“You have to look at how you get divorced before you get married,” he said.
The F.T.C. advises consumers to put a calendar reminder in their phones when they sign up for a free trial so they will be alerted when it is time to cancel. Not everyone will do that, however, so Mr. Breyault said his group was urging the F.T.C. to require companies to notify customers before each recurring charge, and to remind them that they can cancel if they choose.
Would constant email or text reminders get annoying? Perhaps, Mr. Breyault said. “But it’s more annoying to keep getting charged for subscriptions you no longer use.”
The F.T.C. is proposing an annual reminder for anything other than subscriptions involving the delivery of physical goods. (The idea is that getting stuff delivered to your door is a sufficient prompt.)
The F.T.C.’s proposal would also give consumers the option of hearing alternative, money-saving pitches before canceling a service. (Mr. Kohm of the F.T.C. said he had used such an offer himself. When canceling a radio subscription, he said, he was offered a much lower rate to continue and accepted it.)
But the changes are aimed at avoiding situations like the one described in a letter to the F.T.C. by two dozen attorneys general, in which a customer tried to cancel a subscription using a company’s online chat feature. The company representative repeatedly urged him to reconsider, ignoring the man’s steadfast request to cancel, keeping him online for about 40 minutes.
Here are some questions and answers about managing and canceling subscriptions:
How can I best keep track of my subscriptions?
“It requires a mental reset,” Mr. Howard said. He recommends that once every three months — say, when the seasons change — you look through your checking and credit card statements and review recurring charges to “see all the things we didn’t remember we have.”
If there’s something you no longer use, cancel it. He concedes that isn’t always easy, particularly with some cable companies and many gym memberships. You may have to call the cable company, he said, where you may be transferred to a “retention” specialist who may offer some sort of temporary discount to keep you. With gyms, you may have to visit a location.