Kaitlin has a BA in political science and extensive experience working in the business world as Director of Marketing and Business Development at a financial advice firm.
What Are Consumer Materials?
From cell phone contracts to mortgage paperwork on a new house, a great deal of information is written for consumers. These are collectively known as consumer materials because they are intended to help consumers make reasoned decisions about whatever they are looking at.
However, reading through consumer materials is not always as easy at is may first appear. In fact, some materials have a reputation for being written in a confusing style in order to discourage consumer understanding. In this lesson, we;re going to look at some steps you can take to help you when reading consumer materials.
Skim Through First
The first step to take when presented with a consumer document is to skim through it quickly to get an understanding of the scope and to note any sections that seem to be cause for special interest. As you do this, pay attention to any words that appear in bold or italics and any section or subsection headings. This will help you better understand the overall purpose of the document and make sure that there are not any sections that would immediately raise a red flag.
Read for Content
After skimming through the document, take the time to thoroughly read it. Again, sometimes companies try to make their documents confusing on purpose, so pay special attention to pronouns. A consumer document will often clarify exactly who pronouns are referring to in the text at the beginning.
Also during this time, pay attention to any mentions of terms, especially any requirements that you have to uphold. For example, make sure that any information on fees, penalties, and cancellation policies are understood before proceeding.
Most importantly, do not feel rushed through this. Especially for a large ticket purchase, feel free to take as much time as necessary to understand the document. After all, failure to do so could have serious repercussions.
Finally, make sure to read everything, including the fine print. Companies often hide important details in the smallest size font possible.
This same information is true for those materials that do not necessarily involve an agreement. For example, take a nutrition label on a can of food. After all, this is a consumer material, as well. You may skim it at first, reading over the label, to find out the sugar content. Seeing it as a higher amount, you may then read the ingredients to find out if the sugars are naturally present in the food or have been added as a result of processing.
Ask for Clarification Before Agreeing
If there is anything that is unclear, you should feel free to ask for clarification. In most instances, a quick question to the company should be enough to clarify any misunderstanding. However, once again for bigger ticket items, you should be careful to make sure that they are not beholden simply to the whims of the company. For example, for a house purchase, you should make a point of hiring someone to act as an advocate for your needs, whether it is a real estate agent or a lawyer, who is more experienced with the documents at hand.
Consumer materials are those documents that are prepared to help consumers make rational and informed decisions. They also include those documents that act as contracts with consumers. Anything from a cell phone provider contract to a mortgage contract could qualify. Consumers should be prepared to thoroughly understand these documents.
When reading a document, start by skimming the document to gain understanding of the text as a whole, then perform a close reading of all text, including the fine print. If you have any questions, contact the company or your own agent. No matter what, you should read the fine print and never sign anything that you don't completely understand.
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