How to Prevent Unwanted Recurring Subscription Fees

by Travis Pizel · 8 comments

I shook my head in shame when I saw the charge on my credit card statement. This was the third month I had been charged $14.99 for a credit monitoring service that I didn’t mean to keep past a free trial period. I knew it was exactly what the company who created the service hoped would happen.

Services that operate through recurring charges thrive on people who don’t review their bills regularly, or those who get deterred when faced with a small obstacle for cancelling.

Here are some of the business practices that such services use, so you can stop paying for recurring charges.

Offering a Free Trial Period

The hope is that during the free trial period you’ll either like the service so much you keep it, OR you forget about the fact that you have to call, or email, to cancel the subscription before you’ll eventually charged for it.

Free trials have varying lengths of time, with some being free for 30 or 60 days, while others are only free for 14 days. This makes it even more difficult to remember to cancel the service before the free trial period is up.

Requiring a Credit Card Number

When I signed up for this service, I was required to give a credit card number. The text claimed it for identification verification purposes, but there was also small italicized print stating it would be used to renew the service after the trial period was over.

It may seem like common sense what they want the number for, but they make it as non-transparent as legally possible so you’re not as likely to pay attention to what’s happening.

Sending No Notification

It would seem courteous to send users a notification stating their free trial period was ending, and that they will be charges $X for continuing to use the service. It would also seem thoughtful to explain simple ways to cancel by a particular date so your credit card would be charged.

But, these practices are seldom done. It is up to consumers to keep track of when they’ll be charged for renewal and cancel if they no longer want the service.

Having a Difficult Cancellation Process

The first month I noticed I had been charged, I instantly signed onto the service’s website to cancel the service. I found that I was required to call their customer service line in order to cancel. Unfortunately, that needed to be done during normal business hours, which had long since ended for the day.

This meant that I needed to call them during the day — when I’m dealing with a full time job, getting kids off to school, kid taxi service, and a bazillion other things. Three months later that phone call still hasn’t been made.

Trial offers are great ways to try out services to see if you like them, or to use them for a purpose only for the free period. What can you do to keep from being charged unwanted recurring fees?

  • Investigate the Cancellation Policy: Before signing up for a service, find out what is required to cancel. You’ll then know what steps need to be taken when you want to cancel, or if it seems like something you may put off over and over resulting in unwanted charges.
  • Cancel Immediately: Many trial offers allow you to cancel your service immediately. If that’s the case, do it as part of the registration process. That way you know that the trial offer period is all you’re going to get.
  • Write it Down: If you cannot cancel immediately, write a reminder on the calendar, or set a Google reminder on your phone. This will help you remember what you have to do, and by what date. When the reminder goes off, or the day arrives on the calendar, make the time to cancel it immediately.

While they may seem shady, none of these practices are illegal. While they are inconveniences, none of these obstacles are insurmountable. It all boils down to consumers taking responsibility for their decisions, and making sure they take action to prevent unwanted charges.

Do you get frustrated with free trial period offers? How do you avoid paying recurring subscription charges?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Julie Rains says:

    The last couple of services that I cancelled each took me over an hour to get rid of; and one required effort over several days. I’ve learned to set aside time to deal with the obstacles companies put in front of me just to cancel.

    I’ve also learned (finally!) to avoid signing up for free offers unless I think I am going to use the service. It’s easier for me to resist when I realize how hard canceling is.

  • Dee says:

    I used to wonder how to get out of debt too but, then I reached out to 14 of the best PF bloggers and I put a book together and here were their responses:

  • Gary @ Super Saving Tips says:

    I know that free trials are designed by companies to turn into long-term subscriptions, but I always mark my calendar a few days in advance of when I need to cancel. This gives me a buffer zone to finish using the trial and make the necessary arrangements to cancel. I’m happy to say I’ve never had an issue.

    • Travis Pizel says:

      You’re very disciplined, Gary….I could learn a think or two from you! Thanks for your comment!

  • George Blank says:

    Whenever I give a credit card number on the Web, I use a temporary number from Safe Surf. I create a temporary authorization for 2 months for $10. By the time the trial is up, the number is expired and will be denied.

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