The Risks of Free Trial Offers

The Risks of Free Trial Offers

A free trial offer can often seem like a great bargain. Everyone wants something for nothing. But the reality may not be so cheap. Signing up for the offer may put your personal information into the wrong hands. Or when the free trial ends, you could be on the hook if you don’t cancel the subscription or opt out of future deliveries by a specific date. 

Free trials can provide a smart way to test out a service to see if you like it. But they also can subject you to some of these unforeseen circumstances: 

An Influx of Junk Mail

When you sign up for a free trial, you’re typically required to provide your email address, and you usually need to share your shipping address, too. This can lead to an influx of junk mail in your mailbox and inbox as the company shares your personal information. Many businesses sell their contact lists, and that could potentially increase the stream of spam you receive online. You may also get automatically subscribed to catalogs. 

Difficulty Canceling the Service

Signing up for free services is easy. Canceling them? Not always so simple. You may have difficulty navigating to the cancellation page on a company’s website, as businesses don’t make them easily accessible. 

They want to discourage people from ending their service. Even if you find the page, you may have to jump through hoops to cancel. You may be taken through multiple screens to confirm your decision or be asked to call a number to cancel instead of doing it online. 

Trial Offer “Gotchas”

While many free trial offers are harmless (as long as you remember to cancel them within the proper window), others intentionally wrestle away your money. Some businesses thrive on making extra money because consumers don’t typically read all the fine print. Here are a few examples:

  • Charging additional fees. You sign up for a “free” program by submitting your credit card information, but you later discover a fee on your credit card for shipping and handling. This may not be addressed clearly in the sign-up instructions.
  • Sending new items monthly. Some membership clubs provide new materials monthly that you have to pay for if you don’t send them back, such as new books or video games. 
  • Automatic renewals. Businesses can make it difficult to cancel your trial, using the credit card information on file to generate automatic renewals whenever your subscription runs out.

Protecting Yourself Before and After Signing Up

Free trials can be beneficial. Or cause headaches. Read on for ideas to make your free trial experience a positive one. 

  • Do your homework. Before you sign up, research the company offering the free trial. Do you see a lot of complaints about them online? Do people say it’s difficult to unsubscribe from their services? If you notice red flags, skip the free trial. 
  • Uncheck any boxes that are automatically checked when you sign up. When you’re signing up for a free trial, there may be options to receive information from the company or from associated third parties. Sometimes, these boxes are already checked, so you’re automatically signed up unless you manually opt out. Before submitting any sign-up forms, read all the information carefully and decide for yourself if you want to check them. 
  • Make sure the company with the free trial is the one behind the offer. Sometimes you can get free offers through third parties, meaning one company is offering another’s products or services. In this case, you may see a charge you don’t expect on your credit card bill from a business whose name you don’t recognize. 
  • Look at your financial statements. Investigate any suspicious charges and call the company and your financial institution immediately if you notice a monthly charge on your bill that you didn’t authorize. 

Making the Most of a Free Trial Offer

While there are potential pitfalls, free trials don’t have to be problematic if you do your homework, read the fine print, and are aware of what you’re agreeing to when you sign up. Follow these steps below to make the most of a free trial offer that interests you. 

  • Remember to cancel. With a free trial, you often get a short period of time that’s free before the payment kicks in. If you don’t have plans to continue the service, set a reminder on your phone or add a note to your calendar to cancel the service so you don’t get stuck paying for something you’re no longer interested in. 
  • Carefully read terms and conditions. Just like reading the fine print before making a purchase, you should do the same for free trial offers. If not, you may be signing up for something you didn’t anticipate or unintentionally agreeing to fees you don’t want to pay. Always read the terms and conditions before moving forward so you know what to expect. 
  • Check your credit card statement for upcharges. Once a company has your credit card number, it can charge you for add-ons, even if you have a free trial. For instance, say you subscribe to a video game service and buy tokens to get to a new level. Those charges may be placed on your credit card even if you use a free trial to play. 

By taking these steps to protect yourself and anticipating the potential hazards of signing up for a free trial, you can reap the benefits of a free trial without experiencing the (sometimes costly) downside. 

To find other tips on protecting your money, check out our WalletWorks page.

The content provided in this publication is for informational purposes only. Nothing stated is to be construed as financial or legal advice. Some products not offered by PSECU. PSECU does not endorse any third parties, including, but not limited to, referenced individuals, companies, organizations, products, blogs, or websites. PSECU does not warrant any advice provided by third parties. PSECU does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information provided by third parties. PSECU recommends that you seek the advice of a qualified financial, tax, legal, or other professional if you have questions.