If there’s one thing everyone has heard about contracts, it’s that you have to make sure to read the fine print. If there’s anything in a contract that’s likely to come back and bite you, it’s usually buried in a footnote to a footnote somewhere.
Even knowing that, many of us still don’t actually sit down and read contracts start to finish. With a new app called FeeBelly, one Chicago entrepreneur wants to help you figure out what’s in those contracts without setting aside the afternoon.
“It’s a fine print detective app,” said founder Michael Asare. “It’s for anyone reviewing a document, financial agreement or terms and conditions agreement, and we want to make sure they are paying what they’re supposed to — not any more, not any less. We find hidden fees, hidden terms and costly details.”
It works like this: When a customer receives a financial or legal document electronically, they can upload that document into the FeeBelly app. Using a list of specialized terms and keywords, the app crawls through the entire legal document, making note of items that the consumer should know about. Once finished, the app shows the user where those passages can be found so they can investigate further.
The app also has a camera feature and built-in text recognition software that allows users to analyze paper documents.
Asare said he came up with the idea for the app after an experience he had paying back a home equity loan from his bank. Asare decided to repay the loan early, but when he met with the bank’s loan officer, he was informed that an early payment would be subject to a 1 percent fee, as described in a 250-page document he received at the time of taking out the loan.
“I was surprised, because a friend of mine did the loan for me, and she didn’t catch it and I didn’t catch it,” said Asare. “If I had this app just when we were at the office going through the loan, we could have looked into those terms beforehand.”
The premium version of FeeBelly comes with pre-made sets of keywords for contracts ranging from apartment leases to bank accounts, credit card agreements and car rentals. Subject matter experts can also create their own lists of keywords to use for the kinds of contracts they deal with the most. Although the app is designed for consumers, Asare said he’s received several requests for new features from people who use it professionally.
“Many of the requests are from lawyers who use the app because they have a whole lot of documents to read through,” he said. “Using this, they don’t have to read for 20 or 30 minutes just to find the thing they’re looking for.”
While some contracts may not be subject to negotiation, Asare said his app can empower users to understand the agreements they enter into ahead of time, and go with a different option if they find the terms to be unacceptable.
The app is currently only available for iOS devices, but Asare said he expects to launch an Android version in June. The startup is also working on a cloud-based desktop version for B2B customers.
Images via FeeBelly.