion had been cut by a knife, and in another, children had colored a couch with lipstick and crayons.

Items returned are professionally cleaned and made available again, with the same weekly or monthly payments, but for a shorter duration. Instead of making payments for 24 months, the term may be shortened to 18, 20 or less, depending on the item and its condition.

Both Bagley and Gamble say electronic equipment is the most popular. At Frontier, Bagley said two-thirds of his customers are looking for stereo equipment, televisions or VCRs. "People rent a television if relatives are coming to visit or a stereo to see if they use it often enough to buy one," Gamble said. Electronic equipment is more often rented on a short-term basis than is upholstered furniture, he added.