It is worth knowing that some streaming services may actually charge you during a free trial. This is usually only a temporary charge or hold, and while the consumer does eventually get their money back, it is still something to be aware of before signing up to a live TV or on-demand streaming service that requires a monthly or yearly subscription.
One of the major benefits of streaming is the ability to try before you buy. Not every service offers a free trial, and of the ones that do, they are not always the same length. While most services tend to offer a minimum of a 7-day free trial, some do allow new users to watch for up to 30 days for free. Regardless of the length, a free trial is free.
That said, some companies might charge the consumer during this free period. When signing up for a free trial, most companies will require the user to provide a payment method before they gain access to the service. This is to ensure an uninterrupted experience, as all free trials tend to automatically convert to paid subscriptions unless canceled. By having a payment method on file, the subscriber is automatically billed for the first month (or year) when the subscription comes to an end.
To also ensure that the experience remains uninterrupted during this free-to-paid migration, some companies validate the subscriber’s payment method by charging it. Generally speaking, this should only be a small amount and not the monthly payment amount. For example, many services bill the consumer $1 or less which does show up as a transaction. This amount is usually returned to the user pretty soon afterwards as a credit, although companies do state that it can take up to 14 days for the amount to be returned.
In many cases, there won’t be a charge at all. Instead, an authorization hold is applied to the account. While the user may see the deduction on their account in these situations, the bank simply holds on to the funds for a short period of time – typically until the authorization is lifted or the payment is processed as expected. As explained in this help post, YouTube TV uses an authorization hold to make sure the card is valid and to check if there are enough funds in the account to make the purchase when the free trial comes to an end.
Free trial charges worth checking
The situations described above are fairly common with streaming services, especially when it comes to live TV services, and are not necessarily issues to be worried about. The amount is usually pretty small and is returned soon after the payment method has been validated. However, there are plenty of situations that can occur which are worth paying closer attention to.
The first is the actual sale amount. As mentioned, free trial charges tend to be minor, usually $1 or less, and not for the full price of the subscription. If the user has been charged the full price then this is something to further look into. Free trials do often come with some restrictions and if a consumer does not meet them, they could end up paying for the first month (or year) instead of gaining access to the free trial. In most cases, the service will actively inform the user if there are any issues with free trial eligibility, so it is important to make sure the free trial end date and payment date are correct before completing the sign up process.
As an example, and although fuboTV does issue a $1 temporary authorization charge, the live TV service is very clear on when a free trial ends and a payment will be taken. In fact, fuboTV also provides new users with a heads up email a few days before the free trial is due to end, making it easy enough to cancel in time and avoid any unexpected charges. Regardless of the service, it is usually also possible to check the Account section to confirm when the first billing date will begin.
If being charged more than once for the same service then that’s a problem. Regardless of free trial eligibility, a subscriber should only be charged once per billing cycle. If encountering more than one charge for the same streaming service then it is with reaching out to find out what the additional charge is for. The same is also true if paying for a subscription that the subscriber doesn’t remember signing up for. This could be a warning of a more serious issue and is something worth looking into.
For those interested in more information on this topic, a really good and useful resource is this FTC article. Not only does the FTC address the topics of free trials, auto-renewals, and negative option subscriptions, but it also provides some great tips on how to avoid issues arising in the first place, such as making a calendar reminder to cancel before the free trial ends.