Does Anyone Read the Fine Print?

I myself never do.

You get this all the time. Anytime you’re opening a new account, credit card, mortgage, installing a new computer program, make a major purchase, have a surgery etc. etc., you get pages and pages of disclosures. If people took the time to read them it would take hours, possibly, especially if they really intended to understand every clause in it.

My approach is to consider the source - if I trust the entity I’m dealing with and/or the person selling it to me and this is their standard form, then I assume I’m OK. It’s possible that there may be something buried in there which could come back to harm me at some point, but I figure it probably can’t be all that bad if this is the standard form for a reputable institution, and plus any other entity would probably be just as bad. And ISTM that the expectation is that you not read it, in that in instances where there are people helping you with the process (e.g. mortgages or surgeries and the like) they don’t anticipate the process taking as much time as it would if you read it all.

But it kind defeats the purpose of having all that text to begin with.

So I’m wondering: does anyone read them?


For software, I don’t even bother. Same with most other end-user agreements for websites and the like.

However, I do review any contract that has a required term, a minimum fee, the chance for terms to change in the future and any requirements of me. For example, on a credit card, I check the clause about changing interest rates. On my business lease and my personal mortgage, I made sure to note things like the requirement to have an insurance policy covering the property. I did not read all 200 pages of my mortgage packet, mind you, but I did at least skim the heading of every section.

One of my recent practices is to make a cliff’s notes version of the agreement for myself. “Must have insurance - page 4” “30 days notice by writing to cancel - page 7” “Renewals due by October - page 7” and so on. This gives me an easy-to-scan list of things I may need to know/do, with a way to find the details when/if I need them.

Yes, sometimes. Which is why it pisses me off when people try to rush me through it. I am reading it, dammit, I’ll sign it when I am good and ready.

Yes. I read every document, every agreement, every EULA, and (almost) every manual when I buy something.

On a business trip a few months ago I decided to try Uber. For some reason, it needed Google Play on my phone to get to their scheduling/billing application. After reading thru an astounding number of EULAs/agreement/docs and links to other docs I gave up and used the bus. I’m astounded that people actually click “agree” on all this stuff without reading it.

If you’ll permit a funny anecdote: In the early 90’s I was doing a software project for a law firm. At my request (as a sort of joke) one attorney prepared a legal document for me to give to salesmen. It went something like “I [salesman name] have assured Mr Pullin that the document he is signing is just a “standard form” and it is unnecessary to read through it. I [salesman name] assume in perpetuity, all liabilities, costs, repairs, legal fees and expenses which may result either directly or indirectly from Mr Pullin signing [named] document.” I can’t remember the exact wording, but we were house shopping at the time, and it was a hoot to give it to realtors or title company folks when they were hurrying me to sign something. :slight_smile:

This. I have this happen frequently:

Me: <reading>
Them: “Oh, it’s just a standard form that says [summary].”
Me: “Uh-huh.” <continue reading>

On a very rare occasion, it has paid off, because I’ve actually gotten someone to agree to a revision to terms on what they would consider a standard contract. It’s worth the effort, to me, and if they want my money/commitment/whatever, they can wait for me to read through it.

For stuff like software, I skim.

For stuff I’m signing in person, I read, though I admit the extent of my thoroughness depends on the length of the document and the size of the print.

It depends on the situation. Buying a house - yes, I did actually read the whole thing. When I was working as a contractor and we were acquired, I read the whole agreement I was supposed to sign, and it was a good thing, because I noticed a clause saying, in essence, “in any dispute between employee and company, the employee agrees not to seek any outside agency if internal arbitration resolves the issue” or something to that effect. It was late in the day, the HR person had forty or fifty other people to get thru, so I crossed it out, initialed it, and told the HR person to initial it. He didn’t want to, but I told him I wouldn’t sign unless he did, so he sighed exasperatedly and initialed it. Good thing too - those bastards were the crookedest company I ever worked for since the CEO of the savings and loan I worked for went to federal prison.

Credit card agreements, I skim looking for the hidden increased charges and “we can increase your interest rates whenever we like” and suchlike. As long as they don’t start charging an annual fee, I don’t care, since I don’t carry a balance.

Software - I don’t don’t usually bother. I know enough about software that I can refuse to allow them to track my data.


I read the fine print on anything I get in the mail which says just $9.99 per month!*

I read the “*” which usually says something like "Discount for 6 months, then regular price of $39.99 for 2 years and you are locked into a 2 year contract.

I read all the fine print for any contracts having to do with home repair, roof, plumbing, etc.

And read all the fine print from any car dealer, especially used car dealers.

I don’t read much of anything if it is something for my doctor/dentist that I need to sign to get work done. Basically I need to get the work done and need to sign it for them to do the work, If I don’t sign, then the work will not be done, so whatever - I need the work done and sign. No point in reading it. (Laying on operating table bleeding to death - Sorry I’m not signing that!)

And don’t read every single word if it is a trusted company. They would have a lot to lose by screwing people over, so very unlikely they would do that.

Online casinos I read every damn word. Mostly though I just assume good faith from the standard form of most organizations. I trust the "mishief"law to protect me from anything too unexpected buried in the small print.

Credit cards, yes. Software, no. House closing, no. Anything from HR, yes. Healthcare stuff, no. Rental agreements, yes. Vehicle purchases, yes.

I have read the entire document cover to cover for every legally binding form or contract I have ever signed in my life. It’s paid off a few times, I once avoided a nightmare job by noticing a brutal non-compete clause in an employment contract. When they wouldn’t budge, I walked. It turned out that was one of the best choices I ever made.

On the flip side, I did have a banker kick me out of her office once. She claimed she didn’t have time for me to read all the forms she wanted signed. I walked out then too.

Yep. I do.

I really annoyed the crap out of a landlord once by having the audacity to actually read the entire lease start to finish. I also annoy auto dealerships with that, so just as well I go a decade or two between vehicle purchases.

If an entity won’t let me read the fine print I don’t do business with them.

Was once in the ER and the docs wanted me to sign a consent form. Unfortunately, I had been separated from my glasses. When my spouse arrived the docs were agitated, saying I refused treatment and was having reading and vision problems. He looked at me and said “well, yeah - she doesn’t have her glasses, where are they? And did you really expect her to sign the form without being able to read it?”

Apparently the docs DID, in fact, expect me to sign without reading it. If no one has sued them for that someone should. Honestly, it’s not informed consent if you’re unable to read it.

Actually, you really need to read the medical stuff.

OK, if you’re bleeding out or unconscious you can’t do that, but I once encountered an unscrupulous dentist who wanted all patients to sign a contract basically saying they agreed to undergo and pay for all treatment the dentist recommended using the dentist’s financing… at 28% a month. No effing way - this guy wanted me to undergo all sorts of “procedures”, including some purely cosmetic, that would have run into the tens of thousands, with that interest rate… I refused to sign and went to another dentist for a second opinion, who concluded none of the work “recommended” was necessary. Really dodged a bullet, there. All subsequent dentists have confirmed, again, none of that crap was needed or even desirable.

I approach it this way, if their or my lawyer may be reading it at some point later, so should I. I’ve had various entities try to rush me through without reading something. My usual grumpy old broad response is “Well, if you’re that busy, you can just make me a copy and I’ll take it to my attorney to read.”

I recall a story from the 1980’s (it could have been from a Paul Harvey broadcast) about Norwest Bank(*), of which I was a customer. They had included a clause in their updated agreement for their Visa credit card that said they would pay $10 to anyone who sent a written request to their offices. Supposedly it was such a small font size and in the middle of multiple pages, that no one took them up on it.

I started scanning them since then, but I haven’t seen any similar offers.

(*) Norwest bank bought out Wells Fargo in 1998 and renamed itself as such

I occasionally read them.
My biggest problem with them is that in the few that I have read they explicitly say that the salesman/representative of the company has no authority to make changes. So if I do find something I want to change, I would have to wait to locate a manager with signature authority. A very unlikely occurrence. So my choice is to sign or walk. I have never found anything in a EULA that would force me to walk. So is it a good use of my time to read something once I have decided to complete the transaction?

An M&M clause.

Which raises the interesting question. Suppose you cross out that line and then you and the salesman sign the contract. Is it legally binding? The contract that the two of you signed had nothing in it which prohibited the salesman from making changes.

The clause about lack of authority is one of those things that may or may not hold up in court. I won’t go into details, but I have a tax client who got a settlement about false representations made in a mortgage refinance, even though the signed paperwork said, in essence “This is our only agreement and nullifies everything else you might have been told verbally or otherwise.” The settlement admits no particular wrong-doing. Maybe the mortgage broker thought he’d win in front of a judge but wanted to avoid litigation expense. Still, my client got a check out of it.

Here’s what can happen if you don’t read very very carefully before signing.

Recent news item:

Landlord sends lease to prospective tenant in the form of a Word document.
Tenant realizes that he can edit the document, and does so.
Tenant adds a new clause, favorable to himself, to the document.
Landlord, apparently, then signs the modified doc without re-reading it very carefully.

Tenant says he’s going to hold landlord to it, too.