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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Keeping Your Cell Phone Bill Low

By Melanie Pratt

If you have a cell phone, I'm pretty sure that it has happened to you at least once. I'm referring to the monthly bill shock. Granted, sometimes you know that you've been talking a lot and have had the opportunity to brace yourself, but most times you're caught totally off-guard. In this post, I'll try and share with you a few tips to keep your bill as low as possible. Read on.

1. Going over your allotted quota. This is the major culprit. If you get your bill and it's uncharacteristically high, most of the time it's because you went over your limit whether in minutes, text messages, or Internet use or a combination of those. The problem with going over your limit is that the charges are ridiculously high compared to what your rate is for the services within your limit. Fortunately, you bill will not bundle everything together: you will get the detail what you went over on and you will be able to see exactly what your overage charges are.

How to take control of this: move to a higher tier minutes plan and/or sign up for unlimited text/Internet. At first this piece of advice might sound counter-intuitive, but there's no doubt that, unless you move to a plan that's considerably higher than what you currently have, going over will cost you more than the new plan. If you don't want to (or can't afford to) move to a more expensive plan, then track how much you're using your included cell phone services. If you realize there's a risk of you going over, exercise some self-control and stop using that service. It's not easy, but it's not complicated.

2. Third Party Subscriptions. There seems to be no way of getting rid of the companies that sell those subscriptions, no matter how many complaints and lawsuits are filed against them. Their subscriptions services offer anything from a "free ringtone of the month" to a "horoscope of the day" to a "sexy wallpaper picture of the day". In theory, the only ways to subscribe to those services is to send them a text to a number they give you, or to log on to their website and enter your cell phone number there. Of course, if it were always like that, things would be simple; the problem is that they have a tendency to appear out of nowhere on customers' bills. In the end, pay close attention to the "direct bill" portion of your bill because that's where you'll be able to eventually spot them.

AT&T settled a class action suit involving those mysterious subscriptions. They are now under the obligation of notifying their customers by text message to ask if they want to have the subscription added to their account. If the customer doesn't reply, then the subscription can't be added. Other carriers should take this as an example.

3. One-time fees. Finally, you may be facing a higher bill because of one-time fees: activation fees, re-activation fees, upgrade fees, or non-payment fees, just to name a few. If an account gets suspended because of an unpaid past due bill, most companies will assess you a re-activation fee and nine times out of ten will not waive it. As a general rule, these fees rarely are waived or credited back to your account. But since it never hurts to try, you can ask for discounts, for example as an employee of X company (you never know). Otherwise, you can always try to be nice and courteously ask customre service if there's any possibility of crediting your account. Being a longtime customer with a good record of paying your bills on time will certainly not hurt your chances.

Strategy. Depending on your habits, there are a lot of options you can use to curb your use of cell phone services. If you talk a lot in the early evening, it might be worth it to pay a little extra for early night and weekend minutes. Skype, Vonage, MagicJack, T-Mobile, and so many others offer phone service that uses your existing Internet broadband connection, saving you minutes when you're at home. Also, you should always ask for discounts. We're talked about employee discounts, but if you are a student, ask if the university that you go to gets a discount. If you are retired, ask if the company you retired from gets one. If you're self-employed, put the account under your business's name. As long as you can prove that you use it for business purposes, you'll be eligible for a business discount.

In case your bill is too high for you to pay if off in one payment, make sure you call customer service and let them know, and ask whether or not you can arrange some type of payment plan. Just like the previous example, your past record will be the deciding factor to determine how flexible they will be. Bottom line is, with a bit of research and if you restrain yourself a bit, your cell phone bill will no longer cause you to get into shock.

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