Dec 19

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A plain English credit card agreement

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (a body which deals with consumer financial markets in the United States) has published a draft plain English credit card agreement.  It is designed to fit comfortably on two pages: one page of terms, and one page of definitions.  The layout is very easy on the eye, and it certainly doesn’t read like many credit card agreements you might see elsewhere (see here for examples of real-life agreements in current use).

It’s a great demonstration of how plain language makes complex ideas much clearer.  The point isn’t to make the ideas simple – just to make them clear to the reader.  This draft agreement is much easier for both the customer AND the bank to understand.

I do have a reservation though.  Section 3 sets out “some of our rights” and “some of your rights”.  If that only sets out some of the bank’s rights and some of the customer’s rights, then where are the rest of their rights set out?  If a dispute arose, could the bank allege that it had some extra rights that weren’t so obviously set out?  This is the sort of ambiguity which makes bank customers nervous.  It’s the opposite of plain English, in fact – it gives words for the bank to hide behind, rather than being absolutely clear.

That said, getting a credit card agreement onto two pages of reasonably-sized type is a terrific goal.  I’m sure it’s possible, and the design and layout of this attempt is excellent.  The plain English itself probably needs a bit more work, though.

What do you think?

Permanent link to this article: http://wordsmadeclear.com/2011/12/19/a-plain-english-credit-card-agreement/

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