As part of my ongoing effort to bring you interesting and informative personal-finance information, I subscribe to several magazines, including Smart Money. Smart Money isn’t my favorite money magazine, but it has some useful articles.

In 2005, I paid $20 to subscribe to Smart Money for two years. In 2007, I paid $20 to subscribe for another two years. Today I received my latest issue, which included this wrap-around “cover” announcing that “as part of our Continuous Service program, your subscription will be automatically renewed unless you tell us to stop”:

This is annoying, but it’s an annoyance I can live with. Some periodicals (especially newspapers) automatically renew subscriptions. For a variety of reasons, people are more likely to accept the state in which they are required to do nothing. If the default is “the subscription will expire if you do nothing”, people will generally let the subscription expire. But if the default is “your subscription will automatically continue if you do nothing”, people will generally let the subscription renew.

Dumb money
As I say, this is annoying, but I can deal with it. What made me cranky, however, was this bit at the bottom of the renewal notice:

Smart Money wants to automatically renew my subscription for one year at $20. But I was previously paying $20 for a two-year subscription. They want to use this automatic renewal to double my rate. This is bullshit.

I did some research to see if subscription rates have increased since 2007. They have not. At the official Smart Money subscription page, I found the following deals:

  • One year for $12
  • Two years for $18

Apparently my reward for being a “preferred subscriber” is that I will pay more for one year of the magazine than new subscribers pay for two years. That sounds like dumb money to me. It gets worse. Using Google, I found an even better deal, also from the official page:

  • One year for $11
  • Two years for $18
  • Three years for $24

And Amazon has an even better price: 24 issues for just $14!

Out of the frying pan
Armed with this info, I prepared to unleash my righteous indignation on a customer service rep. I dialed the phone number on the wraparound cover. But I couldn’t reach customer service — only an automated answering system, which offered two choices:

  1. Stay in the “continuous service” program and renew the subscription.
  2. Be removed from the “continuous service” program and cancel the subscription.

I didn’t want either one. I wanted option three: give me back my lower rate. I gave up and tried the web.

Smart Money actually has a website that purports to let you manage your account. Fine. I clicked on the link to renew my subscription and saw this:

This clearly says: “Fill in the form below to access your subscription account.” I understood this to mean: “When you enter your information, you will be able to perform various actions on your account.” But no. That’s not what it really means. I entered my account number and was greeted with this screen:

That’s it. A blank page with the command: “renew your subscription”. Can any of you tell me what this means? Checking a different page on the site revealed that by entering my account number, I had actually agreed to renew the subscription.

This is so lame!

I hate crap like this. I hate it when businesses treat me like a commodity. Usually when these things happen, a business loses me as a customer forever. (No joke.) But I can’t just pretend Smart Money doesn’t exist; it’s an important part of the financial media. Argh!

Free magazines!
How much does this bother me? So much that I’ve spent an hour processing images and writing this post. So much that I cancelled my subscription — and then re-subscribed for two years for $14 through Amazon. And so much that I’m going to give away free subscriptions to GRS readers — for Smart Money‘s competitors.

Six commenters on this article (chosen at random) will receive a one-year subscription to the personal-finance magazine of their choice from those reviewed in these two articles:

The only caveat is that if you win, you cannot choose Smart Money. To qualify, all you have to do is share your own tale of financial frustration in the discussion on this post. (Contest ends at 12:01 am Tuesday morning.)

This article is about Books, Odds and Ends, Real-Life