Do you understand the small print?

Wouldn’t it be great if companies spoke to us in plain English? Contracts and agreements, particularly those relating to consumer credit and financial services, are ridiculously complicated and probably not designed to be understood to be honest. Here, for example, is an extract from one insurer’s critical illness definitions:

“All cancers which are histologically classified as any of the following:
– pre-malignant;
– non-invasive;
– cancer in situ;
– having either borderline malignancy; or
– having low malignant potential.

• All tumours of the prostate unless histologically classified as having a Gleason score greater than 6 or having progressed to at least clinical TNM classification T2N0M0.

• Malignant melanoma unless it has been histologically classified as having caused invasion beyond the epidermis (outer layer of skin).

• Any other skin cancer (including cutaneous lymphoma) unless it has been histologically classified as having caused invasion in the lymph glands or spread to distant organs.”

How much of that do you understand, and how confident would you be following a diagnosis that your cancer was going to be covered by your insurer. I recently spoke at a seminar full of people who marketed these policies, and none of them knew what a ‘non-invasive cancer in-situ’ was. If they don’t know how can we be expected to know?

And then there’s all of the jargon that loan and credit companies come out with. How many of you know the difference between ‘annual percentage rate’ and ‘equivalent annual rate’? And what’s the effect on your loan with each type. And what is the effect of an APR of 30% on the money you have borrowed. What will you actually pay in interest every year for every £100 that you borrow? That’s what we need to know before we make a decision on which loan or mortgage or credit card is best for us.

Although here’s another really important question. Is it the fact that they are complicated and don’t make sense that stops us reading them, or would we still sign on the dotted line without reading the terms and conditions even if they were written in plain English? Maybe that’s best left for another day!

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