Do It Now: Pay (a lot) less for phone calls
Here are four signs that you're paying too much...and what you can do about it.
(MONEY Magazine) - Between your cell phone and home phone, your long-distance carrier and Internet provider, you face a stack of telecom bills every month. Are you getting the best deal you can? Probably not. Could you save by dealing with fewer companies? Maybe.
Take a deep breath, gather your bills, and look for these four signs that you're paying too much.
1. You pay more than new customers do
• Make loyalty pay. New wireless and landline deals are rolled out every day at ever-lower prices. If you haven't checked your plan in more than a year, you're probably paying too much. But you don't have to switch to take advantage.
• Just ask. See what's out there. At whitefence.com you can compare local and long-distance service packages; go to myrateplan.com to do the same for wireless. Then call. Chances are, the customer service rep can hook you up with a new promotion.
• Sometimes it's worth waiting. Some cell providers extend your annual contract every time you change your plan. So if you're near the end of your cell service contract, you may want to wait so you can shop other carriers as well.
2. You pay for too many minutes
• Flat can be fat. Landline packages that offer unlimited local and long-distance calls for one flat rate are popular. But at $45 to $55 a month, they're not always the best deal.
If you make fewer than 300 minutes of long-distance calls a month, you're better off paying by the minute -- for instance, just 3.9 cents a minute with PowerNet Global (pngcom.com). A flat-rate plan makes sense if you talk more. Save over landline rates with an Internet phone service such as Vonage (vonage.com), which offers unlimited calling for $25 a month.
• Scale back your cell. Flat-rate plans are the norm with cell phones, and the average subscriber uses less than 25 percent of monthly minutes. If you use less than half of yours, downgrade to a smaller package.
3. You have features you don't use
• Relax. You can miss a call. If you have an all-inclusive package, you're probably paying for bells and whistles that you never use. Strip your phone plan to basic service and select only the features you really need. If, say, you select caller ID and call waiting but opt out of voice mail and the [*]69 callback service (you have caller ID, remember?), you could save as much as $10 a month on your bill.
• How often do you e-mail photos? Sure, it's cool to think you'll be able to go on the Web from your cell phone or send and receive pictures and videos. But cool isn't cheap: You could be paying as much as $20 a month for the data-connectivity service that makes that possible.
4. You're too tightly bundled
• Simplicity will cost you. Getting your phone, cable and Internet access from one company sure is convenient. But you'll pay a premium for the simplicity of one bill because your cable company is never the cheapest option for phone service. If you're set on a voice-over-Internet-protocol plan (which is what the cable company offers), a third-party provider will cost less.
• Don't fret the Net. For high-speed access, you'll have to bundle your Internet with your cable or phone provider. Shop around to find the best price, but set up a Web-based e-mail address with Yahoo or Gmail so you can switch easily if a better deal rolls around.
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