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How to understand fine print in business, consumer documents

March 26, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
These days, it seems everything comes with warranties, disclaimers and special clauses with more pages than ever of fine print for consumers to decipher.

But the Center for Plain Language, a consumer advocacy group, is asking the government to get businesses and other institutions to put documents in a language that doesn't require consumers to have the eyes of an eagle.

"Nobody's going to read that and understand it, not without spending days or weeks trying to decipher it," said Henry Maury, executive director of the Center for Plain Language.

While some banking and financial institutions face legal font size requirements, most other industries don't. Each year, the Center for Plain Language puts out a list of the most confusing documents out there, from health insurance forms to software agreements and car seat installations.

Don't expect changes anytime soon, however. Companies say they need to include more and more information each day.

"The amount of disclosure that banks and other companies that deal with consumers need to provide to them is just overwhelming," said attorney Alan Kaplinsky.

Still, one U.S. company found less than one in 10,000 Americans actually reads the fine print, and it costs the average household up to $3,000 a year in fees and charges.

"Disclosures can affect consumer's rights, so it's important that they be readable," said Richard Cleland, assistant director of the Division of Advertising Practices at the Federal Trade Commission.

While the FTC keeps a close watch on disclosures, and experts argue about regulations, what it comes down to is people aren't reading them the way they are now.

If you think there is a document, disclosure, agreement or anything that is just flat out hard to read or understand, send it along to the Center for Plain Language.

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