Everything you need to do before you start a free trial

Don’t sign up right away.
a person using their phone on the subway
We all love free stuff. But some free stuff comes with a cost. Jacob Boavista/Unsplash

Free trials are fantastic—you get to learn if you actually like or need an app or service before you hand over any money. That said, you should never sign up for something without knowing what you’re actually agreeing to—free trial or not.

Some platforms will automatically start charging you after your trial expires, and others will collect your personal data in exchange for their service. But fret not: With just a little care, you can enjoy the benefits of free trials without being stung for payment or compromising your online security.

Do your research

People will often see a “free trial” button and click on it without a thought, giving scammers a perfect opportunity to spread malware or mine victims’ personal data. Obviously, not all apps and services offer trials with sinister business in mind, but it’s not completely out of the question.

A little bit of googling before you sign up could turn up potential red flags. Start by researching the background of the company you’re signing up with, as well as the other apps or digital services they’re responsible for. Be wary of platforms you’ve never heard of or that have no obvious track record.

That’s not to say you should shun new developers or small, independent operations , but it’s important that you try to learn about them—where they are based, what their social media profiles look like, and how they might be making money.

Before you sign up, take a minute to check the reviews from current users, too. You can check directly in your app store of preference, or go to a review site you trust to read what people have to say about the platform you’re thinking of trying out. This isn’t an exact science, but a little extra caution can go a long way toward keeping you safe from anything you shouldn’t be signing up for in the first place.

Protect your privacy

Free trials are good for both you and whatever app you’re trying out. They get to show off their wares and perhaps tempt you into spending some money at the end of the trial period. Chances are, they’ll also be keen on learning as much about you as they possibly can right from the start, so you may have to fill out a lengthy signup form.

They might ask you for your email address, phone number, and even your payment details, just in case you forget to cancel before the free trial ends. Some platforms even allow you to sign in with an existing account such as Twitter or Facebook, giving them access to some of your details on that platform, too.

We recommend doing as much as possible to limit how much you give away at signup. Always choose to sign up with an email address and, if you can, don’t use your primary one. It’s always a good idea to create a spare email address just for signing up for new accounts.

Yes—not everyone is out to exploit your personal details or spam you forever, but it’s sensible to keep your data cards close to your chest at the beginning. If you feel that an app or service is being too demanding in terms of what it wants, you should ask yourself if it’s really something you need to try out after all.

Set a reminder

a screenshot of a Google Assistant reminder to cancel a free trial
Google Assistant can remind you when a free trial is ending. David Nield

Sometimes, you can start free trials without giving up your credit card or other payment details, but that’s not always the case. You’ll often be asked to enter payment details right at the start so the service can bill you the moment the trial ends. It’s a sneaky trick, but companies are within their rights to do it.

This is why it’s a good idea to create a reminder on your phone or calendar app of choice that will notify you a day or two before the free trial ends. That way, you can cancel the trial before you get billed. The more detail you can add to the reminder—like how the cancelation process works—the better. That’ll help ensure you won’t forget critical information when it’s time to cut ties.

Even if you haven’t given up any payment information, it’s still worth setting up a reminder. At the very least, you’ll be able to close down the account (if you’re not planning to use it), or enter your payment details if you plan to carry on.

On Android, the Google Assistant gives you a quick and easy way to do this—just say “Hey Google, set a reminder.” It’ll then ask what it’s for and prompt you to set it for a particular date and time. On iOS, you have the Reminders app. There, you can enter a reminder manually or ask Siri to do it for you with a voice command.

Don’t sign up just because it’s free

Sometimes, you don’t even have to reach the end of your free trial to know you don’t want to continue. Maybe you don’t want to give up too much of your personal information, or the company behind it just seems way too sketchy. But there are other reasons it might make sense to walk away.

The first is to limit your exposure to security vulnerabilities and data breaches. The reasoning is simple—the fewer accounts you’re signed up for, the fewer chances hackers, spammers, and scammers have to get you. For the same reason, we recommend deleting or removing any accounts—free or otherwise—that you’re not actively using.

You also need to think about whether you’ve got the money or time to make the most of whatever you’re signing up for. Let’s be honest—you don’t actually need another account to manage and be distracted by. Just because something is free, doesn’t mean you should sign up for it.

Finally, try giving yourself the time to do something almost nobody does—read the small print. Find out how long the free trial will last, how easy (or hard) it will be to cancel at the end of it, and if the free trial actually offers a usable demo of what the product does. If you aren’t satisfied with the answers to any of these questions, feel free to walk away—or at least think for a few days about whether it’s worth your while to sign up.