This article appears in the November 2017 Family magazine.
Next time you sign up for a free trial of a new service or membership, make sure to read the fine print. You could be signing up for more than you bargained for.
A new study from CreditCards.com found that 35 percent of, or about one in three, U.S. adults have been enrolled in automatic payments without knowing it.
Further, 48 percent of respondents say they were unknowingly charged for a subscription when a free trial period ended and the auto-renewal was activated. When they did find out they were still paying for a free trial, most opted to cancel — but just over half of those respondents (51 percent) received a refund.
“The vast majority of folks who were signed up for autopay without their knowledge turned off autopay once they discovered it. Only about 1 in 10 people in that situation left auto-pay in place,” said Matt Schulz, a CreditCards.com senior industry analyst.
Hard to turn off
People often sign up for autopay programs for services as a convenience or to ensure that they don’t miss a payment. However, many times the payment plan is not obviously stated and consumers continue with a service they did not plan to extend.
It can be difficult or confusing for consumers to turn off autopay.
“There’s no question that some merchants purposely make it hard for customers to cancel subscriptions or turn off automatic payments. They want to keep you as a customer for as long as possible, and making the cancellation process confusing and convoluted can sometimes help them do that,” Schulz said.
“Most merchants don’t handle things that way, but some certainly do. That can be risky, however. Word of a bad customer experience can spread like wildfire in today’s social media environment, and that sort of bad publicity can far outweigh any financial benefits gained by stringing customers along in the cancellation process,” Schulz said.
Younger people most affected
Gen Xers and millennials were most likely to be unintentionally enrolled in autopay, the study found.
“Gen Xers, in particular, are in their prime earning years, wrestling with intense job demands while also raising kids and possibly dealing with elderly parents. Their to-do lists are 100 miles long, and they might not take the time to read through everything they sign up for,” Schulz said.
Read the fine print
“Bottom line, it’s important to read the fine print when you’re signing up for a new subscription or service. Unplanned recurring payments can wreak havoc on your budget and your bank accounts,” Schulz said.
If you have a hard time canceling something, the best way to handle it is to be persistent.
“Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Find phone numbers and email addresses and reach out through them. Approach the company through social media.
Leave comments on a reviews website. Make sure that you are heard, and they’ll react to you,” Schulz said. Meanwhile, take good notes of any conversations or email correspondence you have and make sure you have all the paperwork you might need to back up your claim, he said.
The best way to avoid any issues with a free trial subscription “is to schedule time in your calendar as a reminder to cancel the subscription before the trial period ends. ... Setting that reminder when you sign up for the free trial can save you a bunch of headaches in the future,” he said.