The internet is packed full of information to help consumers in all types of situations. Information overload is easily contagious. Thus, I thought I would list some general tips that could be of benefit in almost any circumstances. These are my "Rules" as developed through years of law practice and my own personal experience:
1. Read and understand before you sign. This seems obvious, yet I regularly have clients in my office who did not realize they had signed various documents such as arbitration agreements. Any reputable business person will respect and patiently accomodate you desire to read through the documents you will be signing and will gladly answer your questions.
2. Ask questions. Don't be afraid to ask questions. If you always find yourself having trouble asking questions then try remembering the 5 W's: Who, What, When, Where and Why. Simply use one of these words to begin your question, for example: "What does arbitration mean" or "Why is that model being discontinued" or "Who do you have for references."
3. Get copies. Get and keep copies (or where applicable originals) of everything you sign as well as all other items such as invoices, estimates, payment stubs or receipts, work orders, warranties, owners manuals, letters etc.
4. Document problems and issues. In addition to always following Rule #3, you can help assure that any problems or issues are properly documented by taking pictures or video and even keeping a small diary or calendar of the matter. It is often a good idea to follow-up important phone calls or meetings with a letter confirming what took place.
5. Get proper advice. Do your homework. This may include researching matters on the internet or calling up friends or family to get their input. However, don't be cheap with your time or money. Deciding whether to buy a $200 lawn mower may not merit seeking professional advice but entering into a home improvement contract or dealing with a harassing creditor does.
6. DO NOT CO-SIGN A LOAN. Think long and hard before you help out a family member or friend by co-signing a loan for them. I have personally witnessed the financial and emotional havoc that occurs when these loans go bad.