Warning: New Report Exposes the Downside of Free Trials

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Have you ever signed up for a “free trial” only to later be charged for some service or goods that you didn’t really intend to buy?

If so, you’re not alone according to a new survey from Bankrate.com. The site, which focuses on financial decision-making, found that 40% of U.S. adults who signed up for a free trial were later charged against their will.

The Downside of Free Trials

Bankrate surveyed more than 2,500 Americans to learn more about their habits around using credit and debit cards online. That’s how they learned that 4 in 10 people had given their card information over in exchange for a free sample or trial service period, only to later be charged, according to survey results provided to Clark.com.

There could be many reasons for that. Chief among them are likely the failure to read the fine print on a trial offer or simply forgetting to cancel the order within the specified period of time.

While being hit with a charge you weren’t expecting is painful, even more concerning may be the fact that any time you give your account number over to someone, you’re putting it risk of being stolen by cyberthieves. The same survey found that while 64% of credit and debit cardholders have saved their card numbers online, just 8% feel very safe doing it. Some 31% feel “not very safe” and 17% feel “not safe at all.”

“[Saving card information] is very convenient and saves us time, but it does come with some risks,” says Kelvin Coleman, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance. “If your account is taken over or hacked by a bad actor, then you’re effectively giving them the keys to the kingdom.”

The risk factor is upped even further if you use your debit card to activate a free trial, as they rarely provide the same protections that credit cards do in the event something goes wrong.

“If your credit card information is compromised, most credit card companies are well equipped to reverse fraudulent transactions and issue new cards,” says Spencer Stephen, financial planner at Rooted Interest, LLC. “Debit cards leave you more vulnerable and subject to your financial institution’s capabilities to reverse transactions or issue refunds if fraudulent activity is discovered.”

Final Thought

Team Clark recommends taking advantage of free trials from time to time —especially when it comes to things like testing out streaming services or shopping memberships — so this is not to say that they are evil. In fact, they can be extremely useful as a way of evaluating a product or service. So, if you do take someone up on a free trial offer, make sure you:

  • Use a credit card rather than a debit card if a card number is required
  • Read the fine print so you understand what the terms of the trial are and when it ends
  • Set a calendar reminder for yourself to cancel the trial within the specified time period if you do not wish to be charged

Taking these steps will go a long way toward making sure your “free” trials don’t end up costing you an arm and a leg.


Have you taken advantage of a free trial, only to be hit with a charge you weren’t expecting? Let us know in the comments below!

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