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Understand the Fine Print of Contracts

(I Want To Quit The Gym)

It’s January 1. You set your New Year’s resolution to work out every day, and you sign up for a 6-month membership to the fancy new gym down the street. Come February 1, you have only gone once.

Yep, you want to quit the gym.

Unfortunately, you signed the contract without reading the fine print and you are locked into that gym membership that you know you’ll never use. Before you sign the dotted line on another deal, whether on a new gym contract (I mean, have you seen that new yoga studio?) or an apartment lease, make sure you follow these essential guidelines.

Google it. Before considering a contract for any product or service, search online for the organization with which you are signing the contract and the keyword “complaints.”

Check the gossip. Ask your friends on social media if they have any horror stories about the particular organization or type of service you are signing up for. Chances are that your friends will give you an unbiased opinion, which you may not always get online.

Get it in writing. Verbal agreements carry weight and witnesses help, but if money is involved, get it in writing. It’s a big red flag if someone resists putting their promises on paper.

Translate the “legalese.” Contracts are tricky. Don’t be embarrassed to take your time, call someone for help, or do an internet search for words and phrases that you don’t understand.

Don’t be afraid to clarify. If you see something vague, ask for exact terms. You can write the details in and have the other person initial anything new or changed.

Pull out your camera. Especially when renting an apartment, car, moving truck or other space for which you can be charged for damages, do a walk-through and take note of all damages, documenting them with time- and date-stamped pictures. Have the other party sign the contract (or an attached document) verifying that you will not be liable for existing damages.

Young woman sits on couch reading the fine print before signing a legal contract.

Clarify discrepancies. If a salesperson says one thing, but the contract says another, ask to change the contract. Even if you trust the person who is representing the organization, it is better to be safe than sorry.

Fill in the blanks. Never sign a contract with any blanks to be filled in. “We’ll add that in later” is not OK. Get it all in black and white up front.

Don’t be afraid to cross things out. Even on a preprinted contract, you have the right to question and delete terms you disagree with. You need the other party’s initials to make it official though. You may not always get what you want, but you will show that you are vigilant and won’t settle.

Save a signed copy. Once the contract is completed, get a copy for yourself. Make sure it’s the final version, with all signatures and dates filled in. File this copy in a safe place so you have it in case any situation arises.

As always, we’ve got your back. — The On Your Own Team End of article insignia

[Any reference to a specific company, commercial product, process or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement or recommendation by On Your Own, the National Endowment for Financial Education or any of its affiliate programs.]