Everyone has done it. When buying a couch, joining a gym, or renting a new apartment, the salesperson hands a customer a stack of papers and a pen, and he or she starts signing their name on the dotted line.
People think to themselves, “I’m sure everyone that has bought a couch has signed the very same contract and none of them have had any problems” or “if something happens, I’m sure I can get out of this” or maybe even “who cares about the paperwork. Just give me my new living room set!”
Unfortunately, the next time people usually think about that contract is when they discover they have paid $1,500 for a $150 piece-of-junk couch, when they haven’t been to the gym in months but they’re still paying $80 a month, or when there’s a hole in the roof and the landlord expects renters to stay in the apartment and keep paying rent.
Generally speaking, when it comes to contracts, a deal is a deal. When a person signs their name to a contract, the law assumes they have read it and they agree to its terms. Almost invariably, the law will hold them to that contract whether it cuts in their favor or not.
To avoid some possible contracting pitfalls in the future, follow these simple tips.
Read the contract! It may seem like a hassle to read through the entire contract, but once a dispute arises, a person will usually become intimately familiar with the terms of that contract and he or she will wish they had read it before they signed it.
Shop around. Customers might feel like they have found the only person, store or landlord that can offer them what they really want. That’s the way they want people to feel. After reading the contract, if it contains terms you are not comfortable with, take the time to shop around. Chances are people will be able to find a similar offering with more favorable terms. If not, there’s a pretty good chance that the deal that seems “too good to be true” actually is “too good to be true.” A person is better off doing business with someone they can trust.
Visit the Fort Huachuca Legal Assistance Office in the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate. It exists to help service members, military retirees and their dependants with their legal issues. If preparing for a large purchase and you’re not comfortable with the terms of the contract, make an appointment to see a judge advocate. Tell the seller or vendor you would like to discuss the matter with an attorney. If they put more pressure on to sign right away, that is a pretty good sign that the potential customer should visit Legal Assistance. Try to plan ahead as it can take some time to get an appointment with a JAG.
Don’t use credit if at all possible. Many of the contract problems people have stem from the financing agreement. Some businesses make nearly all of their money not from the sale but from financing a purchase. If customers can avoid using credit cards or financing consumer purchases, they can avoid many contract issues and save thousands of dollars in fees and interest charges.
Contracts can offer people great protection. They keep parties honest and provide a means to assert their rights. However, an unread or unwise contract can literally turn lives upside down. So before signing a contract, buyer beware! Do some homework.
To contact the Legal Assistance office for more information about contracts or other legal issues, call 533.2009.