older adult couple standing outside looking at ipad together

How to Navigate Changes in Digital-Tools Payment Systems

There’s no frustration like a sudden price hike in something you’ve long taken for granted—be it a utility bill or a favorite app. Notes Cristen Reat, Co-Founder and Program Director of BridgingApps: “I try not to pay for things, but there comes a time when a tool is such an integral part of your life that you are willing to pay for its staying current and available.”

Tech providers all too often surprise users by:

  • Putting a charge on formerly free apps
  • Moving app functions from free versions to premium-only
  • Replacing purchase-outright options with subscription plans (even the ubiquitous Microsoft Office has done this)

Though there are legitimate reasons for payment changes—higher operating costs, easier to keep software updated—the news is often received with a feeling of betrayal. Human tendency is to assume that things aren’t supposed to change, especially when you’re perfectly comfortable with the current arrangement.

woman sitting in office with phone to her ear looking at laptop

There Are Always Other Options

In any case, you don’t have to just accept a new payment system. “I often look for replacements” (alternative apps) when prices go up, says Ale Gonzalez, BridgingApps Digital Navigator. “For example, since some of my favorite features on MyFitnessPal—like the barcode scanner—became premium, Lose It! – Calorie Counter and Cronometer have become my go-to wellness apps.”

“Sometimes I am forced to look at my budget and decide if an app is truly worth it,” adds Tara Rocha, BridgingApps Digital Learning Specialist. “Evaluating which features I use and how often, I have found many times that I’m not using an app frequently enough to warrant the premium cost. For example, I use the Cozi calendar and meal planner with my family. I used to pay for premium features, but I’ve realized that I really only use the app to add recipes to my ‘meal calendar.’ I can do that with the free version.” 

Nobody Told Me About That!

Whatever app services you choose and whatever changes they may make, the #1 rule is: Don’t let new charges sneak past you! Not that providers deliberately hide upcoming changes from their customers, but advance alerts may not be obvious. They’re often dumped in spam boxes, buried in longer newsletters, or simply overlooked when messages are checked at skim-and-discard speed. Or, in the case of auto-renewed subscriptions with registered payment cards, that extra budget item may be forgotten until the next payment is already processed.

Tara Rocha has some tips on avoiding surprise charges by fighting technology with technology:

“I use the Rocket Money financial app for tracking costs: I love that I can set it to give me a heads-up of upcoming charges for bills or subscriptions. I can also log into the dashboard at any time to review upcoming charges. At this point, Rocket Money uses a donation system for their own services [as opposed to either totally free or with set payments], and the user can choose the amount.

“Also, I often set a calendar appointment for when a free app trial ends, so I remember to cancel before being billed.”

How Do I Get Out of This??

One additional problem is that sometimes, when someone wants to cancel, they suddenly realize they never got clear instructions on how. The immediate temptation may be to resign themselves to the extra expense because it’s “too hard” to get out.

Actually, there’s always a simple unsubscribe procedure: the challenge is finding it in a haystack of features and technical information. Fortunately, you don’t have to do separate research for every app: you just need to know the correct procedure on the device itself. Ale Gonzalez describes the basics:

“On Apple devices, go into Settings, tap your name, then tap the Subscriptions tab and then the individual app subscription. Information comes up that includes an option to cancel.

“On Android devices, go into the Play Store, click on your icon in the upper right corner, tap Payments and Subscriptions, then open the Subscriptions menu where you can manage all app subscriptions.”


Finally, don’t buy subscriptions just because “everyone” does it. Anyway, that’s not true. Not even all the technology pros do it, as highlighted in this closing comment from Amy Fuchs, BridgingApps Program Manager and certified Digital Navigator:

“I do not use any subscription-based apps except Apple+, and we ONLY have this one because all four members of our family share our Apple account and we kept running out of iCloud storage. Once the kids have their own phone plans, we’ll likely drop this subscription also.”

For further tips on managing app costs and subscriptions, see our August 15 post, “Tech Shopping on a Budget.”

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