An analysis of more than 2,000 current card agreements shows they’re written, on average, at the 11th grade reading level – better than five years ago, but still too hard for at least half the population to readily understand.
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When consumers come up against the dense legalese of card agreements, they struggle, or give up trying to read them, according to a scientific telephone poll of 1,000 Americans we conducted in August. Asked to describe their card agreement in one word, people most frequently said “wordy,” “confusing” or “complex.” “Tedious” and “painful” were volunteered often, too. Just 26 percent of cardholders say they regularly read their credit card contracts.
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- Key Bank’s Key2More Rewards card has the lengthiest agreement in the database. At 15,037 words, it is slightly longer than Shakespeare’s play “The Comedy of Errors.” Printed out, single-spaced, with one-inch margins, the Key2More agreement consumes 30 pages of paper.
- It is possible for banks to write short, readable contracts. All credit card contracts cover roughly the same terrain, but among the largest U.S. credit card issuers, some consistently hit the ninth grade level, which is largely understandable. Other banks hover in the 15th grade gobbledygook stratosphere.