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Always Take Time to Read the Fine Print

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In recent months, Americans have received a number of protections from the federal agency tasked with helping to protect consumers from predatory and misleading lending practices, but some experts say that it’s also important for borrowers to do their part to protect themselves.

The CARD Act has instituted a number of strong policies that called for easier-to-read credit card contracts and other lending agreements, but some experts believe that in many cases, the measures haven’t gone far enough, according to a report from Bloomberg News. For instance, though the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has recently begun rolling out some prototype lending agreements that would be standard across the entire industry and make it easier for borrowers to understand the true costs of their accounts, these are not mandatory, and still do not mandate that clear language be used in the agreement itself.

For this reason, it’s important that consumers take the time to carefully review any lending agreement they either have now or plan to get in the future, the report said. A 2010 study found that the average adult has a ninth-grade reading level, while the average credit card agreement is written at a 12th-grade level. As a consequence, it can be difficult for many people to understand their lending agreements, but taking the time to do so is of the utmost importance.

Those who do not fully understand their credit card or other lending agreement may be more likely to make missteps when it comes to managing that account. For instance, they may not fully understand the cost of a missed payment, which can typically result in not only being charged a penalty fee, but also a higher interest rate that can make debt spiral out of control if it’s not properly addressed quickly.

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When reviewing their lending agreements, consumers may find it helpful to have a calculator and some old billing statements handy, so they know more or less what they can expect to pay for a month of normal spending on their accounts. This may help them better prepare to put money away or perhaps find areas where they’re spending more than they should. They may also be able to learn how much only paying the minimum into their accounts every month ends up costing them.

Image: the Italian voice, via Flickr

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