Consumer Publications List
Your Bases Before Signing a Contract
baseball players aren't the only people who sign important contracts.Whether you
realize it or not, whenever you buy goods or services, you're entering into a
contract - and you should be just as cautious before signing your name as any
athlete considering a major league contract.
A contract is a
binding agreement between two parties that should benefit both sides. Contracts
often contain complex language and small print, tempting many people to simply
sign and hope for the best. But don't! It's essential you read and
understand every term - without relying upon a salesperson's summary - before
following cases from Consumer Protection Division files:
woman paid $2000 to join a dating service after the salesperson assured her she
could get her money back any time before her first date. The contract she
signed, however, said dissatisfied clients are eligible for partial refunds only
before they receive their first referral. After receivinga n insulting call from
her first and only caller, she sought a refund. The business refused, claiming
she'd been given several referrals.
County consumer paid $1995 for an artificial hair process. His contract said
that dissatisfied consumers must notify the company on the day the process is
completed to receive a 50% refund. His process was completed near the end of the
business day. After a night of extreme discomfort, the consumer requested a
refund the next morning but the business refused, claiming his late request
violated the contract terms.
Problems Before You Make a Commitment
any contract, make sure you have selected the product you want and comparison
shopped to get the best price. Ask friends and family for their recommendations
on products, services and businesses. During this process, check out the
company's reputation. If you're buying a service, call references. Our Consumer
Protection Division or the Better Business Bureau cantell you if complaints have
been filed against a particular company and, if so, how they were
After taking these
steps, most people think the hard part is over and they can relax. Not so.
First, before signing a contract for a major purchase, youshould think about it
for at least 24 hours - while you still have all your options. Second, once
you've decided to proceed with the transaction, it's time to review the
contract. In doing so, follow these important guidelines:
1. Take your time.
Even if the salesperson says the opportunity won't wait, or you must decide
right away, don't sign unless you're absolutely certain about your decision.
Never let someone pressure you into signing a contract. Ask fora copy of the
proposed contract so you can study its terms at your convenience. Sometimes the
contract process occurs at the end of the deal, as when buying a car, and you
may be tired. Papers may be shuffled at breakneck speed, so it's more crucial
than ever to proceed slowly and understand everything you sign.
2. Carefully check
all the terms. Make sure everything you and the seller agreed upon is written
into the contract. Don't accept spoken promises; get everything in writing.
Goods and services should be described accurately. Precise dates for delivery,
installation and completion should be spelled out. The warranty period and terms
should be clear. Give careful attention to theamount of money you must pay,
including finance charges, and when payments are due.
3. Ask questions.
And continue asking until all the contract's terms are clear. Never sign
anything you don't understand. If you're still unsure, seek independent
4. Watch out for
unreasonable terms that could make trouble for you later. Sellers can offer
contracts that give them certain advantages if problems arise after the contract
is signed. A contract might say, for example, the seller isn't responsible if
you're harmed by a defective product.
5. Agree only to
terms you understand and think are reasonable. Just because many sellers use
preprinted contracts doesn't mean you can't change them or add your own
conditions before you sign. If the terms seem harsh or unreasonable, change
them. Understand, however, that businesses are not always accustomed to
consumers proposing contract terms, and may refuse to accept your changes. If
changes are made, make sure you and the seller date and initial each of them.
Always draw a line through any blank spaces on the contract before signing so
nothing can be added later.
6. Don't assume you
can change your mind. Many consumers mistakenly believe all contracts allow you
a three-day cooling off period to cancel. This misconception has led to costly
mistakes. Generally, there's no cooling off period after you sign a contract. In
Maryland, only a few types of transactions allow you three business days to
cancel. But even in these cases, never sign a contract unless you're sure about
the deal. As many consumers have learned, exercising your right to cancel is not
7. Once you have a
signed contract, get a copy and keep it in case any questions arise later about
the terms. No matter what reason the seller gives for sending it to you later,
insist on your signed copy before leaving.
If you have a
question or problem with a contract, call the Consumer Protection Division's
Complaint Handling Unit at 410-528-8662.
Maryland Attorney General's Consumer Protection
DivisionConsumer hotline: (410) 528-8662 or 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free
200 St. Paul Place, Baltimore, MD 21202
410-576-6300 / 1-888-743-0023 toll-free / TDD: 410-576-6372