With the whole mortgage meltdown and ensuing credit crisis, there is plenty of blame to go around. Even with shady lenders, complex loans, and loose lending requirements, most of this could have been avoided if people took the time to read, and more importantly, understand what they were signing. Most people simply don’t want to spend the time to sit there and read all of the fine print and those who do actually read it may not fully understand everything.
Don’t Be Embarrassed if You Don’t Understand
When someone explains something technical or difficult to grasp and then asks, “Do you understand?”, the response is typically “yes.” Either it is because you want to get through the process quickly, you don’t think it is very important, or you don’t want to feel embarrassed that you don’t understand a concept. This could end up being a costly mistake. If you don’t understand something or if you see conflicting information, it is in your best interest to stop and ask questions. It’s much easier to take a moment before signing to get clarification than to learn the hard way at some point in the future.
Information Included in the Fine Print
Most people are concerned with a few key areas of a loan such interest rate and length of the loan, but it is within the fine print of the promissory note or security agreement that contains the information that can really cost you money. The most common information included throughout the text will include:
- The promise you make to pay the lender a certain amount of money plus the agreed to interest rate.
- Whether the interest rate is fixed or variable — if variable, when does the rate change and by how much.
- The payment schedule.
- Charges for late payments.
- Any applicable grace period.
- If the loan can be paid off early and if any penalties are incurred for doing so.
- Whether or not security or collateral is required.
- Whether or not the loan can be extended.
- What happens if you default.
- What happens if you pay with a bad check.
- Can the lender take money from other accounts you may have with them to repay the loan.
- Who pays legal fees and collection costs.
Don’t Sign Anything Until You Completely Understand
While it pays to make sure you get a good interest rate with good terms, it is equally important to make sure you understand everything about the loan even if you don’t think it will ever apply to you. You have nobody to blame but yourself if you make a late payment and find out there is a $40 late fee. It would come as no surprise if you took the time to understand what you agreed to. In the event of a problem with your account, ignorance is not a defense. It may seem like a waste of time to spend an extra ten or fifteen minutes to read multiple pages of small text, but it could end up saving you money or problems somewhere down the line.
And finally, don’t feel pressured by the person sitting across the table who’s urging you to sign. Not everyone is out there trying to trick you into a shady loan, but you shouldn’t feel rushed if they are just trying to quickly get you through the process. They can wait, and you should take as much time as you need. If they brush off certain sections saying it isn’t important, just explain that you want to take a moment to look it over. A couple extra minutes will ensure that you aren’t missing some key terms on the loan and help you completely understand what to expect, and what the consequences will be if something goes wrong.
Author: Jeremy Vohwinkle
My name is Jeremy Vohwinkle, and I’ve spent a number of years working in the finance industry providing financial advice to regular investors and those participating in employer-sponsored retirement plans.