Whether for utilities, subscriptions or some other recurring bill, you set auto payments in motion via your credit card and now want them to stop. But you may find it’s not so easy. Here are nine tips to get the job done.
Sooner or later, all good things must come to an end — and that includes those automatic, recurring payments you set up.
You get a better deal on streaming services and want to switch. You move and no longer use the same utility company. Your first-year subscription deal ends and you want to cancel before the price quadruples. Or maybe you decide to keep a closer eye on your money by paying bills manually.
It all adds up to the same thing: You set auto payments in motion and now want them to stop. But you may find it’s not so easy. Here are nine tips to make it easier.
1. Start with the company you’re paying
Whether it’s your monthly streaming service, your power bill or a pesky subscription, contact the company’s billing department first, says Ruth Susswein, deputy director of national priorities for Consumer Action. “First and foremost, deal with the company.”
Many spell out the terms for ending automatic payments — and you can call or email. If you call, follow up with an email and keep it, along with any response. It’s a handy way to demonstrate the date and time you discontinued either the service or auto-pay, she says.
As for any subscription deals you’re struggling to end, that may get easier. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced in 2021 that companies “will face legal action if their sign-up process fails to provide clear, up-front information, obtain consumers’ informed consent, and make cancellation easy.”
2. Read your contract
Are you stopping automatic payments or ending the service entirely? “It’s very important to be aware” of the difference, says Wei Zhang, credit card program manager for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
If you’re canceling your contract, it pays to know the terms. When you signed up, did you obligate yourself for a certain period of time — a year or two years? If so, you might be able to cancel automatic payments, but you’ll probably still have to fulfill the contract.
You’ll also want to look at the steps you’re required to take to cancel the contract, says Zhang. For instance, some companies allow you to cancel electronically.
Also, note how much advance notice you have to give the company and any required methods of contacting them. If you’re canceling the service, “you want to be sure you’re severing that contractual relationship,” says Susswein.
3. Be clear and get confirmation
When you call and write to the company, be clear about what you’re doing. Are you merely stopping automatic payments? Or, are you ending the service entirely? Put it in plain language.
You should also get a followup email from the company confirming the action. Hang onto that, too. “The point is to have the cancellation confirmation in writing,” says Susswein.
4. Always contact your card issuer
Let them know you’ve discontinued the service or the auto payments, says Susswein. If the payments don’t stop, report the items as unauthorized charges on your card bill and dispute them.
5. Use card tools
Some credit card issuers offer features that make it easier to spot or stop automatic payments and subscriptions. If you have a Capital One card, for example, you can enroll in its virtual assistant and sign up to receive an alert when a free trial period is about to end on certain websites. It can also notify you if a recurring charge is significantly higher one month.
You can also use third-party apps to set up mobile alerts.
6. Check with your payment service
Some wallets and peer-to-peer payment services also build in tools that make it easier to recognize or cancel subscriptions and automatic payments.
Using your credit card through PayPal? You can turn off automatic payments by going to your account settings online or by tapping the wallet icon in the app. After you discontinue automatic payments, “PayPal will not accept any future requests for payment from that provider unless the customer chooses to recommence payment with PayPal as a payment method,” says Tom Hunter, senior manager, global communications for PayPal.
A company spokesperson says that with Google Pay, you can visit the “Insights” tab in your account and search for “subscriptions” to see a list of recurring monthly payments.
7. Save your records
Keep screenshots of the emails you send or forms you fill out to end auto payments, says Ira Rheingold, executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates. You also want to save any confirmations you receive from the company you were auto paying and your own credit card issuer.
If payments reoccur, these are the records you’ll need to contest them.
8. Once you stop payments, watch your card bill
Ending auto payments is just the first step. Now you need to monitor your card statements to make sure those charges don’t pop up again. If the recurring charge shows up again on your bill, call your credit card company right away, Zhang says.
Rheingold agrees. “You need to dispute it,” he says. And if you’ve used a credit card, “it’s much easier to dispute. You can also include proof that you halted auto payments.”
Once you’ve canceled a recurring payment, the credit card company has an obligation to investigate the disputed charge and give you money back for any unauthorized charges, Zhang says: “They have to take this amount off your credit card statement while investigating it.”
Automatic payments are yet another good reason to read your credit card bills each month. “Often, recurring payments are small,” says Zhang. Even if you have alerts on your credit card account, payments are sometimes “so small an amount they may not get the consumer’s attention.”
9. If payments won’t stop, report the abuse
So what’s your recourse if you’ve done everything right and the automatic payments just won’t stop? You can complain to consumer groups and report the merchant to your state attorney general’s office, says Rheingold. You can also contact the attorney general’s office in the state where the business is located.
And you can “make a complaint to their regulator,” says Lance Noggle, senior director of advocacy and senior counsel for the Credit Union National Association.
For many complaints, your best bet may be the FTC, which is cracking down on “illegal dark patterns that trick or trap consumers into subscription services.” The FTC now requires subscriptions to be “clear, consensual, and easy to cancel.” If you find yourself locked into recurring payments that go against the initial agreement, you can report it here.
Consumers can also review the company or share their experiences on social media, says Rheingold. “The use of social media can be an effective tool for getting companies to behave, especially if they care about their reputations.”
If none of those solutions work, “you can call us,” says CFPB’s Zhang. “Or file a complaint [with the CFPB] online. The bureau will work to get you a response from the company.” You may be reporting what amounts to credit card fraud.
And if you ever have questions about a company or how it handles auto payments, you can peruse the CFPB’s complaint database to see what other consumers are saying.
If you start auto pay, some day you’ll also have to stop it. So always check to see how that works before you sign up. “Be really careful because there’s no such thing as free,” says Rheingold. “Make sure it doesn’t default into a permanent offer if you do nothing.”
If a merchant is pressuring you to use automatic payments, that can be a red flag. “I would just say to be cautious,” says Susswein. “While it’s extraordinarily convenient to set up automatic payments, you don’t want to use them indiscriminately.”
If you decide to proceed, make sure you retain the initial agreement. Set up alerts for when the deal runs out so you can cancel before the price goes up. And if you hit a roadblock, be prepared to do what’s necessary to get those payments stopped.