5 Ways Wireless Carriers Gouge You--And How to Fight Back
Are you paying too much for your cell phone and its services? Even if you're sticking to your monthly allocation of minutes and messages, you might still be paying more than you have to.
The only way to tell is to take a cold, hard look at your plan and your handset--and at the way you actually use them. Here are five ways your carrier might be milking you for extra bucks--and what you can do to stop those unwanted charges.
Texting Fees: I have never understood why these are broken out from your data plan, but that's the reality. Texting fees are good candidates for a self-audit, though, since some carriers have been raising them. Two obvious possible overcharging scenarios: Either you're not using anything close to the number of messages allowed by your plan, or you're being hit for overage charges because you underestimated how often you'd use text messaging.
Both are annoying, but you can avoid paying extra if you reassess how much you're really using text messages--and how you're using them. If you're sending a lot of one-word messages (such as "OK" or "Yep"), you're building up your monthly message count with a lot of empty air. Try to send fewer messages--ones that actually say something--and you might find that you really don't need an unlimited plan (I've yet to break the 200-per-month limit on my $5 SMS messaging plan).
On the other hand, if text messaging is the communications medium of choice in your circle, or you're hooked on using SMS for TV show or concert promotions, perhaps it's time to move up to a plan with unlimited texting. While you're at it, take a hard look at your voice plan--if you're doing all that texting, maybe you don't need so many voice minutes.
The Two- Year Contract: iPhone lovers can skip this section (since you can't get an iPhone without signing a two-year contract). But the rest of you should consider how much value you're getting on a new phone when you sign that deal with the wireless telco devil--a two-year commitment in exchange for a couple hundred dollars' worth of savings on the handset of your dreams. First of all, are you even sure you're going to want that handset at the end of one year--much less two? If you're a gadget-lover who drools over every new hottie handset that comes the pike, two years will feel like an eternity. And in the meantime, you'll be stuck with a carrier that may not provide adequate service where you live.
Solution: Either opt for a shorter contract (shop for one that offers prorated handset subsidies) or avoid a contract completely and pay top dollar for an unlocked handset (see Staff Editor Ginny Mies' guide to unlocked phones from last spring). If being free of a contract suits you, you might want to check out some of the prepaid services, which are starting to offer some very slick handsets. If you do go with a prepaid service, check out its area of coverage first. You don't want to learn after the fact that your prepaid carrier doesn't service your area, which then locks you into roaming charges from the get-go. (Harry McCracken looked into the gotchas of prepaid plans earlier this year.)
If you're trying to get out of an existing contract, note that carriers no longer charge the full early-termination fee across the board. Most will prorate that fee based on how long you stuck with the company. Make sure to find out about a carrier's early-departure policy before you sign up for a contract.
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