Most Unreadable and Wordiest Credit Card Agreements

Students this week are to consider alternatives and make recommendations for a couple who wants to save $10,000 for a home down payment.  The couple now has some cash to invest, but they also have $6,500 in credit card debt with an 18% APR and a minimum payment of 2% per month.

If they pay only the minimum payment each month, how long will it take to pay it off?  Pick a number of years that sounds about right, and then check yourself with the Bankrate credit card calculator.  This is quite an eye-opener for many!

A few years ago there was an amusing study.  While rereading the articles, I found the Jay MacDonald3 language experts try to make sense of a card agreement a particularly fun one.

At my bank, I picked up a really cool brochure that highlighted the bank’s “Top 10 Reasons” to use a credit card.  Maybe another time we’ll go through the bank’s “reasons” one by one.  But glancing though this brochure did remind me of a report on its analysis of more than 1,200 U.S. credit card agreements.

The folks found that credit card agreements are unreadable to 4 out of 5 American adults.  They ranked the agreements based on a “FOG” index  – that is, Frequency of Gobbledygook – and they listed the 10 most unreadable agreements and the 10 wordiest agreements.  I suppose that they wanted to reward some of the less obscene behavior and also included the 10 most readable credit card agreements.

In the below “Man on the Street” video, consumers try to understand some of the gobbledygook.

Comments from Roy Peter Clark, a national expert on writing and a senior scholar at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida:

“Credit card contracts and other such documents are written in dense prose for a reason: So that the customer will NOT be able to understand it.  I may be cynical, but I don’t think their writing strategies are accidental . . . I think those writers know exactly what they are doing.” [1]

At your leisure, go through the entire series (links below) – maybe it will be as fun for you as it was for me.

10 Most Unreadable Credit Card Agreements

What surprised me was that credit unions dominated the top ten most unreadable list.  But to their credit they comprised the top ten most readable.

If you have a credit card, go to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s credit card agreement database and read the agreements of your current lender.  If you’re unsure of who the lender really is, look at your original agreement or on the back of your credit card. For example, with some exceptions the lenders for big box store cards tend to be big banks, not the stores themselves. The lender for my own bank’s cards is not even my bank.

Initial agreements may list possible interest rates for purchases to be a particular range, say ten percentage points or more, with the note that “the rate you receive is based on your credit worthiness.” In other words, you won’t even know the interest rate until you already feel the magical powers surging in your hands.

10 Wordiest Credit Card Agreements

Banks do seem to consider “creditworthiness” as more of a potential profitability measure than as any sort of worthiness.  Several years ago 
it was reported that World Financial Network National Bank (WFNNB) planned to deny new Gander Mountain credit card applications to customers with FICO scores of 800 or higher!  Gander Mountain sued, WFNNB (now Comenity Bank) countersued, and about a year later they resolved their differences and dropped the suits.

By the way, who has studied credit card merchant agreements?

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