The definition of ‘fine print’ according to Investopedia: “Contract terms and conditions, disclosures or other important information that are not included in the main body of a document, but in footnotes or a supplemental document. Reading and understanding the fine print is essential when entering into an agreement. It often contains information that the issuer does not want to call to the recipient’s attention, but that is essential for the recipient to know”.
In the financial services business for over 25 years, focusing on insurance, savings and investments, I have dealt with business owners, CEOs, senior management and those just starting out in their careers. Clients facing financial troubles have shown me signed documents related to issue/s. I am amazed at their naivety!
You and your money deserve respect and proper protection. The onus is on you! Penalties, early surrender, loss, possible legal implications and actions all result from not doing the obvious. So, read, understand and then commit.
Ignorance is not bliss, complaining that the terms and conditions were not explained to you or that you were hoodwinked into signing on the dotted line, without being made aware of any risks or liability is useless if you have already signed the documents.
Many of us are diligent and eagleeyed when protecting the rights of our employer etc. However, when it comes to our personal rights/financial matters/obligations, commonsense flies out of the window!
A ‘simple’ document is just as dangerous as a ‘sheaf’ of documents that require your signature. It is your right to ask for an explanation and your responsibility to understand your rights and obligations before signing. Under the law, ignorance is not a defence for breach of a contract.
Some of the information in the fine print may be required by law or may be recommended by a company’s legal department in the form or a disclaimer or indemnification. These are designed to protect the company. The classic example of fine print (where you need a magnifying glass to read this) is a credit card agreement.
You must read and then ask for clarification. The same goes for a Power of Attorney, Guarantor, Account opening, Credit card application, in short anything that requires your signature.
The information must be provided in layman terms and in plain English/ regional language which explains the financial implications and obligations and possible risks and further assistance in helping you in understanding.
Be aware that financial institutions reserve the right to change the terms and conditions, where applicable and inform customers accordingly. This is generally done by sending you a notification by mail which many times ends up unopened or in your waste paper.
How many of us notice/ignore the small asterisk and print in italics ‘*T&C apply’. These are an integral supplement to the terms and conditions and must be read carefully because any variation, indemnification, disclosure and disclaimer can be mentioned. You have the right:
- To get from the individual/institution a clear and simplified explanation about any product, service, contract, their respective risk along with a clear answer to any question concerning any clause or conditions that are unclear.
- To obtain and read in advance, a copy of each document and text referred to in any contract to be signed with an institution/company. To obtain a copy of any contract or document signed by you with the employer/contractor without any additional cost.
- To ask for the actual cost of any product or service and understand the penalties and implications if any payments, contributions services are not met on schedule.
Do not sign a blank or incomplete form. Ensure that all the required fields and figures in the form are correctly filled and complete before signing it. Do not sign any papers without reading and fully understanding even those given by family members. You could be authorizing, giving away assets, giving up legal rights, become the guarantor of a loan