This shopping tip saves you from unwanted recurring charges


This story is part Try thatCNET’s collection of simple tips to improve your life, fast.

Signing up for a free trial is a great way to try something out before deciding if you actually want to pay to use it. But free trials can end up costing you dearly if you’re not careful. If you’ve ever been burned by a free trial that automatically turned into a paid subscription to a service you didn’t want to keep using, then you know how frustrating it can be to find out you’ve unwittingly paid recurring charges for something you once tried – months ago. These fees can really add up, even if the subscription only costs a few dollars a month.

In a perfect world, you wouldn’t have to enter payment information to start a free trial. But good luck finding a free trial these days that doesn’t require you to provide your payment information before you can activate it.

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So if you really want to try this service, but don’t want to give out your credit card information to sign up for its free trial, what can you do? You don’t have to drop your credit card number. You can just use a prepaid debit card Where virtual card In place. It can save your bank account and your sanity. We’ll show you how.

For more tips, here are our tips on How to save on your water bill with a waterless car wash and How to cut a cake with dental floss.

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Why do you need to enter your payment information for something that’s supposed to be free?

The simple answer is that companies want to be able to charge you for a subscription immediately after your free trial expires. Businesses will often say that requiring a credit card up front streamlines the process to ensure there is no disruption in service. Sure, it can be convenient and useful in some cases to automatically switch to a paid subscription after a free trial, but that’s probably not something you want to happen for every free trial you sign up for.

The truth is that companies rely on you to forget to cancel your trial as much, if not more, than they rely on you to voluntarily convert you into a paying customer. Some employ tactics like negative options — when your inaction implies consent to continue billing a recurring subscription — and others deliberately try to do so such as confusing and hard to undo. And many don’t offer an option to turn off auto-renewal when you sign up for a free trial, so it’s up to you to remember to cancel the trial before it turns into a paid subscription if you don’t intend to pay it.

Getting stuck in a subscription plan you don’t want is easier than you think. So be aware that when a company requires you to enter your credit card details before signing up for a free trial, it’s really more about stacking the game in favor of the company instead of yours. , however she tries to spin it.

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Why use a prepaid gift card?

A recent Bank Rate Survey found that 51% of 2,497 US adults surveyed said they had experienced unwanted charges related to a subscription plan. (Bankrate is a sister company to CNET.) And with the thriving subscription economyit is likely that consumers will continue to be increasingly affected by unwanted recurring charges in the future.

You can protect yourself from becoming a statistic by using a prepaid debit card to sign up for free trials. A debit card or prepaid gift card isn’t tied to your bank account, but you can use it just like you would your traditional debit or credit card. Although you may incur a small charge to top up your card balance – depending on the card you’re using – you can usually load as much or as little money as you want. So if you forget you signed up for a free trial for a particular service, the most you can lose is the amount you loaded onto your prepaid card. This way, you can save your bank account from racking up months of charges for a subscription you didn’t intend to purchase in the first place.

If you end up wanting to continue with a subscription after a free trial, you can load additional funds onto your prepaid debit card to avoid a service disruption, or you can always add your regular credit card number if you prefer.

The other benefit of using a prepaid debit card to sign up for a free trial is that you can avoid sharing your sensitive credit card details with the companies whose services you are trying out. With data breaches are on the riseit’s always a good idea to limit the entities that have access to your sensitive data.

Read more: How to Save Money Around Your Home: 27 Simple Tips

What about virtual cards?

Using a virtual card is another great way to protect your bank account when you sign up for a free trial online. The difference between a virtual card and a prepaid card is that a virtual card is linked to your usual credit card, while a prepaid card is completely isolated from your bank account.

Even if your virtual card is connected to your regular credit card and bank account, your bank account remains secure and your real credit card number remains private because you can generate a new temporary virtual card number for each individual purchase you make online. With a virtual card, you are in control. You can generate a card number that only lasts 24 hours, set a specific expiration date or spending limit, or even lock or delete a card as you see fit. This level of control and flexibility makes using a virtual card ideal when you don’t want to pay for something you don’t intend to use.

Most credit card issuers offer virtual card options to their customers. If you want to go this route, check with your bank or credit card issuer to see what options you have.

Where can I get a prepaid debit card?

You can get a prepaid debit card online directly from Visa, American Express Where MasterCard, each offering various options to suit your needs, whether you want a standard prepaid debit card or a prepaid gift card. Or you can get a card from a third-party financial entity like Revolution Where Net expenditure. Another option is to buy a physical prepaid card from a retailer like Target or Walmart.

Some cards will require you to load a balance onto the card in advance in addition to the activation fee. This initial balance, if needed, can range from $10 to over $500, depending on the card you purchase. Some cards have no monthly fee, but others charge a monthly fee of $5 or more (which can often be waived if you top up your balance each month). There are tons of options, so be sure to read the fine print and know what you’re getting into before committing to a particular card.

To sign up for free trials, it’s best to use a card that doesn’t have a monthly fee or minimum balance requirement.

For more tips, here how to stop spam and how to see if your state owes you money.

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