Contract Confusion? Here’s How to Make Contracts Work for You

contract blog headerBy Shellie Kreter, Communications Assistant

We sign contracts often these days, from when we install new apps on our smartphones to when we need major home repairs.  But just because we deal with contracts frequently doesn’t mean we understand them.  All the fine print and legalese can be intimidating, but BBB is here to help.  We want you to be confident in your knowledge when you approach a contract.  Here are some strategies for negotiating and understanding contracts:

Understand what your contract should specify.  Contracts specify the exact duties the buyer and seller promise to undertake – so make sure you’ve thought about the entire scope of your project.  You should consider

  • WHAT is being purchased: what are the exact specifications of the goods and services?  If applicable, what brands, styles, and colors have been chosen?
  • HOW MUCH is being purchased: What will the cost be? What amount of each good or service is being purchased?
  • WHEN it’s being purchased: When will payment be due? When is the delivery date?  How will it be delivered?
  • WHO will discharge the responsibilities: Who needs to be present at each step of the project?  What work will each party do?  Who is in charge of organizing and implementing the project?
Spend some quality time studying your contract.  Don’t feel pressured to make all decisions pertaining to a contract the first time you see it.  Take it home and read it over, then come back and make a decision.

Understand the terms and conditions.  The T’s and C’s have a reputation for being especially impenetrable.  It can help you to remember that their purpose is to tell you what is covered by the contract and what isn’t.  Make sure the terms and conditions don’t preclude receiving goods or services that you were counting on.  The terms and conditions also can tell you what to expect if things go wrong.  

Get EVERYTHING in writing.  One of the most frequent complaints we get about contracts is that the contractor promised something verbally but then refused to do it.  Sometimes the contractor won’t even realize that he overstated the contract until the customer asks him to fulfill promises later.  To avoid this problem, insist that all verbal promises be included in the contract.

If you don’t like it, change it.  Both parties have the right to set the terms of the contract, so if you dislike some of the clauses, write your own language! Small changes can usually be scratched out and initialed with both parties’ consent.  Bigger changes may require drafting a new copy.

Get a copy of anything you sign.    Keeping a copy of the contract allows you to look back on the agreement and check the details.  It’s the only proof you have that you have an agreement.

Don’t count on the “three-day cooling off rule.”  The “three-day cooling off rule” often is misunderstood as a way out of a bad deal.  However, in Missouri, the rule generally only applies when a salesperson makes a presentation and sale in your home.  If you’re not sure what your rights are, check with BBB.

Always do your research.  Before you sign anything, make sure you’re familiar not only the contract, but with the company who’s written it.  Go to to check out businesses from our database of BBB Business Reviews, or call 314-645-3300 and one of our staff will assist you.

For more BBB news, go to BBB’s website, or follow BBB on Facebook or Twitter.

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