Credit Forms in “Plain-English”

7/1/2005

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If you are a business that offers credit to consumers, you probably use a variety of standardized forms and notices to communicate with your customers. The forms may range from short notices to complicated contracts that explain the terms of your credit plan. But oftentimes, the forms and notices are written in complicated terms. Consumers find it hard to read and understand the terms being communicated to them.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, over the past ten years, a number of major insurance companies, retailers, and banks have voluntarily redrafted their consumer communications into “Plain English.” Many other companies have simplified their forms in response to state law developments.

Why would your business use “Plain English” language in consumer credit communications? The Better Business Bureau, along with the FTC, give the following reasons why you may want to do so:

  • “Plain English” is good for customer relations. When you communicate simply and directly with your customers, you show them that you value their business.
  • Customers expect to understand what you have to say. Consumers expect clear information about matters that affect their financial decisions.
  • Customers need to understand their obligations. Your customers can best understand credit terms that are easy to read and comprehend.
  • “Plain English” communications may save you money. Companies that use easy-to-understand forms report fewer inquiries and less litigation. They also say that it is easier to train staff and handle complaints.

When reviewing your company’s contracts and forms, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does my document contain everything I want my customer to know about my credit arrangements?
  • Is the document’s content limited to what is essential to protect my company’s interest?
  • Does my form say everything the law requires, and in the manner the law requires?
  • Are my ideas organized logically so that necessary information is easy to find? Is the language clear and concise?
  • Does my layout help the reader follow my organization? Is the type size easy to read?

Finally, be sure to consult with a lawyer to ensure that your documents comply with all the federal and state laws that govern your business. For more information on writing in “Plain English”, visit the FTC’s Web site at www.ftc.gov.

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