"Be sure to cross you T's and dot your lower case J's" a friend of mine likes to say. Whether you are in the market for a new convertible to cruise around in this summer; a new cell phone, laptop, radio all wrapped up into one; or a even new house, I've got some sound advice for you: Read the fine print before you commit. Whatever your desire may be, before you rush out and sign the dotted line be sure to take the time to read the fine print however boring it may seem. Why? So you will not be surprised to find out that you didn't qualify for the loan and your car needs to be returned or you cancelled your cell phone service only to get a final bill for $1,200. Even still, so you don't make that call to your insurance agent to discover your home owner's policy doesn't cover your problem. It may sound like more fun to just schedule that root canal you have been putting off, but reading the fine print may help you avoid a lot of aches and pains down the road. While this advice is true for any agreement enter into, here are just a few examples of the kind of pitfalls you want to avoid:

Cell Phone Companies

I often say "the things in life that bring us the most convenience bring us the most grief". Certainly cell phones fit neatly into this category. Every year or two millions of us get a new phone or PDA and sign a 12 or 24 month service agreement so we can get our new gadget at a whopping discount. If the marriage is not exactly what we hoped because we can't communicate like we thought or our roaming privileges aren't what we would like them to be, then we decide it is time to break up and find a new service provider. Before you get into something you might regret, be sure you know what it will cost you to get out. Cell phone services invariably come with an "Early Termination" clause that might cost you a nice chunk of change after you call it quits. Quite often, these clauses will require the consumer to pay anywhere from a few months service fees to the monthly service fee for the remainder of your contract. Make sure you pay attention to this before you decide to connect with another company and be sure you want to stay with the one you're courting for the next 2 years before you sign the dotted line.

Insurance Companies

We insure our automobiles, our homes, our lives and even our jobs, but do you really know what you are paying for? If you have fire insurance and your house burns down unexpectedly, you're probably covered. What about if your house is flooded? You have flood insurance, well you should be fine. Unless that flood is in the form of a sewage backup and not the creek in your backyard making itself at home. Chances are you homeowners policy only covers damage caused by a sewage backup or a storm water problem if you have a rider that specifically addresses these events. What this means is, if you don't specifically say you want coverage for these catastrophes, expect to be told "I'm sorry but you don't have coverage for that." Many insurance companies are offering less coverage for sewage backups and water damage due to the expense than can accompany such disasters. Often times, if you are lucky enough to be covered you probably have only a modest amount of potential benefits. When sewage hits the floor it can frequently require plenty of demolition in order to get your house back in a habitable condition. Sheet rock and hardwoods that are contaminated may need to be torn out and replaced rather than just wiped down and sprayed with bleach and water. With the current cost of materials and labor these expenses can easily reach whatever policy limits your policy affords. You can also be prepared to recover for the current value of any personal property that you lose in such an event and not what it might cost to replace the item or what you originally paid for it. In other words, that $2,000 silk rug you bought two years ago might be worth a little less than half as much to you insurance adjustor. If your neighbors have had problems with storm water or sewage backups, you may want to give your insurance company a call and see whether you're in good hands.

Car Dealerships

I recall someone contacting me about a disagreement with the dealership they had just purchased a new car from. This person wanted to know Financing agreements that typically accompany contracts to purchase a new car often come with a lot of mumbo-jumbo that most of don't feel like reading after we have negotiated the better part of our weekend to get a deal we can ride away happy with. Nevertheless, you might want to keep your eyes peeled for a few paragraphs so you can know for sure you are riding away for good. Look for a "Conditional Financing" clause or "Contingency" clauses that make your purchase of a vehicle dependent upon further financing agreements. Typically, the dealer calls you up a few days after you take the car home and says we need you to come back in with the vehicle only to inform you upon your arrival that you were not approved for your loan and they need their car back. So if you believe you are "qualified" for the loan or lease agreement you are just about to sign, you might want to be sure to get a straight answer to one question: Do I have the loan or does someone still have to approve my credit application? If the answer you get is not a simple yes, you may want to keep shopping around or risk getting back on your feet sooner than you think.

Ashley Lamm is an attorney in the Charlotte office of Knox Law Center. The firm's website is He can be reached at 704-315-2363 or 866-704-9059 (Toll free) or

(Written By C. Ashley Lamm)