Consumer Misperceptions

May 29, 2013


We’re exposed to all kinds of folklore and ideas that a lotof people take to be absolutely true.  Alot won’t hold up to reality, especially where your rights as a consumer areconcerned.  Some of these ideas may makecomplete sense to us, but they can lead to financially dangerous assumptions,and the odds of us believing some Consumer Legends go up if they favor our own interests. 


For instance, we may want to believe that we have three daysto cancel a contract, but that’s not often the case.  In fact, the so-called “3 Day Right ofRescission” has only a small degree of truth to it.  The laws at the root of this commonmisunderstanding were meant to protect homeowners from fly-by-night salesmenworking door-to-door scams.  Those rulesdon’t remove your responsibilities for reading the terms of a contract, leaseor purchase agreement.  Very few consumertransactions actually qualify for the exception – the rule is limited to writtencontracts signed in the home or a few other very specific types oftransactions, but not new cars, cell phones, or other binding agreements.  Consumers should know the power of theirsignatures on contracts is legally binding before the ink even dries.  You’re bound to the terms of the writtenagreement whether or not you’ve read the contract or understand it, and wecan’t depend on the courts to bail us out of a bad deal.  Any time you’re presented with a writtenagreement for your signature, you should take the time to review thedocument.  Take your responsibilitiesvery seriously when signing any contract and know that there’s no automaticsafety net that will get you out of it. When disputes arise, go back to the contract and look for writtenpolicies to cover your problems and what you need to do to resolve them.


As for returns, don’t assume that you have a set period oftime during which you can make “no fault” returns or exchanges.  A store’s return policies are whatever thestore wants them to be, up to and including accepting no returns at all, aslong as those policies are clearly posted at the point of purchase.  If a situation arises in which you need tomake a return, check your receipt first – very often, stores print the returnpolicies on the back of their receipts for shoppers’ convenience – and beprepared to play by the rules.  The oneexception here is that you have a reasonable expectation to get what you’vepaid for, so if a product was mislabeled or doesn’t work as described in somematerial way, you may have a good argument to make a return no matter what thepolicy governing its sale.


How often have you heard that if your landlord doesn’t makerepairs in a timely manner that you can withhold your rent payments?  Similarly, some folks will suggest that youskip a car payment or two when the dealership won’t come to terms with aproblem vehicle or “lemon.”  Withholdingpayments may get the attention of a landlord or other creditor, but not thekind of attention you want and definitely not the kind that will solve yourproblems.  Skipping payments is a goodway to provoke your landlord into starting eviction proceedings or facing therepossession of your vehicle.  Particularlywhere auto loans are involved, you probably make your payments to a creditunion, bank or other financial institution that is pretty far removed from theactual manufacturer or seller of the vehicle. Withholding payments won’t help you. If you run into trouble, file a complaint through the BBB, hire anattorney, or discuss a lemon law claim, but keep making payments.


Misperceptions aren’t limited to consumer issues.  Without research or direct experience, mostpeople assume that employers owe them breaks after certain periods of work ormust deduct proper taxes from their paychecks; neither of which is true for everyone,but, again, the roots of the misunderstandings come from limited real worldexamples.  Some rules vary company tocompany, state to state, or profession to profession.  To really know what your employer owes you,consult your employee handbook, speak to the Department of Labor, or check withan attorney before you make any bad assumptions that could harm your longtermfinancial health.     


Whenever you’re in doubt about a policy or legal concern inthe consumer realm, don’t trust folklore. Get in touch with an authority who knows the rules.