BBB Advises Consumers to Always Read Before Signing A Contract

August 20, 2014

Nowadays, most of our big ticket purchases for products and services involve the signing of a contract. If you you’re buying a car, signing up for a new cell phone plan, hiring a contractor, or even sending your child to a private school, you’re sure to encounter them.  Contracts are an agreement that provides protection to all parties involved, but it is important to read thoroughly and fully understand the terms before signing on the dotted line.

A good contract will address the extent of the obligation by both the seller and the buyer.  It will cover the exact specifications of the goods and services, the delivery method and timeline, and the price to be paid. BBB receives hundreds of complaints that allege failure to make good on a contract, however, with some time spent understanding all terms and conditions and making sure all the details are in writing, some complaints may be avoided.  BBB recommends the following tips to consider before signing any type of contract.

Take some time to read through the contract thorough. Don’t feel pressured into signing the contract on the spot. For the most part, a reputable seller will be comfortable with your need to take some time to review the contract. 

Read the fine print. The scope of a contract is usually written as “Terms and Conditions.” A lot of minute details can be buried in this section. It’s what’s covered, and more importantly, what’s not covered by the contract.  Take time to consider the “best case scenario” and the “worst case scenario” outlined in the contract.  If you can live with the latter, you’re in good shape.  If not, you might consider having an attorney look over the contract for you. If that sounds worse than living with the “worst case scenario” reconsider the reason you’re signing the contract in the first place.

Don’t believe anything you hear…unless you see it in writing. Insist that all verbal promises are included in the contract.  Trying to prove what someone said, after the fact, is extremely difficult.  A contract can only cover what’s included, not what’s implied.

Contracts are written on paper, not in stone. If there’s something in the contract that really bothers you and may be a “deal breaker”, consider having it rewritten.  Small changes can usually be scratched out and initialed with both parties’ consent.  Bigger changes may require drafting a new copy.

Get a copy of anything you sign. “Was the balance due upon completion or by 30 days?” “Was the installation to be performed by a subcontractor or the contractor?”  Keeping a copy of the contract allows you to look back on the agreement and check the details.  It’s also the only proof you have that you have an agreement.

In a contract, everything should be completed before you sign.  Leave nothing out and leave nothing to the imagination. 

Don’t be confused by the “3-Day Cooling Off Rule.” The “3-Day Cooling Off Rule” is commonly misunderstood as a way out of a bad deal. This rule applies specifically to contracts signed and purchases made at the consumers home or outside of the sellers normal place of business. The rule gives the consumer a chance to cancel a purchase over $25 for a full refund, if cancelled before midnight on the third day.    

Before you invest, investigate. Most importantly, remember that a contract, once signed, is a legally binding document. Before you sign anything, make sure you understand not only the contract, but the company who’s written it. Ask for references, check with friends and family and check out