Fine print is one of the evils consumers encounter on a daily basis. Apps, social media websites, credit cards and even online bill pay vendors often require you to agree to lengthy terms and conditions or various other forms of fine print before using their services.
Rarely will you find details that benefit consumers in these documents, although it does occasionally happen with things like credit card benefits. Instead, most agreements will be full of exclusions, hidden fees and higher-penalty interest rates that will cost you money if you are not careful.
Unfortunately, many consumers simply check the boxes that indicate that they have read and agreed to the referenced fine print without actually reading the documents. Consumers rarely find out about the fees and hidden interest rate increases buried deep within these lengthy agreements until it is too late. That could end up being a costly mistake, quite literally.
Instead of skipping these documents, take the time to read them while following these three steps below. It takes time but ensures that you can protect yourself and are prepared to use the service without incurring additional costs, rather than blindly agreeing to the terms that likely benefit the companies whose lawyers wrote them in the first place.
Read Fine Print Carefully and Deliberately
Fine print is printed extremely small. Combining the text size with the length of these agreements often results in the average person struggling to read them all of the way through. It is very easy to skip lines or misread the small print, so take steps to make sure you do not make these mistakes.
Reading small print is easiest when you use a ruler to keep track of which line you are pondering. Using a ruler also prevents skimming documents by forcing you to read through the agreement just one line at a time. If you have a hard time reading the words, use a magnifying glass to make the print larger. If the document is online, try to make the font larger; you should be able to cut and paste it into a word-processing program to do so. You could then print out the document to make it easier to digest.
Another key to watch out for is to make sure you read carefully for words that can completely change the meaning of a sentence. These words include but are not limited to: "not", "but", "except for", "and", "or" and "excludes".
Make sure that you read carefully enough to understand the true intent of the document. One way to ensure you grasp the full effect of these words is to underline or highlight them as you come across them. (Don’t try this on your computer screen!) Then, reread the sentence to make sure it says what you think it does.
Look up Words and Phrases You Do Not Understand
Large words and legalese often fill the fine print and can easily confuse consumers. You should never feel ashamed to look up words you do not understand, especially when they govern an agreement or contract you accept. The internet is full of resources to help you understand these complex terms.
Still do not understand what you are agreeing to? Try contacting a friend or family member that understands legal and financial jargon or try our next tip.
Call the Company and Ask for Clarification
Companies should always help you understand the fine print they force you to agree to in order to use their services. If you cannot figure out what it means, call their customer service department and ask to speak to someone who can answer your questions.
You can ask that they explain the whole document to you in general terms or ask them to explain a particular passage that may confuse you. If the company will not help you understand the fine print, you may not want to do business with them at all!
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