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Signing up for a new deal?... find one you can count on

Does the New Year mean a new subscription? Vicky Shaw asks the experts about steering clear of potential pitfalls

By Abi Jackson

With a brand new year lying ahead, many of us are thinking about turning over a new leaf to get 2018 off to a positive start.

For some, this could mean taking out to a new subscription - for the gym or an online streaming service, for example.

But while there are many great deals out there, before signing up, it's worth taking some time to make sure you don't end up trapped in a deal you don't want once the January rush wears off - perhaps because the service wasn't what you expected, and/or you find it difficult to break out of it.

Citizens Advice says that over the past 12 months, it's helped people with nearly 3,500 problems around gyms, health clubs and fitness studios - with common complaints including 'terms and conditions' and people feeling they had been unfairly held in a contract, and facilities or classes being not as expected.

The costs of an unwanted subscription can soon add up - to hundreds of pounds in some cases.

Here are some need to know tips about subscriptions from Citizens Advice ...

1. Make sure it's worth it

If you're signing up to a gym, consider how often you will go, and then work out your price per visit. If you're going once a week or less, pay-as-you-go or individual classes may be cheaper and won't tie you into a contract.

2. Be confident you know what you are signing up for

Take time to read the contract and ask questions so you fully understand what you're committing to - and, importantly, how long for.

3. Check what your cancellation rights are

Make sure the terms and conditions look reasonable before signing up. If you're signing up to a gym, find out if there are options to pause your membership or switch locations if you move away, lose your job or can't train because of injury.

4. Find out about cooling off periods

You may find you have a period to get your money back if you change your mind. However, you might not be able to get a refund if you start using a service straight away.

5. Follow the cancellation policy

Make sure you follow the cancellation policy set out in your contract when you're ready to end your subscription. Don't stop your payment without checking what else is required first - otherwise your subscription may not be cancelled and you could be liable for any missed payments.

6. Challenge unfair T&Cs

People might have different views about what counts as an unfair policy. But if you're finding it tough or have to give a long period of notice to cancel a subscription, contact the supplier's customer services department. If this fails consider going to the supplier's trade or complaints body or reporting it to Trading Standards.

7. Save the evidence

Keep a copy of any adverts or special offers that attracted you to a particular subscription. Make sure that you are promised these features in writing, either in your contract or in an email.

8. Make a complaint if you need to

Explain to the company in writing why you think it is unreasonable that you're not able to leave a membership. If you're still having problems then get free help from bodies such as Citizens Advice.

...and how to survive a January debt hangover

Sixteen per cent of people say they are likely to fall behind in January as a result of Christmas spending, according to National Debtline, run by charity the Money Advice Trust (MAT).

The independent Money Advice Service (MAS), another debt help body, says last year it helped nearly 2.3 million people during January compared 2.1 million in an average month - a 10% increase.

Nick Hill, MAS advice manager, says people can use the service's online "debt advice locator tool" to find out what free debt help is available in their area. Here are its five top tips for getting January finances back on track:

1. Set a budget. The first step to taking control of your money is working out your living costs, including knowing what's coming in, what's going out and when. Look at all your regular spending and keep track of it throughout the month.

2. Cut back. While it can be difficult to increase the amount of money coming in, you have control over what goes out. Avoid the January sales and cook at home rather than spending on takeaways and dining out.

3. Have a clear-out. You could also look at items at home that you no longer need, or sell unwanted presents to raise cash.

4. Switch. A household can potentially save hundreds of pounds each year on home bills, so don't underestimate how much you could save by switching energy suppliers.

5. Take control of debt. If you have loans or owe money on credit cards, it usually makes sense to pay off the debt that charges the highest rate of interest first. If you find yourself going in to your overdraft, make sure the costs don't spiral.

Belfast Telegraph

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