Subscription services can make great holiday gifts. The recipient gets a gift that keeps on giving, and the giver doesn't need to worry about shipping. But with so many options and price points, picking the right option can be hard.
Video and music streaming services are hugely popular. Meal delivery services provide fresh, pre-measured ingredients and easy-to-follow recipes on a subscription basis. You also can sign up for regular shipments of snacks, clothing, personal grooming products, makeup, vitamins, pet toys and wine — and the list goes on.
What should you know about a subscription service before you sign up? BBB offers the following tips to help you get the most out of subscription services while watching your budget.
- Do plenty of research. Take time to research a company before you sign up for a subscription or trial. Find the company on social media and review its account. Check BBB.org to see if the company has a good business rating, and look online for consumer reviews. Do an online search of the company including the words "scam" or "complaint" to reveal any red flags you should be aware of.
- Investigate free trials. Free trials can be a good way to get to know a company and try out a product, but make sure you understand how they work. Before you sign up, find out how long the trial period lasts, what exactly you are agreeing to, and how and when to cancel if you decide not to subscribe. If any of this information is confusing or unavailable, take your business elsewhere. The Federal Trade Commission adds this warning about free trials: "Free means free. Be suspicious of companies that offer something free but say you have to pay to get it. You may be dealing with a scammer."
- Understand how auto-renewal works. Auto-renewals are a convenient way to keep your subscription current if you decide you like the service. On the expiration date, the company charges your credit or debit card, and the subscription renews for another period. Keep in mind that companies must send you a renewal notice, which is a brief reminder that your subscription is about to renew, ahead of time. Always check your bank and credit card statements to make sure the cost is what you expected. If you notice a price jump, it could be that you were signed up for a promotional period that ended.
- Know how to stop a subscription. There are three ways you can stop automatic payments from your bank account, according to consumerfinance.gov: Contact the company to revoke payment authorization, call and write your bank or credit union informing them you've revoked payment authorization and/or give your bank a "stop payment order." Usually, contacting the company to revoke authorization is sufficient to cancel a subscription, but monitor your bank statements closely anyway. If you still see unwanted charges, you may need to take further action.
- Cancel unwanted subscriptions early. Instead of waiting until the last minute to cancel a subscription or free trial, The New York Times says, "there is generally no drawback to ending payments ahead of time." You can usually cancel early and still enjoy the remaining time left on your subscription for that billing period. Calendar alerts can also help you keep track of when to cancel a subscription, so you don't forget and end up paying for an extra subscription term.
- Periodically review your active subscriptions. If you aren't careful, you could lose track of what subscription services you are paying for. To maintain your financial health, Forbes reminds consumers to figure out how much they are spending on subscriptions. Periodically, review your subscriptions to make sure you're still using them. If you are signed up for multiple subscriptions, a subscription management app can help you to keep track of and manage them.
- Watch out for scams. Scammers may offer you free trials or deals on subscriptions that seem too good to be true, hoping you'll sign up and hand over your credit card number. Don't believe deals that seem outrageously good. In addition, if you receive a "renewal notice" that asks you for your credit card information, think twice before you reply. It's likely the message is a scam. Renewal notices are reminders from a company that already has your payment information. Always contact the company directly to verify suspicious messages.
- Also help your loved ones remain vigilant to bogus shipping-related text messages. Bogus text messages and emails falsely claiming package delivery issues spike during the holidays. The sender's goal is to get the recipient to click on a link that may take them to a site that downloads malware or spyware onto their computer or phone. At a minimum, these messages are designed to trick consumers into giving out personal or financial information. Remind family and friends to not click on links from messages that were unexpected, and especially generic texts that simply state there's a delivery issue with their package, a special discount is being offered, etc.
For more information:
Look up online marketplace business profiles, get lists of BBB Accredited Businesses for the products/services you need, write a customer review or file a complaint at BBB.org. Visit BBB.org/ScamTracker to research and report scams.
Michele Mason is president of the Better Business Bureau of Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia