Reminder: AOL email is free! Check your bill for ancient subscription fees

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Is a long-forgotten AOL auto-payment still draining money from your account?

Last August, when AOL released its then-current quarterly earnings report, the Internet world was astonished to learn that, despite AOL's efforts to transform itself into an advertising and media company, a huge chunk of the company's earnings still come from dialup subscribers – an average of $20.48 per user per month, as of mid-2014. (That said, the number of dialup subscribers has been steadily decreasing: AOL had 5.8 million subscribers in June 2009, compared to only 2.6 million four years later.)

Some of those AOL subscribers might actually need their dial-up subscriptions; there are still regions of the continental United States, especially lightly populated areas, where dialup is your only practical Internet option. According to the FCC, almost one-fifth of the American population lives in areas where broadband Internet is unavailable.

But that means over four-fifth of Americans do have access to broadband Internet, which is another way of saying 4 out of 5 Americans have no need to pay for an AOL dialup account.

This would indicate that the bulk of AOL's remaining dialup customers are paying for unused accounts they'd forgotten they had: years ago, when the Internet was still new and dialup the only way to get it, millions of customers set up automatic bill payments for their now-ancient AOL dialup subscriptions, upgraded later to a broadband connection … and forgot to unsubscribe to AOL. According to the earnings report from last August, the average AOL dialup subscription was 14 years old.

Still paying ...

Other customers continue to pay for AOL connections due to a different type of oversight: they have an AOL email account, most likely an older one from AOL's heyday, and didn't realize that AOL email accounts can be had for free — no paid AOL subscription is necessary.

(Indeed, as of Jan. 7, 2015, if you type “AOL email” into a search engine with or without quotation marks, the webpage listing for AOL is labeled “AOL Mail: Simple, Free, Fun.”)

This week we heard from a reader and former AOL subscriber named Daryl, who wrote us to say that he'd found our article from last August “that talks about AOL and how people unknowingly pay for the old AOL dial-up service when they have high speed cable internet service.  Well, that is my case, and I just found out over the holidays that I have been throwing almost $20 per month away for probably a decade (thousands of dollars).”

Indeed. A one-time payment of $20 isn't much in the grand scheme of things, but $20 every month adds up to $240 per year, or $1,200 every five years.

Once Daryl discovered this oversight, he cancelled his paid AOL account, after getting “several hours of runaround by their 'Consultants'.” Daryl knew all along that he didn't need or use his AOL account for actual Internet access, but, as he said:

“I always thought I was paying for use of AOL email service, my email name, email storage and contact list but now realize that email service is free.  I have never used the AOL Member Services that they now claim I was paying for.  I just thought those annoying Member Services emails they sent were advertisements for other offers you could sign up for.”

Nope. Most – not all, but most – of the people still paying for AOL subscriptions aren't actually “using” them.

If you ever used AOL dialup as your Internet connection, or if you have or had an AOL email account, double-check your recent credit card statements to see if there are any AOL payments still listed there.

If you discover that you are still paying a monthly AOL bill, here in 2015, should you cancel it?

That depends. If you have two or more Internet subscriptions – AOL in addition to Cox, Comcast, Time-Warner or any other broadband provider – chances are you don't need that AOL connection, or even use it anymore. In that case, cancel your AOL account so you can keep that money for yourself.

However, if AOL is the only online subscription you have, don't cancel it just yet — you do need a home Internet connection, after all — but should check to see if there isn't a better, faster Internet provider in your area. If there is, switch to it and then cancel your AOL account so you can keep that money for yourself.

What to do

That said, canceling an AOL account isn't always easy. The customer service "consultants" will do everything in their power to talk you into staying on.

The easiest and most reliable way to cancel is to send a letter -- yes, a real, old-fashioned ink-on-paper letter, preferably certified -- to:

AOL, Inc.
22000 Aol Way
Dulles, VA 20166

The letter should simply say something along these lines:

"Pursuant to our agreement, notice is hereby given of the immediate cancellation of my dial-up AOL service and authority to debit my credit card for this service is hereby revoked."

Be sure to include your full name, account number and AOL email address.

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