Military Families and Contract Fine Print: Read It!

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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.

About the Author

Amy Bushatz
Amy is the editor in chief of Military.com’s spouse and family blog SpouseBuzz.com. A journalist by trade, Amy also covers spouse and family news for Military.com where she is the managing editor of spouse and family content. An Army wife and mother of two, Amy has been featured as a subject matter expert on CNN.com, NPR, Fox News, NBC, CBS, ABC and BBC as well as in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. Follow her on twitter @amybushatz.
  • Chelsea

    I find it offensive that you implied that young people are the only population who doesn’t read contracts. I have been reviewing my own contracts since I was 16. I know older people whom I have to remind to ‘look before you sign.’ You offer good advice, but there was no reason to attempt to offer a reason for people not reading their contracts, especially one without support.

    • Amy_Bushatz

      I think it’s pretty logical to suggest that young people, void of life experience (and I even gave myself as an example) would be more likely to not know to read a contract completely. This isn’t implicating ALL young people, and it’s awesome that you were a particularly wise one. Many, however, are not.

  • Bill Middleton

    This would be good advise for our commander in chief he didn’t read the Affordable Care Act before he signed it. He believed Nancy, “You have to pass it before you know what’s in it.”

  • Nunya

    I know that this isn’t going to be a popular opinion but I believe it’s your own fault if you don’t read the fine print. I’ve been married to my husband since we were 19 (definitely young and we’re 42 now and he has since retired from the army) but I have always read the fine print – my husband does not which annoys the bleep out of me. The point is that I was young but not dumb or lazy. That’s what I think the issue is most of the time, pure laziness. Take the time to read the fine print.

    I’d also like to add that this situation isn’t about people not reading the fine print because it seems that they did. The problem was that they believed what the salesman pitched to them overrode the contract. That’s how I interpret things anyhow. Everyone should know that if something is promised to you, get it in writing. If not, don’t sign the contract.

  • Tammy

    i have had this issue with direct tv. We lived in the country in Lawton Oklahoma and our only choice the dtv or dish network. We lived there for over 18 months of our two year contract. My husband came up on orders for Bragg. Therefore I called DirecTV and told them we were moving in and they said we could cancel the contract with no penalties because of orders. But I had to suspend the account for six months before they can do that. So when the six months were up they called me and told me that because it was only suspended that I had to finish out four months on my contract or pay a fine of $500 to disconnect. I told them what I was told by their phone peeps and they told me that I was lying, I asked them to pull up the phone conversation since those are ‘recorded’ for training, and they told me they can’t pull it up just to prevent me from getting a fine. So then, 3 months later we bought a house. And I called them and informed them we were moving. And because again I wasn’t going to pay the bs fine and had them move the service, I guess it locked me into another 2 year contract that I was unaware of until I called to cancel the service a few months later. Which I am still not sure how that even happened. I believe the ‘work order” I signed on the guys tablet, which was a work order and nothing more from what I read on the screen, was actually doctored into me signing another contract. :(

  • dgh

    get a Lawyer. many will help for free. they eat legaleze like candy.