Fine Print

27 08 2012

If you’ve ever purchased a new home or vehicle through an automotive dealership, you’ve been through the experience of signing, initialing and dating voluminous documents related to the transaction.  Disclosures, releases, obligations, waivers.  It can be daunting.  The easiest thing in the world is simply to sign, initial and date with only a cursory glance.

I know.  I’ve done it numerous times.  So have you.  And that is the problem.

We call such encounters “signing our lives away.”  Given the careful, legal language in which these documents are composed, it’s not far from the truth.  And in the normal course of events, one normally doesn’t think much of it.  Just sign the thing and be done with it.

Until you get surprised when one of the terms, contingencies or disclaimers affect you—your plans and your pocketbook.  You feel as if you’ve been sucker punched.  It feels that way.

But you haven’t been blindsided.  One of the documents you signed said, in effect, that you had a full understanding of the terms of the agreement.  And you’re now legally liable to fulfill the terms of the agreement.

Liable to pay double-digit interest on that credit card when the economy flags and banks are low on cash.   Liable to have to negotiate the use of your own art if you’ve surrendered copyright to a publisher.  (I know one recording artist who, when younger and untutored, gave up ownership of his music and now has to lease master tapes from the record companies just to press CD’s for his fans.)

No, it’s not unfair.  It’s called fine print.  And most don’t read it.  Those who do are often the ones who are better off financially than the rest of us.  They’ve done due diligence in their financial affairs.  Part of their reward is an often proportionate lack of unpleasant “surprises.”

What to do?

  • Take your time when signing documents.  Read the small print.  Ask questions.  And don’t be intimidated if the agent with whom you are doing business seems impatient.  You have everything to gain or lose by taking the time you need to know what you’re getting into.
  • Do your homework.  If you’re buying a car, go in knowing the worth of the vehicle better than the salesperson.  The blue book information is available on the Web.  Same for house and land purchases.
  • Learn about compound interest, something Einstein purportedly called “the Eighth Wonder of the World.”  You’ll buy far less and shop around more before parting with your hard earned money.

This is a step that those who would own their future must take.  Be diligent and ahead of the pack.

You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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