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Can you recoup expenses for unused services?

Business owners need to be wary of automatic renewals

By  |  Published: February 27, 2017

Your Business Credit
Your
Elaine Pofeldt is a journalist whose articles on entrepreneurship and careers have appeared in Fortune, Working Mother, Money and many other publications. She is a former senior editor at Fortune Small Business magazine and an entrepreneur herself, as co-founder of 200kfreelancer.com, a website for independent professionals. She writes "Your Business Credit," a weekly column about small business and credit, for CreditCards.com.

Ask Elaine a question or read her prior answers in the 'Your Business Credit' archive.

Question Dear Your Business Credit,
Our very small home business took credit card purchases. Several years ago we moved to an online merchant service system. We thought there was a need to continue with the original merchant service provided, but we just learned recently that we did not need to continue and have been paying monthly fees to the original provider for almost 10 years with no transaction activity. How might we approach the merchant service provider about refunding years of monthly fees? – Tim 

Answer Dear Tim
Ouch! You must be very frustrated about all of that wasted money, and I can understand why you would like to get a refund.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that you have grounds for one. As the owner of a business, no matter how small, you are responsible for determining if the purchases you make are necessary. Based on what you are saying, it doesn’t appear that the merchant services provider used false advertising, unethical coercion or other shady methods to get you to keep buying the service, in which case it would be worthwhile to get an attorney’s opinion on how to proceed. Generally, it is not a vendor’s obligation to alert customers that they are underusing a service for which they are paying. Hopefully, you have been writing off the costs of your merchant account as a business expense and at least derived some tax benefit.

Your letter is a good reminder why all business owners need to take inventory of recurring bills they are paying on a regular basis.  It’s very easy when you’re caught up in the day-to-day business to waste money on purchases you don’t even realize you’re making.

Ideally, small business owners should review purchases they are making monthly, but if you can’t get to it that often, put it on your schedule every quarter. I run a very small business myself, and inevitably, when I review my own bills, I will realize I am paying for a software as a service, app or other purchase that I no longer use or never found as useful as I thought it would be. It’s frustrating to realize I’ve wasted money, but the upside is that in my reviews, I can catch these expenses quickly and cancel them. If I discover an annual service has been renewed for another year and it’s too late to cancel it, I put an alert in my calendar on the date I need to cancel in the coming year, so I don’t forget about it again.

Merchant services accounts often require a bigger commitment than purchasing an app or software and the contracts can be hard to exit, so small business owners need to be extra careful when purchasing one. It is essential to do your due diligence before signing on the dotted line. Talk with other business owners about their experience with merchant services contracts and what types of services you are likely to need. 

I’m sorry I can’t give you good news about recouping the money you spent, but sometimes in business, the only thing to do is move forward. Make it your goal to win one new big account or hit a sales milestone that will make up for the money you wasted. and you may be able to turn a disappointing situation into a positive one.

See related: Is it time to negotiate a new merchant services account? 

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Updated: 08-22-2017

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