Mastercard’s new rule will make some ‘free’ trials more transparent

Posted at 5:22 PM, Jan 18, 2019

So you jumped on a free trial of a company’s product — and then promptly forgot about it? If so, you probably know what happens next.

The free trial quietly ends, with no alert or reminder, and you become a “recurring” customer who’s hit with the full standard price. Perhaps you then contact the company to ask for your money back. You may not get it.

Frustrating, right? Well, if you’re a Mastercard debit or credit card customer, those days may soon be ending, at least for some of these transactions.

Under  a new network rule , Mastercard will require merchants to get your approval to proceed with charges after a free trial ends. There are two important caveats, however:

  • This rule will apply only to physical goods, such as cosmetics and medications, not to things like streaming services or website subscriptions.
  • The rule has not yet taken effect. A specific date has not yet been set for the implementation, according to Mastercard, but it will go into effect sometime in April.

You’ll also have details upfront before moving forward with a subscription service for physical goods. The rule will require merchants to send you an email or text with the transaction amount, payment date, the name of the business and instructions that explain how to cancel the trial.

If you choose to turn your free trial into a paid one, every receipt will have to offer information about the cancellation process in case you want out.

Expect your statements to look slightly different, too. Mastercard is requiring that charges on your statement display the merchant’s web address or phone number.

Again, this new rule applies only to physical goods, so don’t expect a reminder when your free trial of a streaming service is about to end. But for those who like to try out a product before committing to it, the change could potentially spare you headaches and save you money, especially if you’re occasionally forgetful.

More From NerdWallet