4 free tools to stop unwanted card charges
By Susan Johnston Taylor
April 11, 2016
We’ve all signed up for a free trial and then forgotten to cancel before the auto-renewal hits our credit cards. Or maybe we intended to pay for a music streaming site or in-flight Internet access and continued paying even after we stopped using the service.
According to SubscriptMe, consumers on average pay $63.45 each month for around five subscription services. With the boom in monthly food and clothing boxes (socks, dog treats, beauty samples and more delivered to your door every month), automatic bill pay for cellphone and Internet service, and digital subscriptions for news sites, it can be hard to keep track of all those monthly charges. And they add up over time.
It’s even harder because the four major credit card payment processing networks (Visa, American Express, MasterCard and Discover) and subscription billing services such as Recurly offer customer credit card updating services for merchants. The services update a customer’s card number or expiration date when this information changes.
To combat the problem of keeping track of — and ending these recurring bills — a growing number of free services can make it easy to put a stop to these charges. Here’s how four of these services work:
When Yahya Mokhtarzada realized he had never canceled GoGo in-flight Wi-Fi — and had been paying $40 a month for over a year — the oversight inspired him and his brother to create Truebill, a free tool they launched in January. “As more businesses migrate their models to subscriptions, it’s just impossible to keep track of them and manage them without a tool,” Truebill’s founder and CEO says.
“As more businesses migrate their models to subscriptions, it’s just impossible to keep track of them and manage them without a tool.”
— Yahya Mokhtarzada, Truebill founder and CEO
Users sync their credit cards and bank accounts with the free online tool, and it combs through their transaction history for subscriptions. Users can ask Truebill to cancel most unwanted subscriptions with the click of a button, and Truebill takes care of canceling (typically, its tool generates a certified letter and mails it on the user’s behalf). However, it does not cancel recurring payments, such as a car loan or health insurance or services that require your Social Security number to cancel.
If you’d prefer to cancel services yourself, Truebill has a list of instructions for stopping various subscriptions.
“The average person who cancels at least one subscription saves an average of $520 dollars per year,” Mokhtarzada says, adding that it’s especially useful for people who run a small business since “so many of the services we use for business are subscription-based.”
The trouble with much of the existing financial tools and advice, Trim founder Thomas Smyth says, is that people just don’t follow through. “It’s like telling people to eat broccoli, but most of the time it doesn’t lead to any behavior change,” he says. “Fortunately, your personal finances can be done by someone else to make things easier. Why don’t you let us eat the broccoli for you?”
Smyth and longtime friend Daniel Petkevish launched Trim in November 2015. After users sign up for the free tool and register their credit cards, Trim scans their bills and texts them to get permission to cancel any subscriptions it finds. Users text back giving Trim permission to cancel unwanted subscriptions, and Trim takes care of canceling the services. Like Truebill, Trim does not cancel certain subscriptions, including those that require your Social Security number.
“It’s like telling people to eat broccoli, but most of the time it doesn’t lead to any behavior change. Fortunately, your personal finances can be done by someone else to make things easier. Why don’t you let us eat the broccoli for you?”
— Thomas Smyth,
3. Prosper Daily
Peer-to-peer lending platform Platform acquired bill-monitoring service BillGuard in 2015 and recently launched personal finance app Prosper Daily. The free app is available for iOS and Android, and former BillGuard users can log in using their BillGuard credentials.
Jennifer Clark, director of consumer public relations for Prosper, says the app is designed to give consumers (including but not exclusively Prosper borrowers and investors) a 360-degree view of their finances. Like BillGuard, Prosper Daily flags questionable credit card charges, which could include duplicate charges or subscriptions that have increased in price. “Sometimes it’s something you purchased but the name under which you’re billed under is different,” Clark says.
Prosper Daily has a Tinder-like interface in which users swipe left or right on each questionable transaction. “If it’s left, we’ll put you in contact with the bank,” Clark says. Then if it’s a subscription you’ve already canceled or a charge you didn’t authorize, you can dispute that transaction with your bank.
4. Second Look from Capital One
All Capital One cardholders (but currently not partner cardholders) are automatically enrolled in a free service called Second Look. Capital One notifies cardholders via email (or via push notification in the Capital One Wallet app, if they choose) about charges the card issuer believes may be a mistake.
The tool “helps identify possibly unwanted credit card charges, like that free trial of the cool new music streaming app that starts charging your card after the first month,” Capital One spokeswoman Angela Solomon writes in an email.
According to the recent Second Look survey commissioned by Capital One, a third of Americans said that a free trial turning into a paid subscription was the most likely unwanted charge to surprise them on their credit card statement. Second Look also notifies cardholders about other questionable charges such as a change in subscription price or a duplicate charge.
Once cardholders get an alert, they’re prompted to log into their account and review the charge in detail, then they can file a dispute.
“In some cases when customers call to file a dispute, specifically for recurring charges, Capital One can take an additional step to protect the customer and block any future charges from the merchant on the customer’s Capital One credit card,” Solomon writes. “Many customers also choose to follow up with the merchant directly to resolve, and Capital One will provide the merchant contact information when it’s available.”
Whatever tool you choose (if any), don’t forget to review your credit card statements yourself. Tools like these can provide another set of eyes and help you avoid unwanted subscriptions, but the onus is still on you, the cardholder, to monitor statements for unauthorized or incorrect charges and stay in tune with where your money is going.