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Subscription shopping programs are popular for a good reason: They make it easy to get good deals on the products you want without the hassle of shopping around and paying shipping fees. Just hand over your credit card and agree to automatic billing, and you can score nice discounts, automatic shipments of things you use regularly and other perks, depending on the merchant.
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On the one hand, these services can make shopping easier and more fun. “There are lots of great products you can buy this way, especially from small and start-up businesses,” says Kevin Brasler, executive editor at Consumers’ Checkbook, a nonprofit consumer group. On the other hand, subscription plans can be a drain on your finances. Once companies get you to sign up, they have the green light to bill your credit card indefinitely, and to raise prices, too. “Companies are 100 percent preying on our laziness,” Brasler adds. For example, having a subscription plan from one seller means you are less likely to shop around and check prices elsewhere, he notes. “They’ve eliminated the decision process.”
Another sign of what can go wrong: The Federal Trade Commission recently announced a crackdown on some subscription services, citing a surge of complaints about deceptive sign-up tactics, including unauthorized charges or ongoing billing that is impossible to cancel. So how do you decide if a subscription is right for you? Ask yourself these four questions before you enter your credit card info.
1. Will it make my life better?
Having cat litter automatically shipped to you on a regular schedule saves you the hassle of lugging heavy containers home from the store. And if you love coffee or trying new beauty products or recipes, for example, then a subscription plan can be a nice gift to buy yourself.