Surely, you’ve been in this harrowing moment: You’ve got your cup of coffee, you’re going through your inbox, and your eyes dart to an email informing you that your account has been charged something you don’t remember paying for.
This happens most often when we sign up for something on a free-trial basis, but are first required to input a credit card number to complete the signup process. Millions of us are forking over money without realizing we can avoid fees from free trial offers by taking a few simple steps.
We’re all familiar with what happens next. A month goes by and you’ve forgotten about the free meal trial subscription you had signed up for. But then you spot the telling charge on your bank statement.If you enjoyed the free trial and now have become an unwitting monthly snack-box subscriber, for example, it’s fine if you’re happy paying for the service.
Millions of us are forking over money without realizing we can avoid fees from free trial offers by taking a few simple steps.
But if you’re like the rest of us- overloaded with work, children and just life in general- you may not have gotten around to checking in on your bank statement before the free trial ended. Now your budget’s unbalanced, you feel foolish and you just bought an extra month of an online dating service. You went in planning to avoid fees from free trial offers like these, but now one is in your phone that you didn’t really want because honestly, you were just curious to see who was swiping right on your profile. Plus, there was a free 15-day trial for the upgraded service (or maybe that’s just this author).
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Let’s avoid being unnecessarily wasteful with our money in an effort to live more richly. Financial Poise has three simple ways to help you avoid fees from free trial offers for things you don’t really want or use:
1. Shop Mindfully.
The first thing to consider before subscribing to a service is whether or not you will have time to use it. And sure, you aren’t spending money with a free trial at the point you sign up, but think about it: As the Federal Trade Commission warns, many of these offers come with strings attached.
Real Simple Magazine shares its philosophy about making purchases mindfully that should extend to signing up for free offers as well. As psychologist April Benson noted to the magazine, “Even if we can financially afford the habit, feelings of guilt, shame, and wastefulness can weigh on us and extract a huge psychological cost.”
The idea of signing up for a free Ancestry.com month-long trial may sound intriguing and helpful to learning about your genealogy, but assess your current time constraints. Do you truly have the time in your schedule to utilize your investment in this service? Is this a passion you want to cultivate in your spare time? If so, go for it. If you’re having doubts, move on. You don’t want to put your credit card in that situation in the first place.
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2. Mark Your Calendar.
Secondly, make sure you make a note of when that trial expires so you won’t be charged. If you’re tech-savvy, do this on your email calendar, where you can set up reminder emails and notifications with ease. If you’ve got more of an analog personality, write it in your planner or try setting up a bullet journal to remind yourself. This author notes monetary transactions in all capital letters and uses a green highlighter in her planner to make it obvious when payments are coming up. Something as simple as a calendar reminder can easily help you avoid fees from free trial offers- and the resulting regrets.
3. Consider Using a Dummy Card.
Pre-paid cards come with higher fees than traditional accounts, but they can also be useful in protecting you from extra charges later on. When using a prepaid card for a free trial transaction, a company should not attempt to charge any more than $1 to ensure the card is active. You should be charged in advance, so there is no reason for the servicing company to look for more than that amount when processing a free trial.
Think before you click and agree to something “free”.
Once the trial period is up and the company attempts to charge your card, the payment will be declined and the company will send you a request for an alternate payment method. This gives you a small window of time to decide whether you would like to proceed with your subscription or cancel it.
There is, however, one important caveat: As part of the free trial, if you agree in the Terms and Conditions document that you will continue to pay if you do not cancel before the end of the trial, then that is essentially a legally binding contract. Using a dummy card will not be a good option because you would nonetheless be contractually bound.
The Better Business Bureau has more tips on navigating Terms and Conditions disclosures. Think before you click and agree to something “free”: If you want to avoid fees from free trial offers, shop smart. This means more money in your pocket, and no surprises down the line when “free” becomes a regular monthly charge.
Sylvia Masuda is an associate editor and information architect for Financial Poise. A graduate of California State University, Fullerton, Sylvia has worked as an editor and designer for various print publications for almost 10 years.
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