Here’s one really good reason to check your bank statements
Do you know how many automatic payments you’re making every month? If not, you’re not alone.
Some 35% of Americans say they have made automatic payments to a subscription, or a membership service like a gym, and they didn’t even realize it. That’s according to a new survey from the credit-card website CreditCards.com, which asked 1,000 adults about their spending habits. Nearly half of people (48%) said the unexpected charges happened when they started a service as a free trial and then forgot to cancel it.
Members of Generation X were the most likely to have signed up for auto-pay programs without realizing it. Some 44% did so, more than 2.5 times that of people ages 72 and over (17%). Parents are more likely than non-parents to be unwittingly enrolled in such a program (43% versus 32%). Plus, people with higher education and income levels are more likely to have been enrolled in an unwanted auto payment plan compared to respondents who make less than $30,000 per year and have an education level of high school or less.
Half of people said the unexpected charges happened when they started a service as a free trial and then forgot to cancel it.
It isn’t surprising that many Americans are falling into this trap, said Alex Horowitz, a senior research officer at Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonprofit based in Philadelphia. When there is a “default” set-up on financial products, research has shown people tend to stick with what that default setting is, rather than go through the effort to change it, he said. That’s why automatic savings programs have become more popular, including automatic enrollment in 401(k)s.
But that isn’t a positive thing when it comes to spending. Fortunately, there’s a pretty easy way to avoid unwanted charges, said Matt Schulz, a senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com. “The easiest way is maybe the most obvious,” he said. “Keep your eye on your credit-card statements and your bank account statement. If anything strange pops up, take action.” That’s also a good way to watch out for fraud and identity theft, he added.
Many banks and credit unions allow consumers to track charges on websites and mobile apps; there are also third-party apps that track savings, said Nick Clements, the co-founder of personal-finance company MagnifyMoney. These free apps include the budgeting app Mint INTU, +1.34% Clarity Money, which tracks expenses for free and also points out recurring charges and cancels any unwanted ones. Trim and Truebill also offer free services, including canceling subscriptions.
Truebill has seen the average number of subscriptions per person double over the last 18 months, according to CEO and co-founder Yahya Mokhtarzada. The most common subscriptions clients ask to cancel include audio book services, news services, credit reporting services, gyms and software services, Mokhtarzada said. Some gym memberships need to be canceled in person.