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Military Families and Contract Fine Print: Read It!

A story recently out of Utah highlighted just how important it is for military family members to read the fine print before signing a contract -- and to not just take a salesman at his word.

Vivint, a home security company that has since issued an apology, was the subject of a ABC News expose on how what its sales people were telling military families about their ability to get out of a contract with their company, and what the contract actually said were two different things.

Service members and their families were told by the door-to-door salesman, they said, that they would have no problem getting out of their contract in the case of a move. But when they attempted to do so, they were saddled with thousands of dollars in cancellation fees.

A man signs a contract. A man signs a contract.

That problem has earned Vivint a bad rating with Better Business Bureau, and the company last week issued an apology to military families, saying they have established a dedicated military support line to help work through issues.

I didn't get to see the Vivint contract, and I don't what, specifically, the door-to-door salesmen were saying. But I did find this face sheet, time stamped in June, available on the Vivint website. It makes it pretty clear that the contract is only void in the case of moving on base, deployment orders or medical discharge. Just PCSing from one civilian town to another doesn't count. Neither does a non-medical discharge.

And because the home alarm system contract is not covered under the service members civil relief act, which applies to vehicle leases, home rentals and cell phone contracts, for example, there is no way to use it to get out of the contract.

Who knows what the salesmen were telling military members -- perhaps they were spinning the "orders" clause to include stateside, non-military housing related PCSes. Regardless, reading the actual contract would have saved these families a huge headache and potentially thousands in costs.

I can see how someone would make this mistake, particularly among very young military family members. Once upon a time, long before I was a military family member, but when I was very young, I purchased a car that I could not afford without securing the proper insurance coverage. It wasn't that I was stupid -- I was desperate. So when I got into an accident with that car, well, things went downhill fast. Had I stopped to read the contract or seek other advice, the story would've ended much differently. But I didn't.

Regardless of what a salesman tells you about any "military clause" or other stipulation in the contract, it is always the smartest plan to just read the contract yourself. You also have the option of taking the contract to your base legal assistance office for review. They can read it and answer specific questions for you as to how your military lifestyle may impact what it contains. It isn't a quick way to make a purchase, and your salesman probably won't like that you don't want to sign it right then, but maybe those are both good things.

Have you ever accidentally entered into a contract you didn't fully understand only to have problems later?

 

Photo courtesy of Flickr user DanMoyle under the Creative Common license.

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