Free apps can cost you $$ if you’re not paying attention.

  As a tech reporter, I download an unusually high number of smartphone apps. It’s almost always because I’m trying them out so you don’t have to pay for what you don’t want or need. Occasionally, I used to forget to cancel “free trials” for apps and got stuck paying for an annual subscription I was never going to use. Oh, I could always email Apple or Google support and ask for my money back but it was a hassle. 

   To be honest, it was my fault this happened. The terms and conditions of those free trials are spelled out pretty well and require that cancellation be requested within 24 hours of the end of the subscription. I often forgot to cancel and didn’t remember until I saw my bank or credit card statement.

   It’s a nifty way companies make money by offering customers free 3-day or 7-day trials. They know many people will forget and may never even notice they were charged $30 or $80 for an annual subscription until it is too late.

   Here’s a little secret these companies don’t want you to know: you can cancel right away and keep using the app through the trial.

  Here’s how to protect your Apple and Google account from forgetfulness costing you a bundle:

On an iPhone

  • As soon as you download and agree to the free trial head back over to Settings
  • Tap on your account or photo/emoji at the top of the page
  • Tap on subscriptions
  • Find the app you just installed, it should be at the top of the list
  • Tap ‘Cancel Subscription’

You’ll be asked if you really want to cancel so tap yes. You’ll see there that you can continue using the app until the trial ends.

Let me add here that not every app allows you to continue using it through the trial. Apple Music and other products will end the subscription when you tap cancel so if you choose to continue using it for the entire trial, wait until the day before it ends. Ask Siri to remind you on the day before. 

You can always re-start your subscription if you decide it’s worth the money.

On Android phones the steps are similar.

  • I found it easiest to open the Google Play Store app
  • Tap on your profile photo (account settings)
  • Tap ‘subscriptions’
  • Find the one you just installed and tap cancel. 
  • You’ll be able to use the app and free trial until it ends

This isn’t really a trick but just a way that Apple and Google make it possible to spare their customers the headache of paying for something they don’t want, and something they’ll probably ask for a refund for anyway.

The Federal Trade Commission recognized this is a problem for trials for apps and other subscriptions online and issued a consumer warning.

Free isn’t always free and can wind up costing a bundle. Monitor your credit card and bank statements to search for unwanted subscriptions. If you find one, contact the seller immediately and demand a refund. If you get the run-around, contact the FBI and FTC.

Many times you won’t be successful in getting a refund so be aware, try to remember, and don’t be too eager to take advantage of “free trials” you see in the app stores, on social media, and anywhere else online.