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Poll: Americans don’t read or understand credit card agreements

Summary

Asked to describe the agreements in one word, we use bad ones

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Poll: Most find credit card agreements unreadable Word cloud shows the frequency of responses of Americans asked to describe the experience of reading credit card agreements.

 

Word cloud shows the frequency of responses of Americans asked to describe the experience of reading credit card agreements.

 

Few credit card users read in full the agreements that govern their cards, and most who try to read them describe the experience with words such as “confusing,” “complicated,” “boring” and even “painful,” according to a new scientific poll of consumers by CreditCards.com.

Credit card agreements: unread and unreadable

CreditCards.com analyzed the readability of more than 2,000 credit card contracts. Our findings:
  Most agreements at an unreadable level
  Poll: Agreements mostly go unread
  Card agreements versus Harry Potter
  Compare readable, unreadable texts
  Video: See the struggle to understand

We polled 1,000 random U.S. adults by telephone, including 675 people with at least one credit card. We asked the cardholders, “How often do you read the legal agreements that come with your credit cards?”

These contracts are important, legally binding financial agreements, but our poll shows they go largely go unread.

Poll results
According to the results:

  • Americans are divided into four, roughly equal quadrants, with 24 percent saying they “never” read the contract, and 22 percent saying “hardly ever.” Twenty-six percent say “sometimes.” Only 26 percent said they “regularly” read the agreements.
  • There are no pockets of the American population eagerly devouring credit card agreements. Young and old, rich and poor, men and women, black and white – we all avoid reading them beginning to end.
  • A higher level of education corresponds to a higher level of reading, but not when it comes to credit card agreements. People with more education were not significantly more likely to read their card agreements.

Poll results: Do you read your credit card agreement?

Painful, confusing, boring, lengthy
We also asked cardholders who said they had read a credit card agreement at least occasionally to give us one word to describe the experience.

  • In all, 71 percent of respondents had negative things to say about reading their card agreements.
  • The most-common answer included the words “lengthy,” “long,” “wordy” or “verbose.” Those words were offered up by 21 percent of respondents.
  • Other common answers included “confusing” or “unclear” (10 percent), “boring” (8 percent) and “tedious” or “painful” (6 percent).
  • Less-common answers included “excruciating,” “torture,” “hogwash” and “put in the trash.” A few respondents uttered barnyard epithets.

Only 9 percent had positive things to say about their card contracts, calling them “informative” or similar words.

Methodology
The results are based on responses to telephone surveys conducted Aug. 4-7, 2016, by Princeton Survey Research Associates International for CreditCards.com. A total of 1,000 U.S. adults were contacted randomly by landline and cellphone, of whom 675 have at least one credit card. Demographic groups are weighted to their frequency in the population. The poll’s overall margin of error is 3.9 percentage points, 4.8 percent for those who have at least one credit card, and 5.5 percent for those who at least occasionally read a card agreement.

What’s up next?

In Research and Statistics

Rate survey: Average card APR remains at 15.22 percent

September 7, 2016: Average rates on new credit card offers remained at record highs this week, according to the CreditCards.com Weekly Credit Card Rate Report.

Published: September 7, 2016

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