Cutting the phone cord

Getting rid of your land line can save money, but total reliance on a cell phone may not be the right choice for everyone.

By Rob Kelley, staff writer

NEW YORK ( -- It's hard to find someone who doesn't have a cell phone. And now more people are making it their only phone.

About one in eight American adults, or 26 million, live in households with no land line - relying solely on a mobile phone, according to a 2006 study by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). Three years before, only 2.9 percent of adults said they'd cut the cord.

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Younger people are the main users making the switch. More than half the wireless-only adults are less than 30 years old, the NCHS survey found.

Over the next five years, nearly one in three U.S. households say they'll cut the cord with their local phone company and become wireless-only households, according to another study by the Yankee Group.

The choice is definitely not for everyone. Mobile phones can be inconsistent and expensive, and they're not as proven in emergency situations. But with local phone service packages costing between $30 and $40 per month, it can make money sense.

Consider losing the land line if your lifestyle makes a home phone redundant, said John Breyault of the Telecommunications Research and Action Center (TRAC), a non-profit group that helps consumers make choices about phone service.

"A young person or an on-the-go businessperson who spends only a few hours of the day at home could be a good candidate since they are unlikely to be using their home phone line anyway," he said.

Make sure you get consistent cell phone reception in your home and other places where you spend most of your time, he said. Many homes have inexplicable dead zones that can appear within a few steps of one another.

But with service providers pumping money into their networks to improve reception, customer satisfaction is rising, said Samuel Simon, chairman of TRAC.

Also consider how your cell phone plan fits with your calling schedule, said Eric Tyson, author of Personal Finance for Dummies.

"If you make a lot of calls from home during the day, then certain cell phone plans are going to end up being very expensive, because of the evenings-and-weekends setup," he said.

Low-income customers are also moving towards mobile phones of the prepaid variety, according to Patrick Monaghan, an analyst with market researcher Yankee Group. The phones don't require a credit card or identification, which makes them useful for immigrants or people with poor credit.

Don't hang up on the land line

But for the majority of Americans, the old home phone is not going anywhere soon.

"If you have tons of people in the house, it's going to get darned expensive with cell phones," said TRAC's Simon. Another advantage of the home phone is that parents have more control over when the kids are using the phone, and how many minutes they're using up, he said.

And kids tend to use a lot of minutes, which can inflate a cell phone bill exponentially.

"A stay-at-home mom or a family with school-age children who are at home a lot will probably find that the added costs of extra wireless phone plans outweighs the cost of keeping an 'all-you-can-eat' local home phone line," Breyault said.

Safety first

Consumers thinking about cutting the cord should ask their prospective cell phone provider if their phone allows them to be easily located when calling 911 for an emergency.

Land lines are connected to the residential address, while a cell phone provider usually tries to locate the caller by using GPS or triangulation. But if you're on the 20th floor of a building, GPS can't always tell the authorities where you are.

"Consumers should ideally ask their cell provider if their elevation can be located during an e911 call," said Breyault. "Land lines communicate your address immediately."

"Unfortunately it's one of those things that people don't think about until something bad happens," said Monaghan. Top of page