Nowadays, most seniors and their children are aware that it is not good to be tied down to long term contracts when purchasing medical alert systems. Prior to the improved informational and market transparency brought about by the internet, this typically meant a two or three-year contract for many seniors who needed a “life alert” system.
The majority of medical alarm companies are now providing systems without any long term contract commitments. However, there are still intricacies in the terms offered that consumers often misunderstand. Some of it runs counter to our usual purchasing expectations. In this article, we hope to address some of the issues and enable you to be a more prudent and prepared medical alert shopper.
Let’s go through the top tips to bear in mind. The rest of the article will go into a bit of (sometimes unpleasant) details. If you keep these points in view, you will be a smarter medical alert shopper than almost everyone out there.
- The rules on refunds are different depending on the company. Most do not offer refunds on money prepaid. Make sure you find out what the terms are before purchasing, and that you are at peace with it.
- Some companies require a 3-month minimum period. If this point is important to you, ask ahead.
- Consider signing onto a shorter billing period, at least initially.
- If you are depending on the money back guarantee period (if there’s one), be very cognizant of needing to act fast if things do not work out.
- Keep track of any paper work and set reminders on when the payments renew (especially annual payments).
- If you cancel, allow some lead time to provide notice and for sending back the equipment and accessories.
- Keep the box that the equipment and accessories came in, so you have it handy when you need to send the items back.
- Be sensitive to previous customer complaints on payments and billing and see how the company dealt with them.
No Contract Does Not Equal Refunds For Prepaid Monies
A user can cancel and return a system anytime, but whatever money has been prepaid may not be refunded back. As it stands, a lot of medical alert companies do not offer any refunds, not even pro-rated refunds for time unused. One way to counter this is to pay for the service month-to-month, something that most companies offer. You may also want to look at LifeFone’s offers. At the time of this writing, they offer refunds on prepaid amounts (call 1-877-352-1292 and verify).
Some may offer a short money-back guarantee period (anywhere from 7 to 30 days) at the time the initial purchase is made. To qualify for a refund in most cases, the undamaged equipment must be sent and received within the period. There’s not really that much time to work with.
In one sad case, a lady’s elderly father passed away unexpectedly within the initial two-week return period. As she had contacted the medical alert company after the initial money-back guarantee period (understandably so considering her dad’s passing), the company was not willing to provide any refunds. She finally received a partial refund through much persistence and filing a complaint with the BBB. This is certainly not something that most people have the stomach to go through given life’s many challenges.
Discounts For Annual Prepayments Come With a Price
Medical alert companies often provide additional discounts when elderly users or their children pre-pay quarterly or annually. In return, consumers need to be aware that in exchange for the savings, any money spent is not likely going to be returned. It’s like paying for an item without any returns allowed. Therefore, it may make sense to just sign up for a shorter billing period, at least initially.
Short Term Minimum Commitment Periods
Another complication is that some companies require a short minimum commitment period like 3 months at the start. Technically, it’s not a long term contract, but it does tie the user in somewhat. Most times, this term becomes glossed over at the beginning, and consumers are caught by surprise.
Another blistering point that may not be apparent to customers initially is the presence of auto-renewals. As a subscription service, the customer’s credit card or checking account is charged automatically at the start of each billing cycle, such as monthly, quarterly or annually.
A customer may be fine if they purchased a system and paid for the year. After 9 months, if the system is no longer needed, they will need to cancel and make sure the equipment is sent back and received. If they fail to do all that in time before the next billing date, the auto-renewal will kick in in month 12, and that means the money is spent for another year.
As it takes time to pack the box and send it back, customers really need to plan ahead so as not to get charged with auto-renewal payments. Calling the company a day before the auto-renewal kicks in does not work.
The Benefit Of A Shorter Billing Period
Considering all these, it may make sense to go with a shorter billing period. You may forgo the prepayment discounts, but you end up losing less money in the end from a big auto-renewal payment.
Keep Track Of The Bills And Payment Dates
In addition, it is important keep track of all bills or notices from the medical alert company. If the non-payment is reported to a credit agency, it could affect your credit score.
In one case, the customer had his credit score affected and subsequent trouble qualifying for a loan. He lost track of the medical alert bills and failed to respond to the annual auto-renewal notices. The company then turned his case over to a collection agency.
To ensure that your account is properly closed when you no longer need the service, customers usually need to follow-through with providing ample notice and then sending back their equipment undamaged.
Some customers run into snags with this as they may not realize that they need to send the items back, or they may miss out on including an accessory, or the base console unit is damaged. All these could result in delays in cancellation or additional charges for the damaged equipment.
If the company did not receive the equipment before the targeted cancellation date, you may end up having to pay more than you thought.
When purchasing a medical alert system, most companies will not tie the consumer into long term contracts. However, this does not automatically mean refunds for months prepaid. There are automatic renewals to be aware of, and the requirement to send back the equipment to complete a cancellation. To keep things simple for our readers, consider the list of tips we provided at the start of the article.
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