By Michael Axe

What are gray charges? They’re those pesky little transactions that get automatically billed to our accounts! Some of these items we are aware of, others are an unwanted surprise. Most of the time, the charges are so small, we either forget to cancel or decide it’s not worth our time. But, the charges continue to add up – and could be costing you hundreds of dollars a year. Here’s a list of six gray charges to look out for.

Phantom Charges
These sometimes occur just after making an intended purchase online. A message will display presenting you with a free or discounted offer. What you don’t realize is that the fine print states the free/discounted offer is good for 30 days. After the trial period is over, your account is charged the full price of the product or service.

Unintended Subscriptions
Similar to phantom charges, these are items that clear the account unexpectedly. The difference is that we authorize what we think is a one-time purchase when in fact it is a regular monthly subscription. How to stop these: If you have a phantom charge or unintended subscription, it is a fairly easy process to cancel by calling the toll-free number listed on the monthly account statement. If you are ever presented with an offer after your purchase, read the fine print before accepting. If the deal looks too good to be true, chances are it is.

Zombie Charges
Ever cancel a subscription or membership and it kept being charged to the account? If you have, then you have experienced zombie charges. Just like Hollywood zombies these charges come back from the dead to terrorize us. How to stop these: First, contact the merchant. There’s a good chance someone missed a step in the cancellation process. If necessary, ask to speak to a manager to get clear details on what needs to be done to terminate the charges. If you’ve tried working with the merchant and it’s not getting you anywhere, you may have to contact your financial institution to place a stop payment or block the debit/credit card.

Auto-Renewal Services
Many companies will offer free trial periods with full disclosure that there will be a recurring fee at the end of the trial. They are hoping you enjoy their product or service so much that you keep it and find value in paying for the service. Often, you’ll find yourself forgetting the trial is coming to an end before the auto-renewal starts and charges the subscription to your account. How to handle these: Some companies will send a reminder email when the trial is coming close to the end date. Others don’t. When you sign up for the service, mark your calendar or set a reminder on your phone a few days before the trial end date, so you can cancel the trial subscription before it renews.

Membership/Club Fees
Do you remember the popular CD clubs from the 1990s? They’d lure you in with amazing deals and the chance to return the unopened product within so many days of receiving it – and you wouldn’t get charged that month! Today there are clubs for just about everything – snacks, skincare, and even socks and underwear! While these offers sound great, they can come at a high price. Be honest, how many times do you actually use the product or take the time to return an unwanted product to get a refund? What to do: If you find that these clubs are costing you more than they are worth, cancel the subscription. In most cases you can go into your typical big box store or online retailer to get the one or two items you actually wanted at a much lower overall cost.

Regular Monthly Charges
In some cases, our regular withdrawals are considered a gray charge. If a service you subscribe to is no longer being utilized, consider whether it is worth keeping. Do you really use that gym membership? Are you actually watching Netflix every month? Does your massage club membership make sense? Are you actually listening to your satellite music or streaming service?

Gray charges are usually small amounts, but they do add up and can be quite costly. Take the time to review your monthly statement to see what exactly is being charged to your accounts; there may be something lurking in the background.