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What's hardest to read: 'Twilight,' the Bible or a credit card agreement?

How the average card agreement's readability compares to familiar documents

By  and Tyler Metzger

If you had trouble understanding the first "Twilight" book, and your real estate agreements make you scratch your head, your credit card agreement could cause some serious confusion.

CreditCards.com Readability Study finds major card issuers' contracts unreadable by most Americans

The average credit card agreement is written at a 12th grade reading level, according to a CreditCards.com analysis of more than 1,200 contracts from major U.S. credit card issuers. Readability experts recommend that important documents -- such as credit card agreements -- be written at a ninth grade level to ensure widespread comprehension.

The chart below shows how different pieces of familiar literature compare when analyzed with commonly used readability programs. We used the FOG readability index. FOG stands for "Frequency of Gobbledygook."

The readability software we used deletes words or phrases that are part of headlines, subtitles, incomplete sentences or bulleted lists. The formula considers the number of sentences, difficult words and syllables and computes a numeric grade level that represents the number of years of education a person would need in order to read and understand the text.

As you scroll down the page, the reading level required to understand the text gets more difficult.

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star

Grade level: 3.3
Words analyzed: 41
Difficult words: 1
Monosyllabic words: 33
Sentences: 7
Syllables: 50
3 or more syllable words: 1

Excerpt: "Twinkle, twinkle, little star, How I wonder what you are! Up above the world so high, Like a diamond in the sky! Twinkle, twinkle, little star, How I wonder what you are! When the blazing sun is gone, When he nothing shines upon, Then you ...'"

 

Itsy Bitsy Spider

Grade level: 3.8
Words analyzed: 38
Difficult words: 0
Monosyllabic words: 29
Sentences: 4
Syllables: 47
3 or more syllable words: 0

Excerpt: "The itsy bitsy spider went up the water spout. Down came the rain, and washed the spider out. Out came the sun, and dried up all the rain, and the itsy bitsy spider went up the spout again.'"

 

National Anthem

Grade level: 5.6
Words analyzed: 134
Difficult words: 5
Monosyllabic words: 110
Sentences: 13
Syllables: 165
3 or more syllable words: 6

Excerpt: "O! say can you see by the dawn's early light, What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming, Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight, O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming...'"

 

HUD Good Faith Estimate

Grade level: 8.1
Words analyzed: 447
Difficult words: 55
Monosyllabic words: 327
Sentences: 57
Syllables: 635
3 or more syllable words: 58

Excerpt: "This GFE estimates your settlement charges. At your settlement, you will receive a HUD-1, a form that lists your actual costs. Compare the charges on the HUD-1 with the charges on this GFE. Charges can change if you select ...'"

 

"Twilight," book 1

Grade level: 8.2
Words analyzed: 3,132
Difficult words: 210
Monosyllabic words: 2,341
Sentences: 229
Syllables: 4,231
3 or more syllable words: 226

Excerpt: "Forks High School had a frightening total of only three hundred and fifty-seven - now fifty-eight - students; there were more than seven hundred people in my junior class alone back home. All of the kids here had grown up together-their ...'"

 

California real estate purchase agreement

Grade level: 10.7
Words analyzed: 1,909
Difficult words: 313
Monosyllabic words: 1,098
Sentences: 186
Syllables: 3,230
3 or more syllable words: 369

Excerpt: "Buyer and Seller each acknowledge receipt of a disclosure of the possibility of multiple representation by the Broker representing that principal. This disclosure may be part of a listing agreement, buyer representation ...'"

 

Genesis 1, King James Bible (1769)

Grade level: 11.1
Words analyzed: 747
Difficult words: 38
Monosyllabic words: 588
Sentences: 33
Syllables: 950
3 or more syllable words: 40

Excerpt: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness [was] upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there ...'"

 

Average credit card agreement

Grade Level: 12.4
Words analyzed: 3,771
Difficult words: 469
Monosyllabic words: 2,393
Sentences: 191
Syllables: 5,873
3 or more syllable words: 525

Excerpt: "SECURITY INTEREST AS A CONDITION OF CREDIT UNION’S OPENING AND YOUR USE OF ANY CARD OR ACCOUNT, YOU HEREBY GRANT CREDIT UNION A SECURITY INTEREST IN ALL SHARES AND DEPOSITS WITH CREDIT UNION ...'"

 

A New York Times editorial

Grade level: 17.2
Words analyzed: 634
Difficult words: 112
Monosyllabic words: 396
Sentences: 25
Syllables: 1,042
3 or more syllable words: 119

Excerpt: "Elena Kagan has produced distinguished scholarship on the First Amendment, taking clear positions favoring a broad interpretation of free speech. She opposed bans on flag burning and hate speech, and tried to come up with a ...'"

 

The Declaration of Independence

Grade level: 18.9
Words analyzed: 1,159
Difficult words: 174
Monosyllabic words: 744
Sentences: 36
Syllables: 1,881
3 or more syllable words: 209

Excerpt: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights ...'"

 

The Bill of Rights

Grade level: 22.6
Words analyzed: 681
Difficult words: 95
Monosyllabic words: 447
Sentences: 16
Syllables: 1,075
3 or more syllable words: 112

Excerpt: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and ...'"

See related: MAIN STORY: Credit card agreements unreadable to 4 of 5 Americans, 10 most unreadable credit card agreements, 10 most readable credit card agreements, 10 wordiest credit card agreements, Readability of credit card agreements from biggest 20 banks, Quotable: What lawmakers, consumer activists, bankers say, 3 language experts try to make sense of a card agreement, Federal database of credit card agreements not user friendly, Video: Consumers try in vain to understand credit card agreements

Published: July 22, 2010


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