'Free' Trials and Fine Print
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed June 20, 2016
We tend to focus on two things when making a purchase: the item and the sticker price. These are certainly the two most important factors. Customer satisfaction generally hinges on a product’s quality and the bargain paid for it. But often enough, taking the time to learn more by scanning the fine print or quizzing a sales representative can prove worthwhile.
Marketing, Marketing, Marketing
Marketing experts know that certain words and phrases make people more likely to buy something. “Free trial,” “50% off,” “two for the price of one,” and “money back guarantee” are good examples. All of these phrases relate to price and are proven methods for attracting customers.
What’s important for you to remember is that these are often promotional phrases. The promised bargain or discount will almost certainly be there – businesses will get in trouble if it’s not. But there may be some unappealing details tucked away in the fine print.
Tips for Saving Money & Scanning the Fine Print
Here’s something we all know. Few people read the fine print. A recent study found that one out of a thousand customers that purchase software even accesses the licensing agreement. Those numbers are better when it comes to fine print in advertisements, but not significantly better.
Nonetheless, there can be important details buried in the small print at the bottom of an ad. We’re not going to tell you to read it in its entirety, but scanning for important information can turn up important information. Here are common things that customers should watch out for:
The advertised price might only last for so long. Cable providers and fitness centers are a good example of this. The advertised price might last for six months then return to a regular rate. This may be cheaper in the short term, but businesses know that many customers won’t cancel when the introductory period runs out.
There can be hidden fees detailed in the fine print. These are especially common for service related purchases, such as airline tickets and cable, telephone, and internet service. There are other fees that may be mentioned in the fine print or not at all. Activation fees, service support fees, and installation or set up fees can add on to the advertised price. A fee for disposing of a trade-in item might be charged too.
Plans and programs can add to a product’s sticker price. Sometimes this is a necessary part of the product – a cell phone requires a coverage plan to properly function. However, often times a service plan will be an added option. Car dealers generally offer service plans to help maintain a car and computer companies might provide service plans for troubleshooting problems down the road. These are rarely free and often come up after you’ve agreed to buy. It’s a detail that’s worth remembering.
This is more common for financial products such as loans and credit cards. Credit card companies might advertise a low APR that is only guaranteed for a limited period of time. They can later raise it. Another common example is the adjustable rate mortgage. These are often advertised at a low interest rate, but the fine print should note that it is adjustable. These details helped contribute to the recent housing crash and foreclosure crisis.
You might have to sign up for a program or plan to take advantage of an offer. There are some particularly noteworthy examples out there. Many advertisements for free credit reports actually sell paid credit-monitoring programs that merely provide you with a complimentary credit report. Considering that everyone is legally entitled to receive a free credit report each year, paying for it may be unnecessary.
Most businesses will work with customers to address a shortcoming with their product. It’s good for business. But the fine print might limit your options. It might limit a product warranty to repairing or replacing the purchased good or only cover specific types of damage. It’s a good idea to scan the warranty for major purchases such as cars and appliances.
Getting Legal Help
Most successful businesses believe that a good product and good service creates good customers. If you have questions or if a problem arises with a purchase, your first step should be to contact the seller or manufacturer. When that doesn’t work or when the situation is more serious, you can consider contacting an attorney for advice.
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