Mastercard’s New Rule Makes Some ‘Free’ Trials More Transparent

Melissa Lambarena
By Melissa Lambarena 
Edited by Kenley Young

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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 are over, at least for some of these transactions.

Under a network rule that went into effect on April 12, 2019, Mastercard requires merchants to get your approval to proceed with charges after a free trial ends. This rule only applies to physical goods, such as cosmetics and medications, not to things like streaming services or website subscriptions.

As part of the new Mastercard rule, 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 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.

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