Home > Personal Finance > Free Trials & Subscription Services: What You Need to Know

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We’ve all been enticed by “free trials” at one point or another — with a month of a subscription service offered at no initial cost, it’s hard to pass up an offer like that. But businesses have tested this model, and let’s face it: they wouldn’t use it if they were going to lose money. Something must be working by giving you a major discount. Here’s what you should know before you accept their terms and conditions, to save you money and headaches in the future:

1. Before you sign up for a service, make sure you know how to cancel it.

Free trials are just a way to get your foot in the door, so if you choose to take your business elsewhere, make sure you know how to leave. Many companies’ websites may be tricky to navigate when it comes to canceling their service, and sometimes you can’t cancel online at all, instead having to call their offices to end your subscription. Before you sign on the dotted line, be sure you know how to stop their service.

2. Check for hidden fees first.

If you’re using an automatic payment system for a necessary service, keep in mind that some companies may charge you for the convenience of enrolling in their auto-pay program. Before you sign up for automatic renewal, be sure they’re not going to charge you for it.

3. Hold yourself accountable.

Just as businesses might make it tough for you to cancel, they probably won’t go out of their way to remind you that your free trial is over. Mark the end date of your trial period in your own personal calendar, and be sure you’re aware of when you can safely cancel a service before your credit card is charged.

4. Be proactive.

Don’t let the convenience of an auto-pay service allow you to slip into complacency. If you do decide to stay with a subscription service, make sure you’re monitoring your credit card statements and checking all charges. Automatic payments aren’t error-free (and you should verify charges on your statement anyway), so keep a close watch on online services.

5. Keep a record.

If you have canceled a service, it’s of the utmost importance that you have proof of your cancellation. If the company continues to charge you in error and you need to dispute their claims, it’s pretty tough if you have no evidence of a cancellation. Print or save an email record, or have them send you a document confirming that your account has been terminated.

Free trials and automatic payments may be enticing and easy, but remember to do your research before signing up for a service, and make sure you’re your own strongest advocate.

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