Read The Small And Large Print

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What you don’t know can hurt you and most consumers make sure they don’t get hurt.

FindLaw, a legal self-help Web site says Americans scrutinize contracts more than previously thought, especially when it comes to eye-glazing real estate contracts.

The percentage of Americans who say they read every word or at least enough to understand the contract before signing on the dotted line is 85 percent of those buying or selling a home and 70 percent of those signing housing rental agreements.

Eighty-two percent of those signing employment contracts read the fine print, 77 percent of those signing credit card agreements also do. For sports and recreation liability waivers 67 percent read the contract and for rental car agreements 63 percent read before signing.

“It really pays to make sure you understand everything before you sign,” says Rick Lord, a contract law professor at Campbell University School of Law in North Carolina.

Reading can give you a negotiating edge.

“Many times, for example in mortgage agreements or employment contracts, you can negotiate better terms, such as avoiding prepayment penalties or getting better perks, and it really pays to make sure you understand everything before you sign,” Lord said.

Not reading can cost you plenty.

Lord said failing to read a contract can be costly in terms of penalties, liabilities or inability to recover damages, say because you signed away your right to a jury trial.

Less than one quarter of people said that they only glance at the wording or completely ignore these contracts before signing them, FindLaw found.

People were mostly likely to not pay attention to sports and recreation liability waivers (18 percent), rental car agreements (16 percent) and credit card agreements (15 percent).

“If you fail to read a contract thoroughly, you do so at your own hazard,” says Lord.

Ignorance of the facts won’t stand up in court as a reason to make the contract null and void.

“Generally, if you sign a contract, you’re bound by it whether you read it completely or not. People should read every agreement thoroughly before they sign it,” Lord said.

The same applies to disclosures, privacy policies and “terms of agreement” commonly found on Web sites.

In the case of a real estate or mortgage contract, hire a capable real estate agent, real estate attorney or mortgage consultant to read through papers you either can’t or don’t want to take the time to understand, experts advise.

Another legal self-help Web site, Nolo.com, offers additional information on real estate contracts.

Written by Broderick Perkins The Waiting Game

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