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Beware of Free Trials
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Free trials for software and website subscriptions are popular and very common. They exist with the goal of letting customers try products before they purchase. However, if you don’t plan to buy the service, beware of free trials!

Before signing up, always read the fine print agreement and make sure you know when to cancel before the trial runs out. It may help to write down that cancel by date so you do not forget! Even if you have every intention of canceling before the trial runs out, you will still be responsible for payment if you fail to cancel and your credit card is charged. This does not count as fraud.


What's a Free Trial?

A Free Trial is any product, service, or membership that is free for a specified period of time and then you are billed at a later date. I strongly discourage you from signing-up for a Free Trial unless it's for something you plan on purchasing anyways. There are so many things that can go wrong with planning to cancel a Free Trial before you're billed. Typically your billing information is collected when you sign-up for the Free Trial, but you are not billed until later.

Aren't Free Trials always called Free Trials?

  Free Trials are often disguised under other names. Free trials are also called Free Memberships, Free Products or even Free Samples so it's important to read everything you can about the offer including the fine print. You are looking for keywords like "automatic renewal", "automatic shipment" or "cancel at any time" that are used in Free Trials to indicate that you will be billed at a later date.


What's the purpose of a Free Trial? To give you a real value. Ask yourself what value you expect to get out of a Free Trial before signing-up for it. Be aware that Free Trials are used to get your attention and entice you to buy something you might not normally buy. Just remember a Free Trial means it's only free for a set amount of time, eventually you will be billed for it. The best products and services sell themselves and shouldn't need a Free Trial offer with automatic billing to help them sell. You don't want a Free Trial to trick you into buying something you don't want.

To give you a real value. Ask yourself what value you expect to get out of a Free Trial before signing-up for it. Be aware that Free Trials are used to get your attention and entice you to buy something you might not normally buy. Just remember a Free Trial means it's only free for a set amount of time, eventually you will be billed for it. The best products and services sell themselves and shouldn't need a Free Trial offer with automatic billing to help them sell. You don't want a Free Trial to trick you into buying something you don't want.

Why does it ask for my credit card?

If you're asked for your credit card, it might be a free trial. You need to read the Terms of the offer to understand why your credit card information is required. Look for when you will be billed and how much you will be billed for.

Can't I just cancel before I'm billed?

You will be billed and it's never a good plan to cancel before you're billed. Free trials can be intentionally difficult to cancel because they can deceive you about the billing date, have customer service that's unhelpful or nonexistent, or require excessive notification before the date when you want to cancel.

How hard can it be to cancel a Free Trial?

A perfect example of a Free Trial that's impossible to cancel is when you sign-up for a free magazine. You're supposed to receive 6 free issues before you are billed and they promise you that you can cancel at any time. What you don't know is that you might be billed before you even receive that 6th free issue. Or you think you canceled at the right time but for some strange reason the magazine keeps coming, and they keep sending you a bill, and there's no customer service phone number…your free trial just turned into an expensive nightmare. I use the term "expensive" not because the monetary cost would likely be high, but because this frustrating scenario has an emotional cost and costs your time to resolve.

What if I provide a credit card that expires before it will be billed?

You might think you're safe by providing a credit card number that will not work when they try to bill you. But the problem is they may still bill you and expect you to pay. In rare cases, your nonpayment of this “bill you never intended to pay but couldn't get canceled in time could lead to your account being sent to a collection agency. I know it sounds unlikely but this is a real situation that a few of my readers have dealt with.


When is a Free Trial OK to do?

When you are getting a Free Trial from a trusted retailer that provides excellent customer service and gives you full access to your account and cancellation options. An example from my personal experience is Amazon. I would do a Free Trial with Amazon because I know how to manage my Amazon account and I have positive experiences with Amazon's customer service. My advice is that it's better to first have a positive purchase experience with a retailer before you trust them with a Free Trial.


Why are they still asking for my credit card when I'm not buying anything or signing-up for a Free Trial?

Some retailers require that you have a credit card on file in order to have a free account. It's not because they are offering you a Free Trial, but because they want to be able to bill you when you do make a purchase. Learn more about the company and read their Privacy Policy before you sign-up for your free account. Test out their customer service by asking them questions. Research by searching for customer reviews and looking at their rating with the Better Business Bureau.

What if my credit card is charged upon sign-up for a Free Trial even though they say it won't be?

This is a red flag. If they are billing customers when they shouldn't be, you need to ask yourself why you are buying from a company that is intentionally or accidentally making billing errors. Try to get the mischarge resolved as soon as you notice it.


How do I protect myself?

Always question a Free Trial in order to protect yourself. Know the retailer, read the Terms, and read the Privacy Policy. Remember that if you have problems canceling a Free Trial you can also request help from your credit card company by disputing charges associated with the Free Trial. If you do fall for a Free Trial and have a negative experience then you should file a report with the Better Business Bureau to warn other consumers.

Please share your positive and negative experiences with Free Trials by leaving a comment below. Do you have more tips on how to spot a Free Trial?

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