I wouldn’t go so far as to say I am a fine print junkie — but I could see that happening.
This fascination I have with the fine print is not some weird quirk I’ve had from birth or even a learned behavior that I pursued. It’s the result of getting burned just one too many times because of what lurks in the fine print — on credit card applications, sales flyers, even the label on a popular laundry detergent.
One of my most irritating lessons in small print had to do with the terms and conditions on a credit card application. Who could even read that? Talk about fine print. I signed the thing acknowledging that I’d read all of it, sent it in, got approved and used the account.
Now, mind you, this was back when we were working our way out of a horrible pit of debt. There was a reason for this particular account because it was a “fixed rate credit card,” not one of those variable interest rate deals. Fixed rate as in the interest rate will not change, right? It doesn’t take a genius to know what that means. And then it happened.
The company sent a letter informing that the interest rate on this account was changing. Going up, not down! What? In a flash I was on the phone with customer service only to be informed that fixed rates are always tied to an index. Should the index change, the fixed rate changes right along with it. Really? The agent read me the text of the application I’d signed and even emailed a copy. I swear this feature was disclosed in 2 pt. type — that’s the teeniest of tiny.
Thankfully, my fine print surprises of late have been minor (I’ve learned the hard way) compared to a few trusting souls burned years ago during a New York City construction boom. It seems that these folks bought new Manhattan apartments before construction even began, subject to the detailed blueprints they reviewed and accepted. In writing. Legally.
Months later, they walked into their dream homes only to be met with rooms that are significantly smaller and ceilings that are lower than what is called out on the plans. And appliances that are not the brand names agreed to. What happened?
They failed to read the fine print that says, “square footage is approximate” and “appliances will be of similar quality.” Who would have thought that a room that clearly shows on the plans as being 11 feet, 2 inches by 12 feet, 8 inches would turn out to be an approximation?
OK, so my laundry detergent isn’t exactly a million-dollar-apartment, but wouldn’t any reasonable person be safe to assume that if the container declares “96 loads,” one could expect to have enough detergent to last for 8 months if one does 3 loads of laundry per week?
Here, let me do the math: 3 loads times 4 weeks equals 12 loads a month; 96 divided by 12 equals 8. Right? Now I wouldn’t quibble over a couple of weeks give or take. But when I ran out in less than half that time — even though I’m careful to measure — I figured that something’s not right! I decided to investigate.
Sure enough, right there on the back in very small print, the manufacturer discloses that “96 loads” refers to small loads — the lowest line marked “1” on the measuring cup, not the line marked “3,” which I use and I bet everyone else who measures does, too.
Look, I have an extra-capacity machine. Why on earth would I run small loads? What I thought was a bargain turned out to be very expensive detergent. I was burned by the fine print.
I’ll admit that my angst over laundry detergent is nothing compared to getting burned on a real estate deal. And it just goes to prove once again that whether it’s laundry detergent, credit card applications or a fancy NYC apartment, what the big print giveth, the fine print taketh away.