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There seems to be an increasing trend of "free" online services to require a credit card while signing up, but then start charging you after an initial period, e.g. LinkedIn Premium is free for the first month, then a monthly fee applies until cancelled.

Is it possible to get a $0 credit card to use if you have no intention of continuing into the paid part of the service? Using LinkedIn as an example, I did sign up for Premium but forgot to cancel it before the next month had started and had to pay for one month, which seems to be what they want to happen and how they make their money (apart from those people who see the value in it and are happy to pay each month).

So, in the initial period, the credit card is good enough to sign up to the free part of the service, but when the company tries to renew it, it is automatically rejected due to insufficient funds.

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    Why do you need a credit card with $0 limit ? Doesn't that implicitly mean no credit card ? Not remembering where you have used tour credit card is your mistake and not LinkedIn's as you portray. They had made it clear during sign off, you should have put down the date of expiry in your diary to remember it and cancel your subscription before that. – DumbCoder Nov 19 '15 at 10:25
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    This trend is not new. It used to be record/tape/CD subscriptions; books; magazines; collector plates...The first few are free or only a penny. then after that... – mhoran_psprep Nov 19 '15 at 11:33
  • Merchants that ask for your CC number often do not bill the card until after the exp. date of the trial period. Rather CC numbers are simply validated (by the merchant asking for the card) using Luhn's Algorithm. For this reason some sites provide fake card numbers that pass through the algorithm. You can find these searching e.g. for "credit card number generator..." – user100487 Nov 19 '15 at 16:23
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    The correct solution to your specific example is just remember to cancel your subscription. – VBCPP Nov 19 '15 at 19:23
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    @user100487 That's only going to work for the most naive merchant possible. Any normal merchant is going to try to authorize the amount of the first payment on the card to make sure the number is good and the name and address match. In the credit card world, the authorization is a totally seperate step from actually making a charge. Note to the OP, the $0 limit card would fail this authorization and be rejected. – JPhi1618 Nov 19 '15 at 19:24
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No credit card company would ever give a card with either no credit limit or that was not in credit (for prepaid cards) because they would earn no money from it. The company's income is entirely derived from fees that they charge you for balances and interest on those balances so a 0 limit card would be worthless to them. Getting a prepaid card and letting the balance hit 0 might be a way around this but the fees that you will be charged , and will become a debt in your name, when the billing system tries to take the first paid month's cost from the card and fails will be exorbitant. They may go so far as dwarfing the actual cost but the one thing that they will certainly do is lower your credit rating so this is not a good idea.

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    This is mostly correct, except this part: "The company's income is entirely derived from fees that they charge you for balances and interest." The companies also make significant fees from the merchants on each transaction. But the $0 limit is also worthless to the credit card company for this purpose too. – user32479 Nov 19 '15 at 12:42
  • For completeness, cc companies also make money by selling your transaction data. (although with a $0 limit, there would be no transactions, so the answer's logic still applies) – Jamie Clinton Sep 21 '18 at 20:06
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Many banks will let you generate a temporary credit card number to use in this situation. You can set the credit limit and the expiration date yourself so that the second transaction won't be accepted. I don't know of any that will let you set the credit limit to $0, but you can set it to a value under the monthly subscription fee.

An answer to this question suggests that banks sometimes let the charge go through even if it exceeds the limit or the expiration date, so the plan might not work.

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    I have a Citi card that lets you set your own limit on generated numbers (probably not zero), but also lets you set an expiration date. I could give it a limit of $10 and have it expire next month. Problem solved. – JPhi1618 Nov 19 '15 at 19:22
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    Did the same as @JPhi1618 mentioned (also with a Citi card). They allow you to specific limits, dates, and even delete those generated cards all from the same screen. Insanely useful for trials that you want to guarantee go uncharged. These are commonly called Virtual Credit Cards or Virtual Account Numbers. – Xrylite Nov 19 '15 at 21:35
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Even if you can get a credit card with a $0 limit, that doesn't necessarily mean that the charges won't succeed. Some of my credit cards have gone over limit by a significant amount (e.g. 140% of limit) without any transactions being declined. The limit just means that the bank is allowed to decline the transaction, but they are also allowed to approve it anyway. So basically what you would have is a credit card where any transaction can always be declined or approved.

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you could get a discover card and then just "freeze" it. you might need to unfreeze it for a few minutes when you sign up for a new service, but it is unlikely an ongoing subscription would process a charge in that window. i believe merchants are charged a small fee for a transaction even if it is declined, so they won't try constantly forever.

discover account freeze faq

capitalone offers this freeze feature on their "360" debit cards. you can even freeze and unfreeze your card from their mobile app. this feature is becoming more common at small banks and credit unions too. i know of 2 small local banks that offer it. in fact, almost any bank can give you a debit card, then set the daily POS limit to 0$, effectively making it an atm-only card. but you may need to call the bank to get that limit temporarily lifted whenever you want to sign up for a new service.

alternatively, jejorda2's suggestion of virtual account numbers is a good idea. several banks (including discover) have discontinued that feature, but i believe citi, and boa still offer them.

side notes:

  1. your account agreement with shady-subscription-xyz.com might obligate you to pay for their service even if they cannot charge your card.
  2. there are some corporate cards that let you control spending by category (e.g. only approve purchases from grocery stores and gas stations). but i don't know of any consumer cards that offer that feature
  3. there are some new products in the pipeline that give you greater control over your spending (e.g. https://getfinal.com)
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    +1 only to bring out the point that obligation to pay and not able to charge a card are separate issues .... "your account agreement with shady-subscription-xyz.com might obligate you to pay for their service even if they cannot charge your card" – Dheer Nov 20 '15 at 4:54
  • i might also note that some banks and credit unions offer the ability to "freeze" your debit card. some even using a mobile app. i will update my answer if i find any specific banks. – james turner Nov 24 '15 at 18:33
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I would use a "virtual credit card" which is basically a fake card that cannot be charged.

http://credit-card-generator.2-ee.com/q_virtual-credit-card-generator.htm

  • +1. I don't think I personally like the idea of entering a fake credit card number, but this is probably the closest thing we'll find for doing what the OP wants to do. – Ben Miller Jul 20 '17 at 13:27
  • Not sure this would work. I suspect for things which are 'enter card number, first month is free', there is still an authorisation request being sent for that first month. – AakashM Jul 21 '17 at 13:16

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