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Beware Of Free Trial Offers – 3 Reasons to Stay Away From These Traps

By David Bakke

man with free signAs you’ve probably seen, many new products and services come with some sort of “free trial offer.” While I’m sure that there are a lot of these free trial offers on the market that are truly worth it, many (especially ones offered over the Internet for particular services) are traps that you should stay away from.

Why, you ask? Many times, the offers are not truly free. There could be minor purchases required for the free trial to kick in, there could be activation fees, and there could even be return shipping charges if you’ve received a “free” test item that you want to send back.

For the most part, free trial offers are simply not worth the time, effort, and potential risks. You may open yourself up to more trouble than you want because the offers are usually filled with qualifiers, restrictions, and exclusions.

Here are the main reasons why you should avoid free trial offers.

1. Release of Your Personal Information
At the very least, in order to register for most offers, you need to give out your email address. While this may seem innocuous enough, sharing your email can open you up to new hassles. For one, your inbox will be bombarded with junk mail you don’t want. Furthermore, if the company sells its customer lists to other companies, the number of spam emails you get will increase exponentially. I’ve only signed up for a few free trial offers, but the junk emails have kept coming even after I cancel the service or opt out. You could even be signed up to receive snail mail advertisements or catalogs. If this is the case, find out how to stop junk mail from coming to your house.

Most offers will also require that you submit your credit card number. While this is safe for the most part, there is always some risk of identity theft when sharing your financial information online (especially if you don’t really plan on paying for anything). Weigh these negatives against the potential value of the offer before making your final decision.

2. Difficult Cancellation Process
Oftentimes, it is much more difficult to cancel a free trial than to start one. Although you sign up online, you might have to cancel over the phone. These calls can take forever. Remember, the companies don’t want you to cancel the offer. They have absolutely no motivation to make the cancellation process easy or convenient.

In one instance, when I called a company to cancel, they confirmed that I was all set. However, my credit card was still charged a month later. I had to call them back, and it was very difficult to get a refund. If I had not specifically noted the time, date, and name of the person with whom I had spoken, I would have been out of luck.

3. Are You Going to Remember to Cancel?
In most cases, it is your responsibility to cancel the service by the end of the free trial. Again, they have no incentive to remind you. After all, companies make money when people forget to cancel and you might not even notice until you see an unusual charge on your credit card bill. If you’re not in the habit of checking the statement for your credit card or debit card on a monthly basis, the cost to you could be even higher. So if you ever decide to sign up for a free trial, mark the cancellation deadline on your calendar and set up some sort of alert (through your cell phone or an online tool like Google Calendars). Make sure you remember to cancel before the trial period expires.

A Free Trial Offer That’s Worth It
Depending on your needs and preferences, I’m sure there are a few free trial offer that are worth the time and effort – especially if it’s a service or product that you’re considering buying anyway. One that I trust is the Netflix free trial offer. Netflix is a pretty awesome product that’s revolutionizing the way people watch TV and movies. I recently signed up for their free trial offer, which only took a few minutes, and will probably stick with the service. If you do want to cancel, you can easily do so in your account online.

Final Word

Overall, there are far more disadvantages to free trial offers than advantages. You shouldn’t be signing up for random services you don’t even really need or want because they’re “free.” There are simply too many risks involved, and if you’re not careful, these offers can cost you a lot of money.

If you are considering an offer, read through the fine print and find out what the cancellation process entails before you move forward.

Do you have any free trial offer horror stories? Please share in the comments below.

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

David Bakke
David started his own personal finance blog, YourFinances101, in June of 2009 and published his first book on ways to save more and spend less called "Don't Be A Mule..." Since then he has been a regular contributor for Money Crashers. He lives just outside Atlanta, GA and most all of his free time is taken up by his amazing three year old son, Nicholas.

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Comments

  • http://budgetsrock.blogspot.com Melyssa

    Oh yes, I totally agree with the Netflix free trial. I love Netflix. I have the one DVD at a time plan which totally works out for my family’s busy schedule. We are much too frugal to hit the theater. One ticket costs just as much as one month of our Netflix subscription. And the movies and shows they have for streaming just tops it off.

    But you’re right. Many of the free trials are a pain to cancel. Just recently my coworker was having the THE hardest time trying to get a charge reversed when she signed up for a free trial. I’ve never been a believer in the ’30-day money back guarantee’ or the ‘no questions asked’ lines. And having been a victim of identity theft, I try to avoid becoming a victim at all costs. I don’t even have a credit card anymore.

    • David Bakke

      Melyssa

      You are right on point–some times, these things give you more trouble than they do value…

      Thanks for commenting!

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