The Cutting Edge: Cell Phone Bills

Cell phones have gone from a luxury to a necessity for people of all ages. As if managing the costs of life’s staple items — food and shelter –weren’t enough, cell phones have become the Pandora’s box of bills with managing minutes usage, text messages, picture messages, and yikes, data plans.

“People today tend to have way too much,” says Sam Simon, chairman of the Telecommunications Research & Action Center (TRAC). “They have too many phones and too many bills.”

Though the average local monthly cell phone bill is $48.54, according to the CTIA, a wireless trade organization, adding texting plans can cost at least $10 to $20 more a month, and Internet usage can be dangerous territory, amounting to an extra $40 a month or more.

Before you shell out extra cash for that whopper of a phone bill, be sure to follow these steps:

Evaluate your plan: Cutting wireless costs can be as simple as removing unused features and add-ons. People “need to make sure they’re on the right plan and they’re not leaving unused minutes at the end of the month,” Simon says. Review your cell phone bills from the last three months. If there are unused minutes or text messages, you might want to downgrade your plan. Conversely, if you’ve been going over your allotted minutes and texts, you may want to upgrade your package. A plan that costs a little more per month may be cheaper than the recurring overage charges you’ve been accruing.

Consider prepaid: Some prepaid providers may not offer the futuristic feature-intensive phones that come with contracts. But if you’re an occasional talker, this may be the plan for you. Simon says if customers are using 200 to 300 minutes a month, prepaid plans are a low-cost alternative to expensive monthly deals. But he cautions that for some there is a per-day surcharge. “I would urge people to never have a prepaid card where there is a daily surcharge because too many carriers out there don’t do that,” he says. Simon recommends looking into Virgin Mobile and Tracfone.

Nix the land line: If you have your own plan or a family plan and everyone in the house has a cell phone, ditching the land line can save a few bucks a month. Here are some questions Simon says people need to consider before cutting a land line.

How often do you use the land line?

Are you out of the house a lot?

How many cell phones do you have in the family?

“If have four cell phones and are working a lot, the odds are you don’t need a land line,” Simon says. But if you find it hard to get rid of the house phone, talk to your provider about a limited service plan. The monthly fee is lower than a regular phone bill but you’re charged for any incoming or outgoing calls. Some limited service plans offer unlimited incoming calls and long distance features for house phones.

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