Tips for deciphering the fine print on products
“In an ideal world, we would have read it all, but we rarely have time to decipher it or do much with it,” says Nicholas Creel, assistant professor of business law at Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville, Australia. Georgia.
That may or may not present a problem, says Andrew Forman, associate professor of marketing at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY “Sometimes the fine print is harmless and other times amounts to denying the offer.”
How can consumers protect themselves? Atlanta attorney Brad Elbein, former regional director of the Federal Trade Commission, reads the fine print of every contract, but most of us don’t have the time or the patience for it. And even if we read everything, there is no guarantee that we will understand all the ins and outs.
At a minimum, experts say, skim the fine print. Keep an eye out for the asterisks
or numbers or superscript letters. “It’s there to modify the current statement and send you information to lighten or hide the information provided,” says Elbein, a specialist in consumer protection law. If you see this asterisk but no additional information, walk away. Also, be on the lookout for these words and phrases, which could be a sign of a “gotcha” buried in the offer. “Our Affiliates” or “our partners”.
These phrases indicate that the company will not only inundate you with unsolicited letters, emails and text messages, but also sell your data to other companies with which it has a tangential relationship and who will do the same. “Third party.”
This term has an even broader scope than “our affiliates”. In this case, the company may sell your personal data to any willing buyer. Do you like that new smartphone app that monitors your heart rate and pulse or times your daily steps? Are you ready to share your health habits with your insurance company? “While stocks last.”
Beware of this bait and switch sign. You go to the store for the item on sale. Staff say it’s out of stock, but here’s an alternative — at full price.
What questions do you have about maintaining your home? “Introductory offer.”
Similar to “free trial”, this term is found in apps and services with a subscription model. The first six months of Internet service costs $10.99 per month, then it increases to $60. And chances are canceling is a hassle when navigating through phone menus or pushy salespeople trying to persuade you to stay. “Automatic renewal.”
This sentence is the ultimate gotcha. You sign an agreement, then it remains in effect whenever the term ends, unless you explicitly cancel it, even if you no longer want or use the subscription, membership or service. And that contract could be renewed at a much higher price than you originally signed up for. “Deferred Interest”.
The difference between a deferred interest agreement and one that proclaims “no interest” can be confusing to consumers. Both are common terms used in contracts for the purchase of appliances and furniture and imply a fixed period – two years, for example – during which you can pay off the balance of an item without accruing interest. . If you have not paid the full amount at the end of the agreement, in both cases you will be charged interest. But, Forman says, with deferred interest, “if you owe at the end of the period, you’re liable for all interest accrued over the two years.” In an interest-free arrangement, you don’t owe interest on those first two years. “Class Action Waiver.”
If your child’s swing falls apart after six months, it may not be worth suing the business. Instead, you could band together with others to file a class action lawsuit. This clause in a contract obliges you to give up this option. “All sales are final.”
Sellers use this phrase to prevent you from returning a product. However, says Creel, while you can’t just change your mind, if you buy a vacuum and it’s faulty, you can take it back to the retailer. Your pay depends on the word… “Non refundable.”
Even when a company won’t refund you, if you return a defective product, they must replace the item or issue you store credit. “Restocking Fee.”
Returns are free, but the cost of restocking the item can be up to 20% of the item price. Companies can have any sales policy if it’s posted clearly and prominently, Elbein says. If you like testing electronics, you might want to buy from a seller who doesn’t charge this fee. “Compulsory arbitration.”
If you have a dispute with a company or are injured by a product, you waive the right to sue. Instead, you must enter arbitration. Almost always, the seller picks the location and hires the people to hear your case and decide how to resolve it. Although this should be an impartial process, remember who pays the referee. “Opt out.”
This sentence means that, unless you tell us otherwise, the company can use your information as it sees fit. It is the consumer’s responsibility to take the initiative to keep the data private. Typically, the opt-out option appears when you sign up for a service or sign up to make a purchase and are bombarded with questions and checkboxes, Creel says. “Voids warranty.”
If you do anything on the voided list, warranty coverage is void. For example, if you take your smartphone to an unlicensed facility or attempt to repair it yourself, the seller or manufacturer may no longer vouch for the product, even if you’re dealing with a new issue. “After refund.”
This ad makes you think you’re getting a good deal, but you pay for the product and only receive the discount after the purchase is complete. Rebates are tedious, with a list of instructions and requirements such as proof of purchase, original receipt, and product codes, all of which must be mailed to a fulfillment center. A rebate can take weeks to arrive and comes in the form of a prepaid debit card that looks like spam and can be accidentally thrown in the trash.