I’ll let you in a little secret: Not all personal finance writers follow all those money management tips we preach.
I won't rat out my colleagues, but I, for one, don’t track my spending closely or stick to a real budget. I’ve never called my credit card company to ask for a lower interest rate or pushed for a fee to be reimbursed.
So when I got a pitch earlier this year about Truebill—an app that promises to help users track spending, identify subscriptions they’ve forgotten about, and cancel unwanted ones—it struck a chord. The service is built off the hunch that many people don’t review their bank or credit card statements closely enough.
And, well, I am one of those people.
For instance, I’d recently realized that I was still paying for a STARZ account—something I’d signed up for the previous winter to watch the first seasons of Outlander, and then promptly forgot about.
Since launching about two years ago, the company says, about 250,000 people have signed up for the service. Truebill saves users an average $512 a year, according founder Yahya Mokhtarzada, who was inspired to create it after discovering he’d been paying $40 a month for in-flight wifi without realizing it.
The app syncs with your bank accounts and credit cards, and in some cases can monitor other online accounts, such as those tied to cable or cell phone plans. Basic service is free, but when Truebill helps you successfully reduce your bills or get fees refunded, it takes a slice of that money.
So I decided to try it out. I knew there weren't expensive subscriptions bleeding my account, but I thought—or at least hoped—that there might be a couple small subscriptions that I could eliminate or bills I could lower to save me some easy money.
Spoiler alert: Easy money is sometimes too good to be true.
As soon as I downloaded the app and linked my financial info, it flagged all the subscription services it found, from meal delivery to streaming sites to gym fees, and put them under a single recurring charges page.
That's where I hit the first snag: The app's detection wasn't perfect. It never picked up my $15-a-month HBO Now account, which gets charged through iTunes—even after I tried manually typing in the name of the charge.
Truebill also got confused about my gym bills. When I got dinged with a $5 no-show fee for a workout class, the app logged that as my monthly fee—so the following month, when my normal monthly fee returned, the app flagged it as a 1,000% increase.
Still, it was helpful to see all my subscriptions in one place. I could see the total amount I was paying every month, and how much I'd already paid for any given service over the life of the subscription. (I'd shelled out $144 on that STARZ subscription, for instance, just to watch a steamy romance saga with time travel and Scottish accents. And by the time I'd realized I was paying for the subscription, the new season was approaching, so: I'm still paying. Don't judge me.)
That helped me confront the unpleasant reality that I was spending $480 a year on four different streaming services, not counting all the shows and movies I have access to through my Amazon Prime account. I might have a streaming addiction.
I decided to cancel my HBO Now and Hulu, a move that will save me $276 a year if I can stay away. On the latter, Truebill gave me an assist: step-by-step instructions along with a link to the Hulu website, where I still had to log in and go through the steps myself. On the one hand, I’m positive I could have done that on my own. But I know that some services are much more of a pain to cancel. (HBO was also pretty easy, and Truebill did at least make me think about how much it was costing me.)
I suppose Truebill could have even been more helpful if I was dumping a gym, which Mokhtarzada says tend to have "draconian cancellation terms." These generally require you to go in person, often to the branch where you signed up—but because Truebill found that gyms will accept cancellations via a certified letter, the app will send one on your behalf.
Truebill also notified me the minute a late fee was posted to one of my credit card accounts—and offered to get the fee refunded—but it turned out that the issuer automatically refunded the fee when my scheduled payment hit my account later that day. Mokhtarzada says Truebill succeeds with 85% of those bank fee refunds.
Likewise, Truebill will recommend ways to lower monthly bills to save money. The app will help you negotiate a lower cable or cell phone bill, for example. In my case, Truebill recommended that I refinance my student loans, saying I could save about $19 a month. But thanks to my job, I actually know quite a lot about student loan repayment—and I already know that refinancing isn't a good fit for me.
After a few months using the app, I don't see how I could save a full $500 per year. But reviews for Truebill on GooglePlay and the iTunes store are very positive—almost all are five-stars or raving about the money they saved—so it may just be that I’m not the ideal customer. I had no annoying gym membership to cancel or cable bill to lower, and aside from that one STARZ subscription, I actually knew all the services I’d signed up for—even if I didn’t know exactly how much I was spending on them.
Yet I also don’t plan to cancel my account any time soon. The app gave me a little peace of mind with zero effort on my part.
Mokhtarzada tells me that he's trying to build something that's like "autopilot for your money." And autopilot for my money sounds nice.
Because while I know I should be more active about monitoring my money, until I actually start following the advice we give readers, Truebill can do it for me.