How To Tame Those Auto-Renewal Subscriptions

How To Tame Those Auto-Renewal Subscriptions

by Kerry Scott on 8 December 2010

I can’t be the only one who does this:

  1. I hear about a new (or new-to-me) genealogy site…or an existing one that appears to have a record I want.
  2. I buy a subscription, vowing to cancel the site sucks or I don’t need it anymore.
  3. I forget that I even have a subscription to that website.  A year goes by.  The subscription auto-renews.
  4. I become cranky (well, crankier than usual) when I realize that I spent money on a site I don’t use.

I’ve gotten more disciplined about tracking these things, but my system isn’t perfect.  While looking for something else on my credit card company’s website, though, I found a solution:  Virtual Account Numbers.  Your credit card company assigns you a virtual credit card number that is different from the one you normally use.  You can specify how long it’s good for and how much it’s worth.  Then you order your subscription using this account number (which looks just like a regular account number—whoever you’re buying from won’t know the difference).  If you set it up to expire well before your subscription auto-renews…well, it won’t.  The site you’ve subscribed to will treat it just like any other expired credit card number, and they’ll contact you for a new one.  Then you can decide whether you want to give them one or not.

These seem to be designed for people who are nervous about shopping online, but I think it’s handy for this as well.  I’m not sure if all credit card companies offer it, but both of mine do.  Citi calls them “Virtual Account Numbers,” and Bank of America has them listed under “ShopSafe.”

Cool, huh?

Photo by Andres Rueda

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Michelle Goodrum December 8, 2010 at 2:39 pm

This has been a real problem for me as well. Thanks for the tip!


Linda McCauley December 8, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Great idea!


Susan December 8, 2010 at 5:05 pm

This is brilliant. Thank you!


Caroline Gurney December 8, 2010 at 7:52 pm

Thanks so much for this excellent tip, Kerry, which is applicable way beyond genealogy. I searched to see if this was also available in the UK and came up with a Wikipedia article: Apparently the generic name for these numbers is “controlled payment number”. An excellent idea which should be more widely known and used.


JL December 8, 2010 at 11:31 pm

Yep, totally cool. I write things that have an end-date on my desktop calendar if it’s something related to my computer. Or on my paper calendar if it doesn’t. That also works.


Debi December 9, 2010 at 10:11 am

OMG, brilliant! I want to use it for everything that is automatically charged to my credit card!


Susan Tiner December 9, 2010 at 12:19 pm

Thanks Kerry, I had no idea about this.


JL December 9, 2010 at 10:19 pm

I looked into this for Canada and I don’t think it works here, at least not the same. There’s something called ‘gift cards’ where you can purchase credit cards as gifts. That sounds too complicated to me. Or there’s Entropay where you have a virtual credit card. Maybe that’s closer to what you’re talking about, but that’s not revolving numbers. I think it’s probably just one.

I like the idea of having extra numbers that can be set up and used and canceled wherever. That sounds really handy. Twice I’ve had to totally kill credit cards to get a recurring payment off my back and then I lost my accumulated points and the whole thing was a major pain.


Elizabeth O'Neal December 10, 2010 at 1:39 pm

We’ve found a way to shop online that requires virtually no effort to stop those pesky auto-renewals: our credit card number has been stolen 3 times this year, so by the time something comes up for renewal, the account number is no longer valid because we’ve had to change it! This process has thwarted several auto-renewals, and has saved me from the mind-numbing tediousness of having to remember or write things down. Now, ALL I have to do is work with our credit card company to get bogus charges removed, get a new account assigned, make sure we don’t get our identities stolen, etc., etc., etc. Take that, you annoying auto-renewals!

(The above comment was written with a good deal of bitterness and sarcasm. I hope you caught that. Your idea is much better, and might help prevent the above process from happening again in the first place.)


Kerry Scott December 10, 2010 at 1:57 pm

We had that happen once, and it was awful. Three times in one year…I can’t imagine.


Yvonne December 14, 2010 at 12:29 pm

Ohhhh, I soooo have this problem, too! Thanks for sharing your solution!


Marisol Perry December 21, 2010 at 7:57 pm

We had that happen once, and it was awful. Three times in one year…I can’t imagine.


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