An illustration of subscribing to a service on a phone.

It seems like every service has a subscription these days, and many offer multiple ways to pay. You can go monthly, yearly, or maybe even pay a one-time “lifetime” subscription. But whose “lifetime” is that a reference to, anyway?

It’s understandable to assume a “lifetime” subscription means you’ll get access to the service for the rest of your life. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case. There’s often a lot of fine print with these “lifetime” subscriptions, and you can end up with access for a lot shorter than expected.

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Who Goes First: You or the Service?

The big question with a lifetime subscription is: Whose life are we actually talking about here? It may seem obvious once you hear it, but a lifetime subscription isn’t necessarily about how long you live.

Essentially, you are paying a one-time fee to be able to use the service—or unlock extra features—for as long as that service exists. Your “lifetime” subscription could last 5 years or a couple of months. It all depends on the longevity of the service.

Paying for a “lifetime” subscription only for the service to shut down a few months later is annoying, but worse things can happen.

Old Services Getting New Lives

Pocket Casts Plus
Pocket Casts Plus

As previously mentioned, lifetime subscriptions often come with a lot of fine print. The creators of these subscriptions get to decide what “lifetime” means for their service. That leaves the door open for some pretty glaring loopholes.

You could pay for the lifetime subscription for an app only to lose it when a big “Version 2.0” update is released. They’ll say you paid a subscription for the lifetime of version 1.0, but now that’s over, so you’re back to square one.

The popular podcast app “Pocket Casts” is an infamous example of something like this happening. For a while, Pocket Casts existed as a paid app. It required a one-time payment to download the app. However, in 2019, the app was made free, and a new monthly subscription option was added.

This meant that people who had already paid for the app now had to shell out a monthly fee to access the “Plus” features. To Pocket Casts credit, the “Plus” features were mostly new, it didn’t move long-standing features behind a paywall. Still, people were not happy about this change.

Be Careful What You Pay For

The moral of the story here is to be cautious when you shell out for “lifetime” subscriptions. Is this a service that has been around for a while? Is it back by a trusted company? How confident are you in how long it will last?

Lifetime subscriptions can be a great deal—if they exist long enough for you to get your money’s worth. Don’t assume that you’ll be using the service for the rest of your life because you paid for it one time.

RELATED: PSA: Cancel Free Trials Immediately After Signing Up

Profile Photo for Joe Fedewa Joe Fedewa
Joe Fedewa is a Staff Writer at How-To Geek. He has been covering consumer technology for over a decade and previously worked as Managing Editor at XDA-Developers. Joe loves all things technology and is also an avid DIYer at heart. He has written thousands of articles, hundreds of tutorials, and dozens of reviews.
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