We know that most legalese is not like the faux fine print we concocted for FOOLottery!, our April Fool's Day joke (e.g., "FOOLottery!® reserves the right to make no attempts at collection whatsoever, though with billions at stake, that would be stupid"). But when it comes to entering into legally binding agreements the other 364 days a year, it's a good idea to don the specs and scrutinize the tiny type, even if there are no buried jokes.
Most of us do spend quality time with contracts, according to legal website findlaw.com, particularly with big purchases. Of the 1,000 adults the site surveyed, 85% said they read every word (or at least enough to understand contracts) when buying a home. Employment contracts come under pretty heated scrutiny as well, with 82% of respondents claiming to be very familiar with the terms before committing their John Hancock.
Our eagle-eyed ways begin to wane when it came to scouring credit card agreements (77%), housing rental contracts (70%), sports and recreation liability waivers (67%), and car rental agreements (63%). In fact, when asked which contracts they are most likely to just glance at or completely ignore, 15% to 18% of people admitted their eyes glaze over at the sight of credit card, car rental, and sports waiver agreements.
We know that you don't want to waste any time getting your turn on the Moon Bounce, but by giving just a cursory look at contracts, you could be leaving your good money (not to mention your complaining rights) on the table. (How many people do you know who slapped their foreheads the first time they used Priceline.com after getting stuck with a flight with three layovers for a trip just one state over?)
In the case of credit card agreements, you don't even have to sign anything to notify the credit card company that you accept the terms of the contract. The moment you activate the card, you are subject to the lender's (legal) whim.
In many cases, you can negotiate better terms than the ones outlined in a contract. Employment contracts and mortgage agreements -- even some cell-phone plans -- often have wiggle room. Mention the perks you want (e.g., rollover minutes), and the penalties you refuse to pay (e.g., prepayment fees) before you sign.