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Beware Of the ‘Free’ Trial…

November 29, 2010 · 109 comments

in Personal Finance

I am nickel and diming myself to death, although it really should be called ‘dollaring myself to death’.

This is what happens:  I sign up for a product for a 3 month ‘free’ trial period.  All is well and good for those 3 months.  I then go to cancel my membership, but the company has less than one operator manning the phones, so you can never talk to anyone to actually cancel.  Next thing I know, my trial membership period is over, and my credit card is automatically charged.

Here is a great example of how I got burned.   I joined a service called ‘Instant Cast’, which was free for a month.  I really just needed to get one little piece of information when I signed up for the free trial, so I figured canceling within a month would be no problem.  So, I got my info and then tried to cancel my membership online.  However, there was minimal contact information anywhere on the website, so I moved on to something else.  I still had 29 days to cancel, so there was plenty of time!  Unfortunately, the whole thing slipped my mind…

A month later, the Instant Cast charge appeared on my credit card, and I was sick to my stomach.  Technically, the company did nothing wrong or illegal, they just didn’t provide an easy method to cancel a membership.  Of course, I am sure providing limited contact info is part of their tactic to keep money flowing in.   I tried calling the phone number provided, and I was on hold for 10 minutes and had to hang up to pick up my kids.  So,  I sent an email to the only address that was displayed on the entire website to cancel my membership, but I never heard back.  Needless to say, my credit card was charged AGAIN the following month.  My email must have gone straight to a garbage can somewhere.  I am guessing it wasn’t alone…

I was furious by that point.  I was determined to be done with this company, so I called back again.  I was on hold for 20 minutes, and was finally able to cancel the darn membership.  I also got them to back out the charge for the previous month.  I accepted the charge for the first month because technically, it was my own fault.

My newest project is to cancel an antivirus software package I signed up for as a free trial when I bought my laptop.  Of course, this requires a phone call, which I hate.  I don’t want to be sold to, I just want to quit the darn service.  I am resigned to get this done before it hits my credit card though!

The moral of the story:  Be careful when signing up for any ‘free’ trial.  Sometimes the inconvenience of discontinuing causes you to spend more money than you ever intended.  Or, maybe it is just me.

Have you ever let a free trial go too long?

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{ 109 comments… read them below or add one }

Moneycone November 29, 2010 at 8:36 am

And some free trials like Privacy Guard are scams, plain and simple, that I was suckered into.

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Nicole November 29, 2010 at 10:51 am

This is why we NEVER say yes to free trials unless it’s something we’d be willing t pay for. Our time is just way too valuable. “But ma’am, it’s completely free and you can cancel at any time.” Riiiight.

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Kris November 29, 2010 at 11:45 pm

Tis rare that anything is free, for long! Your policy is a good one.

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Deidre @ hcgdynamics.com November 29, 2010 at 11:46 am

I am of the same mindset as you are Kris…I didn’t want to believe it at first but you really have to wonder why they make it so darned inconvenient to cancel! One time I had no idea that I had even signed up for a monthly billing…thats how ambiguous their “sign up” form was! The next month I was shocked when I find that they had billed me for 80.00!!! This was for a credit report I had ordered and they automatically signed me up for another service as well. You would think that the FTC would crack down on that type of ‘bait N switch’ but obviously not since it appears to be a well-used tactic.

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Kris November 29, 2010 at 11:44 pm

Deidre- don’t you wonder how these people sleep at night? They are so unscrupulous. I could never, ever operate that way.

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The Financial Blogger November 29, 2010 at 11:56 am

When I see free trials which I am interested in, I always check if there is a free download over the Internet. I then download it IF there is no credit card number required. It doesn’t always exist, but it helped me quite a few times!

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Kris November 29, 2010 at 11:43 pm

Oh, don’t you love when you don’t have to provide the credit card number? I am more likely to stay with someone like that and actually pay just because they seem more honest! 🙂

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First Gen American November 29, 2010 at 11:58 am

It happened to me too with a website called Spoke. I signed up for a 1 month membership and when I went to cancel, I followed the steps and then I got billed again. I couldn’t reach a live person, the number on the website didn’t work. I wrote several emails with no response. I kept them all. I finally called my credit card company and flagged the charges as “unauthorized”. Well, the credit card company gave me a number that was in their file (not on the website) and suddenly I was able to take care of everything lickety split.

This experience is way more common than you think, even with paid services.

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Kris November 29, 2010 at 11:43 pm

Sandy, that was a great idea to cancel the charge with the credit company. You know they will track down a contact number come hell or high water because they don’t want to get stuck absorbing charges.

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Money Reasons November 29, 2010 at 12:07 pm

A long time ago, I tried a Netflix trial, but they were great about cancelling the subscription.

I don’t do “free trials” any more those! I’ve heard too many horror stories. And about both small and large companies!!!

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Kris November 29, 2010 at 11:42 pm

That is right, you light Red Box don’t you?

I do like my Netflix, and I am willing to cough up the 9.99 a month. However, you are smart to cancel if you don’t like it or have a better alternative.

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retirebyforty November 29, 2010 at 12:09 pm

I haven’t signed up for a free trial in a long time, but last month Mint convinced me to try a credit monitoring site to get my credit report. It turned out ok because I was able to cancel right after I got the report. It was incredibly easy, I just sent them an email, I can’t believe it. Anyway, I am not planning to join anymore free trial in a while.

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Kris November 29, 2010 at 11:41 pm

RB40- I am glad you had an email contact to cancel. Quite often, there is just zero info on the website on how to cancel. I did try emailing the one time and nobody ever responded. I am sure I will not be signing up for any free trials for a really long time.

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Squirrelers November 29, 2010 at 1:05 pm

I don’t like to sign up for free trials. To me, it’s not worth the hassle, particularly because:

A) Businesses often make it difficult to cancel, requiring an inordinate amount of time spent to actually end the trial and prevent future charges
B) I might accidentally forget to cancel, thus bringing on those charges

Once, when I was much younger, I ended up getting charged after I canceled a trial for something. It was maybe $10 to $15 per month, and it took me a couple of months to notice that line item on my credit card. It was a small hassle to call and get rid of the charges and end the subscription. No big deal overall, but it made an impression.

It’s pretty much been my own personal policy since then to tune out such trials.

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Kris November 29, 2010 at 11:40 pm

Squirrel, I try not to, but I signed up for the main one in the post because I needed that darn information. Scammers!

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youngandthrifty November 29, 2010 at 1:57 pm

My BF subscribed to Net Flix’s free month trial, and now he’s been paying the $8 a month.

I make to sure schedule it in my calender re: free trials and cancel beforehand.. I’m pretty wary of free trials like that anyways because that’s how they getcha 🙂

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Kris November 29, 2010 at 11:39 pm

I think now you BF will be paying 10 dollars a month as they just raised their prices to 9.99 I believe. I should use the calendar for that too. I just never seem to have it handy. It has usually gone missing along with the phone.

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Crystal @ BFS November 29, 2010 at 2:40 pm

We took the “Free Trial” of faster internet and now we are paying the extra $10 a month since hubby swears he can tell a difference. Oh well… 🙂

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Kris November 29, 2010 at 11:38 pm

BFS – Well then your free trial paid off and it is a good thing. I cannot stand slow internet.

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101 Centavos November 29, 2010 at 6:37 pm

I think we’ve all done it, at one time or another ( we went past the one-month mark also). Probably there’s people out there that are skilled at taking advantage of these trials and turning the tables, but I haven’t met any so far.

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Kris November 29, 2010 at 7:35 pm

I love the companies that actually have a link you can click on to discontinue, but those are few and far between…

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Kris November 29, 2010 at 11:37 pm

You have to talk to Valerie’s friend that is mentioned in her comment! 🙂

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Valerie November 29, 2010 at 8:05 pm

I never free trial for this very reason.

I did burn myself forgetting to cancel Amazon Prime within three months. I’ll have to get a lot of 2 day shipping to make up for those $80 down the drain.

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Kris November 29, 2010 at 11:35 pm

Yes, Amazon Prime can be a killer. I can almost always take advantage of ‘free super saving shipping’ or whatever it is called, and I am never in a huge hurry for whatever I buy.

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Valerie November 29, 2010 at 8:08 pm

I should mention that a friend of mine in graduate school was living on a stipend that put him below the poverty line (with a wife and two small kids). He was the MASTER of the free trials. Also the master of those internet deals where you do six online offers and get a free iPod (or in his case, he would choose the $100 Walmart gift card). The “offers” are all free, you just have to cancel in time. He had an elaborate spreadsheet with all his cancellation information, and he had it down to a remarkable science.

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Kris November 29, 2010 at 11:36 pm

Wow, I like your friend, that is quite impressive. I don’t know how he has the time to do all that. I hate it the most when you have to rot on hold for ages to actually talk to someone to cancel. Then it is just not worth it period for me.

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Lindy Mint November 30, 2010 at 9:32 pm

So so true. I don’t trust myself to cancel, so I never sign up.
I learned the hard way from the old days of Columbia House CD clubs. They made you mail in the card to say NO if you didn’t want the CD of the month. I ended up with a lot of random CD’s by being forgetful.

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Kay Lynn Akers December 1, 2010 at 9:34 am

This is why I now pass on many of these free opportunities. They make it so darn hard to cancel!

I was able to sign up on Gevalia’s website for the subscription incentive but you have to call to cancel.

That was easy but they still shipped the product. I marked it return to sender and got a card in the mail that they were suspending my account until I cleared up the problem. Of course, I never “cleared up” the problem.

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Sam Wilson | Student Credit Cards December 2, 2010 at 7:15 am

The real moral of the story would be never try “free trials” that asks credit card information. Though there are a few of those that actually don’t ask for credit card information once you go beyond the trial period.

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Kris December 2, 2010 at 11:04 am

Sam, that is a good policy- don’t sign up for anything that requires you give your credit card number. That will be my new motto!

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Amanda L Grossman December 2, 2010 at 9:44 pm

Dear Kris,

This has happened to me before as well (I find that I do far fewer free trials than I used to because of time constraints, but some are really good!). However, in the future, you can also call your credit card company and have them credit you for the charges as well as deny future charges, all for free. That can buy you some time until you can get ahold of someone.

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Kris December 4, 2010 at 10:45 pm

Amanda, I didn’t know if I should call the credit card company or not because it was all my fault. Hopefully it will never happen again, but I have learned to never say never!

Welcome home!

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ricky February 8, 2011 at 7:18 am

I agree, try and avoid free trials that require you to enter your credit card details in order to take out the trial! Best things are often learnt through experience 😉

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