Fine Print 101

How to Read the Fine Print and What to Look Out For

Fine Print 101
August 24, 2015

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!

If you want to reduce your interest payments and lower your debt, join MoneyTips and use our free Debt Optimizer tool.

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Elaine | 08.24.15 @ 14:21
Why do these companies write so much fine print and not just be straight forward with what they are trying to get you to agree with?
Crystal | 08.24.15 @ 18:02
It's kind of sad that fine print is even required. Just say it and let us know upfront. Don't try to deceive or cheat us and then use the "fine print" as collateral.
Kamie | 08.24.15 @ 18:03
I don't care if I am even just doing a simple sign up to something, I find all the fine print everywhere and make sure to read it before I sign my name to it. Fine print is what can save a shady company, and what it says to me when I see a funky fine print is that they know something like that will happen, and want to make sure they never have to be responsible for it.
Bobbie | 08.24.15 @ 18:03
I am guilty of not reading the mice type. Most if it is all written in such a way that is is just confusing, and why on earth does it need to be so many pages?
Daniel | 08.24.15 @ 18:04
At some point it would be nice if the "fine" print went away. How about some straight forward easy to understand terms that do not need to be hidden within double speak and phrasing meant to drive you away from actually reading it. I realize so many do not take the time but please read before you sign or agree to anything, research and ask questions. Better to be safe than sorry later.
Apryl | 08.24.15 @ 18:04
I remember when I signed my mortgage I made them sit there while I read every stinking letter of the document. Don't let yourself be surprised!
Chelsey | 08.24.15 @ 18:05
I hate fine print. I always try and read before signing. But there are so many times where I have to look things up to make sure I truely understand what it is they are saying.
Victor | 08.24.15 @ 18:09
Fine print is mostly used to deceive people, it is very important to read it.
gracie | 08.24.15 @ 18:12
Being too lazy to read all the fine print has steered me clear of a few deals that just didn't feel worth the time. Unfortunately there is no choice but to read and clarify when it comes to things we do decide on like homes, cars, credit cards. It would be nice if they wrote the fine print in simple English so it wasn't such a pain to plod through.
Crystal | 08.24.15 @ 18:14
I always read the fine print. There is usually valuable information included
Alec | 08.24.15 @ 18:16
I've had this happen to me. I paid for some books and the next month I got an alert saying a company had tried to charge my account $20! They'd signed me up for a subscription without me having to confirm it since I'd agreed to the fine print. I honestly think they should do away with the legalese and make it readable to the general public and less lengthy. They do want to cover their hind ends but it's allowing companies to take advantage of people because they don't want to spend literally 2 hours plodding through something that may as well be gibberish.
Sara | 08.24.15 @ 18:32
After some issues my husband and I do better at reading the fine print. Though if it wasnt a sketchy deal the print would not be so fine print.
Angie | 08.24.15 @ 18:37
I agree with Elaine - why not be straightforward? it certainly makes consumers automatically mistrust them if they engage in shady practices of "slipping in scenarios" that would cause a customer to be charged additional fees.
Britt | 08.24.15 @ 18:38
I think most companies will put little things in the fine print simply because they know a majority of people do not read it
Rindy | 08.24.15 @ 18:39
I hate fine print and reading it, just be straight up with me and I will do the some for you. If there is too much fine print I tend to leave and not participate.
Vaughn | 08.24.15 @ 18:42
I sometimes try to glance over the fine print but in all honesty I wish people could just be honest.
Erin | 08.24.15 @ 18:53
I guess companies can't lay it all out in the open instead of hiding things in the fine print because then they wouldn't have as much business.
Jo Ann | 08.24.15 @ 18:57
Great article, Best part is if you have to call for clarification of the document and they don't help you grasp what you are signing is you might not want to do business with them. I have called before, and never had a problem, but if i had I would have not done business with them.
Andrea | 08.24.15 @ 19:00
Credit Card companies are the worst with their "buck slips" that are in the customers statements. I used to advise customers to make sure they read them because sometimes, no action will cost you.
trish | 08.24.15 @ 19:20
Not only is the print so small, but the words are so confusing! But we do our best to always read before clicking the box, or signing our names. And thanks to our iPhones have looked up many a confusing term!
Christina | 08.24.15 @ 19:24
I always read the fine print.. Learned the hard way when i was younger..
Joanne grant | 08.24.15 @ 19:32
I try to always read the fine print never know what's hiding there.
Ron | 08.24.15 @ 19:46
It is chicanery, pure and simple. They can say gotcha, when they mislead you with false advertising and hit you with the fine printed cmauded.
Chrisitna | 08.24.15 @ 19:49
Absolutely always read the fine print! That's one of the main things my dad taught me years ago.
Blake | 08.24.15 @ 20:03
It's ridiculous how many hoops we have to jump through to give companies our money and business. They use fine print to squeeze as much out of us as they can with no care for how much business they lose being shady. Although it's still a good idea to read the fine print even if you don't want to
Zanna | 08.24.15 @ 20:13
This is great advice, and calling the company to clarify is the best suggestion I've heard. If they're not willing to walk me through it helpfully, what would that mean when I had a problem that needed help? If they aren't willing to give the customer help then I may not want to give them my business.
Wanda Langley | 08.24.15 @ 20:21
I am one of the guilty one's that does not read all that fine print. It is hard for us getting older to even see it well enough to read it. Guess I will from now on. I have been blessed from not having any issue's from not reading.
Steffanie | 08.24.15 @ 20:28
The deception of these companies just upsets me. They need to be straightforward and put it in regular print.
Nancy | 08.24.15 @ 20:38
It's all about covering THEIR assets whether it's moral or not. If it was easy to read and in plain English most of us probably wouldn't sign it or click the little box.
Carla | 08.24.15 @ 20:48
Sadly even the fine print is worded in a way that can have double meanings. Why can't companies just be straight forward instead of shady. No need for fine print at all.
irene | 08.24.15 @ 21:54
Most of the time I read it but sometimes, honestly if it is for something like using a Microsoft Xbox live subscription or any other type agreement where if you do not accept the terms you are not allowed to use the service then why bother? you have no choice but to agree. If it is a document I have to sign then I read it, but to use a service I am not going to spend a half hour reading tiny print just to be forced to agree with it or go without service.
Donnie | 08.24.15 @ 22:25
I almost always skip the fine print. Then kick myself when I get all the e-xtra chargers. Learned lesson
mitzi | 08.24.15 @ 22:36
Rychana | 08.25.15 @ 00:47
It is very important to read the fine print. However I know I have been guilty of not ready when in a hurry.
Rychana | 08.25.15 @ 00:50
It is so important to read the fine print. They make it so long and difficult to read that is just easier to accept it than read it.
Heather | 08.25.15 @ 00:59
Even when you do ready the fine print, it is worded in a way that confuses the average consumer anymore. And that is even with looking words up.
Missy | 08.25.15 @ 01:28
I try to read the fine print, but it it often extremely lengthy and time is of the essence. How many people sign up for online sites and click accept without reading what you have accepted?
Beverly | 08.25.15 @ 01:28
I hate reading fine print, especially when it's usually longer than anything that is written in normal text size. That's a good sign that you should pass up the deal. But it's important to read and make sure you understand all the "conditions" that are involved.
Sarah | 08.25.15 @ 01:29
I hate fine print. It's such a bother, having to wade through it and figure it all out. I think we need to rename all business people Frank so maybe then they'd all just say it plainly and up front.
Jane | 08.25.15 @ 01:44
I've learned to always read the fine print, especially when it comes to big purchases such as automobiles or houses.
Jackie | 08.25.15 @ 01:54
Great advice. Spending a few minutes reading the fine print and making certain to understand what you're signing can save lots of headaches later.
Jackie | 08.25.15 @ 01:56
Taking the time needed to understand the fine print and be certain of what you're signing can save time and trouble in the future.
Meredith L | 08.25.15 @ 02:42
I don't read all the fine print all the time, but I do spot checks on occasion. There have been a few sites where I found I did not like their terms of service or something so I gradually weaned myself away from them. It's definitely important to be an informed consumer.
connie | 08.25.15 @ 02:57
I am older and wiser and therefore am a stickler about reading the fine print. If there's something that I feel doesn't quite make sense I will call the business for clarification. If there is a contact email I will submit my question so I can get the reply in writing.
Leah | 08.25.15 @ 04:41
I'm super guilty of not reading the fine print. I really like that ruler idea.
Casey | 08.26.15 @ 02:26
I wish companies were up front about all terms and conditions I stead of using fine print to hide things
Katie Greene | 08.26.15 @ 16:21
It seems like everywhere has fine print so they can stop any kind of lawsuits or going against them. We have become a society that is not concerned about customers, but only the bottom line.
Debbie | 08.27.15 @ 04:31
In my opinion the wording often confuses you purposely. I can read and reread the same thing and decipher it differently each time. I hate that.
Sierra | 08.27.15 @ 13:09
I hate fine print.
$commenter.renderDisplayableName() | 01.28.21 @ 12:30