by Ron Daly
If Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code, needs some brain food for his next book about little-understood ancient texts, he should look no further than credit card agreements. I understand the language in these things for the most part, but for some of them it STILL feels like I'd need an entire library, the Mona Lisa and Tom Hanks to help me figure it out.
I bring it up because of this article from Reuters, "Trying to Read Credit Card Agreements" by Felix Salmon. An interesting read with a lot of interesting findings. From the article:
How long will it take to get readable credit-card contracts? My guess is somewhere in 2012, if we’re lucky. Right now, although we’re moving in the right direction, we’re also moving far too slowly...
And of course there’s no point in reading this kind of thing: I doubt one cardholder in a hundred could even begin to say what it means to “honor claims of privilege recognized at law.” I certainly couldn’t.
According to this article, four out of five adults don't have the reading skills to understand the wording in these things. And fifteen pages long? People these days can't be bothered to read the expiration date on milk.
So, what's the solve here? How can we make this information clear, concise, and easy for anyone to understand?
I have some thoughts based on some hot trends in information sharing.
1) A YouTube Video
Pros: People can watch a video of their agreement terms rather than having to parse text; you can have audio AND video, which means you can highlight the points you really want to hit with dramatic music and text.
Cons: The stupid comments; The idea that if you're going to make a YouTube video it has to be "funky" and "Gen-Y" (and yes, people are using Gen-Y as an adjective).
Pros: Turns tough-to-understand information into eye-catching graphs that are easy to understand.
Cons: The alternative to being too hard to read is being too simple to understand thoroughly; tough to take seriously, which people SHOULD do with a CC agreement.
To clarify: No, not a Twitter account of a CC agreement - instead, you'd make it so that no portion of the agreement was more than 200 characters or, say, thirty words.
Pros: Keeping it concise means people don't feel overwhelmed; would require that long passages be broken up into manageable chunks; tough to use a lot of "three-dollar words" when you're on that tight of a budget
Cons: See the section on Infographics.
Clearly, there's not a great "social media" approach to credit card agreements. So what IS the answer? I think Anthony Demangone sums it up very well in his recap of the same article:
What are you trying to say? Once you know that, say it as clearly as possible. There are times when we must use precise words or "legal terms of art." Outside of those times, though, writing or disclosures should be clear and easy to understand. Don't use 50-cent words when a nickel buys you exactly what you need. Don't force readers to choose between confusion and reaching for a dictionary. And you should hire a monkey to slap you whenever you use any of the following terms in a document meant for general consumption: heretofore, whereas, or any Latin phrase.
Hired-slapper-monkeys aside, this is an issue we'll need to address as a best practice before we're required to address it as a regulation. Elizabeth Warren is already eyeing this topic (thanks again to Anthony for the link), so you'd better bet your boots it's going to be someone's headache at your CU.
What steps are you taking to act on that bit of information? What steps have you already taken to make your CC agreements better? Who should members call to help with any misunderstandings about terms? Could any old employee help you take care of it?
Leave your thoughts and feedback below.