BBB talks on the Do’s and Don’ts of buying a used car

(BBB) — We all know that we should carefully read the terms and conditions of every agreement and every line of every contract before we sign it, but we don’t. It’s easier and quicker to jot down a signature or click “accept.”

By signing a contract, you are bound to the terms of that contract. After you sign, if you don’t keep your agreement, the other party to the contract may take action against you. You have the right to cancel if you can prove the contract is illegal or was induced by misrepresentation or fraud. Generally, if you break your contract without permission, you forfeit your right to any deposits made.

Below are some things to keep in mind when signing a contract:

  • You can usually free yourself of obligation by providing notice of cancellation as dictated by the contract itself.
  • Repossession does not relieve you of any remaining obligations.
  • Nothing is “free” when, in your contract, you agree to pay for it.
  • Don’t sign unless you can and intend to do what you are agreeing to do.
  • Don’t sign because of any verbal promise that the contract can be canceled later. Make sure that promise is spelled out in the contract. Once you sign a contract, verbal representations generally are not enforceable, unless they are in the contract. If something is important, have it added to the contract.
  • Your complaint against the seller does not relieve you of your obligation to pay the finance company or bank.
  • The law permits notice of cancellation of certain types of contracts at a certain time and according to certain procedures. Examine your contract for any provisions regarding cancellation. This is particularly important when the contract is signed in your home or at some place other than the seller’s normal place of business.
  • Finance charges must be expressed in dollars and cents and also as an annual percentage rate.

You can save yourself from paying for things you do not receive or need by reading every sales or service agreement before you sign it. Consider every paper you sign a binding contract, because it usually is. Your signature binds both you and the seller to do certain things. Contracts can be long or short, but they don’t have to look “official” to be binding. Most contracts are written to protect the seller, so confirm that the contract also protects you.

If a certain clause in the contract is not what you bargained for, cross it out and ask the seller to sign it. If they will not accept it that way, then you can always back out and not sign. Sometimes a salesperson will tell you “That’s only there for special conditions,” “Pay no attention to that because we never enforce it,” or “This clause doesn’t apply to you.” Don’t accept this. The paper you sign is what counts. Of course, there are some terms and conditions which must be part of any legal contract.

Never sign a contract where the work to be done; the merchandise to be purchased; or the price and terms are blank and will be filled in later. It’s like signing a blank check. Wait until everything you want is specified in the contract before you sign it. Once you attach your signature, it is difficult to prove later that the paper was blank when signed. Always get a copy of any contract or agreement you sign, even if you have to snap a picture.

Other helpful hints:

  • Be sure that any added writing in the contract is clearly understood and legible.
  • In those contracts where the law allows cancellation in writing within a prescribed time, the BBB recommends this notice be sent certified mail, return receipt requested.
  • Many contracts carry provisions, often in small type, which read to the effect that no representations other than those contained in the contract itself are recognized.
  • The term “guaranteed” when used alone, means little and is ambiguous. Guarantees, unless specific, may be worthless.
  • In connection with home improvement and remodeling contracts, don’t sign completion slips before the work is finished satisfactorily.
  • An installment sales contract should contain an itemized listing of all charges, and you should get a copy at the time of signing.
  • Be sure the contract covers all extra work, is properly priced, is specific, and is all that the salesperson promised.
  • Be sure you are not agreeing to pay for anything you do not want.
  • Read every line before you sign; yes, even read the fine print.

Remember, in most cases, neither you nor the seller are bound by anything that is not in the contract; however, you both are bound by everything that is written into it. So be sure that it is clear on what the seller will do for you, as well as your obligations.

For more trustworthy consumer tips, visit the Better Business Bureau online.

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