Subscriptions with Negative Options



A negative option is when you’re automatically billed for something when you didn’t specifically say not to bill you. It’s a common practice that businesses use, and it often happens with free trial offers and subscriptions.


For example, you agree to try a box of products free for a month. After that month, you’re charged automatically for monthly shipments until you cancel. Or, you get a magazine subscription that renews automatically when it expires. These are negative options. Your silence is taken as consent to be charged.


The problem with negative options comes when the business doesn’t clearly explain that it will keep billing you unless you do something — or if the business makes it difficult or impossible for you to cancel.


Before you give your credit card for a free trial offer or subscription

  • Read all the details. See if the business will keep charging you unless you tell them to stop. If that’s not clear to you, assume it will. Why else would the business want your credit card?

  • Look for pre-checked boxes. Some businesses use these hoping you won’t notice that you’re agreeing to be billed later. Uncheck the box if you don’t agree with what it says.

  • Make sure you know how to cancel. Check the business’s website for an explanation on how to cancel. Businesses should make this easy for you. It’s the law. If it’s not clear to you how to cancel, walk away.


If you’re charged without your consent, and the company won’t refund your money, dispute the charge (also called a “chargeback”) with your credit or debit card company right away.


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