Editorial Policy

How to cancel subscription charges on your card

Eva Norlyk Smith Ph.D.

August 4, 2014

QDear Eva,

You know when you sign up for a 30-day trial and a month later you get charged? Is there an easy way to cancel them, such as challenge them through the credit card company or just cancel the card, or maybe get a new card number? I have several, and I have no idea what company they are with or how to reach them. It adds up to about $45 a month. Please advise. –Ken

AHi Ken,

Well, if it's any comfort, you're not alone!  All too many people sign up for a free trial period, typically for an online service or product, and then forget where and when they signed up. Or perhaps they didn't read the fine print that said they were signing up for recurring charges. The charges are often small enough that many people choose to overlook them or figure it would take too much effort to cancel, so they keep paying them. So, it is good that you are on the alert.Ask Eva

According to a 2013 study by BillGuard , about 35 percent of credit card holders incur at least one such “gray” charge, as they're often called, a year, and these charges totaled $14.3 billion in 2012 alone.

In 2011, Congress introduced new protections for consumers with the Restore Online Shoppers Confidence Act. That law requires websites to make it clear to consumers that they are signing up for a monthly subscription offer. It also requires companies to provide a simple way for consumers to cancel the service.  This has made a considerable difference — in the past, some online marketing companies made consumers go through hoops to cancel a recurring charge.

For the most part, this is no longer the case. It is not only much easier to cancel out of monthly charges, in some cases you can also get some or all of the charges reversed. Companies that offer online subscription services are subject to scrutiny from credit card issuers if they receive too many consumer complaints, so they will often go the extra mile to avoid complaints.

Take these steps to cancel subscription recurring monthly charges and, if possible, get some or all of the charges reversed.

1. Find the phone number. The company's name should be on your credit card statement and, usually, a telephone number. If there is no phone number listed on the credit card statement, find the company's customer service number online.

2. Call the company. Ask to have the subscription charge cancelled. Also explain that you did not know that you signed up for a subscription recurring charge and ask to have the charges reversed. In some cases the company will do so, or they might refund a few months.

3. Dispute the charges online. If you can't find enough information on your credit card statement to contact the company directly and cannot locate the company's  customer service number online, you can dispute the charge with your credit card issuer. It's easiest to do this online, but you can also call the number on the back of your credit card to talk to a customer service rep.

Note: You won't be able to cancel a subscription through your card issuer. However, filing the dispute will have a similar effect, particularly if you dispute the charge each month. At the very least, it will give you the name and contact information of the company so you can cancel the subscription.

4. Get a new card. If your best efforts don't produce contact information, and it's clear the company is not honorable, your best option is to get a new card issued with a new number. This will at least stop the monthly charges. Just call the issuer and request that a new card be issued and your old card number discontinued, which shouldn't hurt your credit score. Canceling the card may have a negative impact on your credit rating as losing that line of credit may reduce your credit utilization ratio (the amount of debt you carry versus your total available credit).

Good luck!

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