2010-04-22 / Editorial Page

News for Families & Consumers

Read the fine print!
Martha Partridge
Family & Consumer Science Agent Lincoln & Wilkes Counties

Consumers beware! Some businesses are trying to rip you off, and it is all perfectly legal. All they need do is to tell you ahead of time what they are going to do. This information about how they plan to gouge and overcharge you is called a disclosure. In many cases there are laws that dictate what disclosures need to look like and the information they should contain. But most of the time, you are on your own.

Whether you buy or rent and no matter what the product or service, in general anything is possible, as long as it is fully disclosed. When you sign on the dotted line, you accept the terms. How do you protect yourself? Read the small print! Follow these tips to avoid getting into a bad deal.

Read every word. Make sure you understand every sentence. Take all the time you need to read any documents you must sign. For large transactions you should be able to receive the documents several days ahead of time to allow for a thorough review. Pressure to sign without reading is a red flag.

Avoid going alone. If you are unsure of your ability to understand the terms or fear you cannot resist high- pressure tactics, ask a trusted friend or family member to go with you. For large transactions, it may be in your best interest to hire an attorney.

Bring a magnifying glass. The smaller the print, the more likely you are to be glad you did. Showing up with the appropriate magnification lets the seller know you are serious about your rights.

Look at the total cost. Salesmen love consumers who focus on the monthly payment because they know they will not question any specific charges. A lower monthly payment does not necessarily make something more affordable, especially when you are financing the item. Care, maintenance, insurance, and usage costs can sometimes double or triple total cost. Add it all up and compare total costs, not monthly payments.

Do not sign if you do not understand. Get someone you know and trust (NOT the salesperson), to explain terms or phrases you do not understand. If you are unsure, uncomfortable, or do not like what you hear, do not sign.

Remember, avoiding a bad deal is a lot easier than getting out of one. Never sign anything before you have read it and understand what it means.

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