When you buy a medical alert, make sure you understand the return policy.
There’s a huge range of return policies for life alerts. Some are very restrictive and put most of the risk onto you, the purchaser. Others are much more fair and protect you much better.
You need to look at the guarantee period and also the cancellation policy, which are two very different things.
The 30-day money back guarantee:
It’s critical to get a good 30-day money back guarantee. First, the equipment or service might not be what was advertised. This is unlikely to happen with any reputable company, but sometimes strange things happen. Second, you want to make sure the equipment works well for the person you’re buying it for. As an example, your dad may seem willing to have a medical alert, but within a week of setting it up he’s decided he’s not going to use it. (This is a very unusual result, but since so many companies offer 30-day MBG periods, there’s no reason not to take advantage of it.
However, not all 30 day money back guarantee programs are the same.
To get your unit, you’ll usually pay for the first month or the first three months (first three is common), and sometimes you have to pay for shipping, activation, or some other setup fee. Some companies even charge for installation, though medical alerts are so easy to install that this isn’t necessary.
When you return the unit, you’ll almost always have to pay the return shipping cost. You could only expect to have this cost reimbursed if the unit was defective. Some companies will reduce your refund by the amount that they paid to ship the unit to you in the first place. Some will keep your activation fee, if there was one. There are even companies that will try to keep any monitoring fees you have paid in advance. (Stay away from companies like this.)
The best medical alert companies will sell you a unit without activation fees and will refund your total cost minus shipping costs (both ways). While this isn’t up to the customer service standards of a company like Zappos, it does put your total dollar amount at risk in the $30 range. And remember that it’s very rare for people to return their units.
Avoid companies that charge non-refundable activation or setup fees, and those that will not refund your advance monitoring fees.
I do not generally recommend or link to any companies that do this, and if I do so I make it clear right at the point where you click on the link.
So that covers the 30 day money back guarantee portion. But what about cancelling your service after the 30 day period?
Cancellation policies, like guarantees, vary greatly.
For purposes of this article, by cancellation I mean stopping the service any time after the first 30 days. You might need to do this for various reasons. Usually it’s because the person with the alert moves into assisted living or passes away. But it could also be because you find a better system to use, or you find that the person simply won’t use the system.
Some cancellation policies are horrible. In fact, the reason I first started this website was that I was reading about a life alert company with a terrible cancellation policy and I couldn’t believe that so many people bought their service without understanding the contract they were making.
So, on the bad side you have companies that lock you into a 3-year contract and only cancel the contract if you show them a death certificate or something like notarized proof that the person has been relocated to an assisted living facility. You cannot cancel because the service isn’t good. You can’t cancel if better equipment comes on the market. You can’t cancel for any normal, natural reason that a consumer might want to stop using a service that isn’t as good as its competitors and is overpriced by a factor of at least 50%.
Most companies have reacted to this company by offering life alert services without a contract. In fact, it’s hard to find a company that makes you sign a contract for a specific term (though you usually do have to sign a contract setting out your relationship with the company and the monitoring service, but this is an agreement about what the service covers, not a lock-in to stay with the service).
But there’s still variation between companies as to what they mean by “no contract.”
The star player here is MediPendant, which will cancel your service anytime and refund any unused months of service that you might have paid for in advance. You don’t need a reason. All you have to do is call to cancel and return the equipment. When they get the equipment back, you’re done. With MediPendant, you can confidently choose a one year payment period and save a lot of money on your fees without putting too much at risk.
Most companies do not refund months that you might have paid in advance. This means that if you pay in advance for a year and need to cancel 3 months later, you risk losing 9 months of service. Sometimes these companies will give you a break, particularly if the person using the service has passed away, but they are under no obligation to do so. For my money, with a company like this I would be comfortable buying service 3 months at a time (quarterly) but I would be leery of going for the annual plan.
The consequence of this factor is that when you’re comparing the “monthly cost” of a plan, you need to be comparing not the lowest advertised monthly fee, but the lowest fee you’re comfortable paying. This may mean you’re comparing one company’s “annual” plan to another company’s “quarterly” or “monthly” fee.
Does this post help answer your questions about guarantee and cancellation policies for life alerts? Let me know in the comments.