It’s a love-hate relationship: love your cell phone, but dread the monthly bill that includes a litany of eye-glazing charges.
“There's a lot of complexity when it comes to reading a cell phone bill,” said David Chalmers, executive vice president of Validas, which offers services to analyze and find ways to cheapen bills for users of all major U.S. carriers. “And it’s not going to get any easier when in the future the cell phone starts to play an even larger role in our world, particularly with retail sales.”
According to MyValidas.com, there are more than 229 million wireless subscribers in the U.S., with 89% of the population using wireless phones, and 20% of households having no land-line.
One in five users points to "high cost" as their top wireless complaint, according to Consumer Reports. And any parent who has opened up a cell-phone bill in excess of $5,000 -- thanks to their text-and-talk-happy kids, of course -- can attest to how important it is to understand what you can (and will) be charged for.
Here are four tips for reading between the lines and reducing your cell-phone bill:
Stay Up to Date About Offers
Carriers roll out different plans all the time, but many users hold on to the same plan for five years, said Peter Pham, CEO of Billshrink.com, an online saving service designed to save people money on everyday bills.
“Verizon (VZ) and AT&T (T) have changed the prices for the same type of plans that already exist, but they don’t retroactively change the price for you; you need to call or go into a store and ask for the new price.”
Pham said a 1,000-minute plan today is likely $10-$30 less than the one you signed on or two years ago.
Don’t Be Afraid to Leave
Cell service plan rates are best negotiated at the beginning or toward the end of your contract, according to Sara Dunham, community manager at Savings.com.
“Tell them you’ve been shopping around and found a better plan,” she suggested. “These companies have whole retention departments that want to keep you as a customer.”
And be firm. “If they think you are about to cancel, they have incentives that aren’t public to get you to stay,” said Pham.
Study Your Habits
Next time your bill arrives, check to see how many of your paid-for plan minutes are actually being used. With the arrival of family plans, free mobile-to-mobile, and favorites, users’ out-of-network minutes are dwindling.
“Most people only use 25-40% of the minutes they have,” said Pham. “You are better off switching to a cheaper plan, even if you go over once or twice, you will still be saving money in the long run.”
Free is Always Better
Try to avoid calling 411, which many carriers charge $1.25 or more, according to Chalmers. The experts pointed to many free alternatives available, including 1-800-FREE411 and 1-800-GOOG411.
And always double check your bill — no system is perfect.
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