When is ‘free’ not the same as ‘costs nothing’?

If you’re easily tempted by the ’30-day free’ offers that scream at us from web pages and apps these days then take what follows as a warning. Newspaper, magazine and gym memberships are all being heavily advertised at the moment and it always feels good when we think we’re getting something for nothing.

But if you do take advantage of any these offers then you need to keep your wits about you to make sure that you’re not going to get stung at the end of the free trial and find that you’re still paying for a service that you’re no longer using 12 months later.

How can you pay for something that’s free you might well ask? Here’s how. When you sign up for the free offer you will be asked for your personal details and in many cases that will include bank or credit card information. You will probably also sign a bit of paper allowing the company offering the free trial to start taking money out of your bank account at the end of the trial if you don’t cancel the agreement beforehand.

And this is where you need to be alert. The company is unlikely to call you or text you or email you to remind you to cancel the subscription at the end of the 30 days. So the onus is on you to remember. No problem you say, I’ll just drop them a line in 30 days’ time and tell them I don’t want to continue.

That’s fine apart from two things. The first is that if you wait thirty days you’re probably too late to stop the first payment since these things are normally put in motion a few days before the end date.

And the second thing is that you’ll probably forget! And only realise that you forgot when you look at your bank account or credit card statement in six months’ time and see payments that you don’t understand for a service you no longer use.

By all means take advantage of free offers. Just remember to cancel them before they stop being free.

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