Save $1000 on your phone bill - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Save $1000 on your phone bill

By Zaneta Lowe  - bio | email 

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - "When I got my first bill, it was over $1,000," says Columbus resident Cheryl Swanier.   Call it bill shock at its best.

That was when Cheryl Swanier first added her young son to her cell phone plan.

"He had downloaded 36 games and not only that, several of the games, he had subscriptions to, so I had additional monthly fees as well," explains Swanier.

Swanier says nothing like that has happened recently, but with a total of seven people on her cell phone plan, the monthly bill is bound to be pricey.

"Around $500 something a month!"

There's Swanier and her husband, plus all four of her children and a college age niece that are on the plan.   Since she's not planning to pull any of the phones anytime soon, we decided to seek out some savings.

We checked out a couple of websites that offer cell phone audits.

"Really, we're reading every single line item, on the bill, every single call and call detail," says CEO and Co-Founder of Validas.com Tom Pepe.

At his site, you upload a pdf of your wireless bill, then, get a free estimate of what Validas could save.

A copy of the full report starts at $5, then Validas will actually email the suggested changes to your carrier.

"The average that we see is about $300 or $400 a year, it's about eight out of 10, so we do have some clients that don't save," says Pepe. 

That's exactly what happened when we uploaded Swanier's bill.  So, we checked out another site offering similar services, called reviewmybill.com.

Review My Bill claims it can save Swanier more than $800 a year.   That works out to nearly $70 a month!

"When I first got the response back from Review My Bill, I was appalled because I didn't anticipate such a huge savings of $813."

Although it was complimentary for us, Review My Bill normally charges a 33% fee after the customer gets their first month of actual savings.  CEO Nick Lindwedel says this is because his audits are mainly catered toward businesses, rather than individuals.

"I don't know over time if that would be such a huge savings or not," says Swanier.

So we did the math for her.   In the actual audit, Review My Bill discovered it could get Swanier's nearly $500 bill down to $341, by putting all the phones on one corporate line. 

Lindwedel says "All lines can be brought to a 4000 min plan for $159.99 + $15.99 per extra line of service. "  He also suggested dropping insurance on the lines that have it.

If it worked out, it would be a difference of $143 a month or more than $1700 a year!

Swanier, would owe $568 (based on the 33% fee), subtract that and she'd still save more like $1100 a year, or $96 a month.

But if you want to avoid any fees, there is a way you can self audit.

"I would say probably make sure you have enough peak minutes so you don't get over billed and then as well, make sure you have enough text messaging or a text package to avoid getting hit per message charge," says Pepe of Validas.

Pepe also says base your favorites, or calling circles on who you actually call the most, not who you like, and literally count your calls.

Allan Keiter of myrateplan.com says if you're on a family plan, carriers usually give the biggest breaks on the first two phones, so pick the more full-featured smart phones first, then the rest.

I tried both validas.com and reviewmybill.com for audits on my personal cell phone.  I only used the "free view" at Validas, meaning I didn't pay for the full report, but it showed a savings of $10 a month.  After a full review at Review My Bill, Lindwedel told me I could probably save about $5 a month. 

9  Tips  to Cell Phone Savings

1.  Bundle Text Messaging: Just four texts a day total, whether sent or received, will cause one to overspend by over $200 a year if using pay-as-you-go (20 cents each way). 
We've got a calculator just for messaging at: http://www.myrateplan.com/text_messaging/

2. Smartphones: All major carriers now require a data plan with BlackBerry, Android, iPhone and similar devices.   In recent months, some of them have introduced plans for lighter users, which can save $180 a year.  It is a little harder to figure out data usage needs than voice, however, so consumers have to pay attention to their usage if they go with one of these plans.  We've launched a calculator at http://www.myrateplan.com/data_calculator/

3.  Don't pay for features that aren't needed. 
For example, Sprint pushes the "call any mobile phone for free" feature on its Everything Data plans.   However, it is only available on plans that start at $69.99.   Similar ‘calling circle' features on Verizon and AT&T require a plan of $59.99 or higher.   However, if only need 300 or 400 minutes a month, a $39.99 plan will do just fine, so trading up for a feature like this would be a complete waste of money.

4. For very light users, a pay-as-you-go prepaid option can be significantly less expensive than a contract plan.  
Users must be cognizant of the expiration periods associated with airtime cards. T-Mobile has some good options here.

5.   For heaviest users, no-contract unlimited plans have become aggressively priced at around $50 vs. more for a contract plan with AT&T, Sprint or Verizon. There are downsides – the phone won't be subsidized and, in most cases, the ‘latest-and-greatest' devices/features (e.g., 3G data) aren't available (although that will probably start changing this year)  Wal-Mart has a "Smart Talk" at $30 unlimited voice and $45 unlimited voice + data --- so the price bar is dropping even further.  Also, T-Mobile revised their rate plans and now has an unlimited contract voice plan at just $59.99.

6. This one isn't related to the ongoing bill, but the initial outlay for a cell phone (when first signing up for service) can be dramatically different depending on where it is bought.   Here's some info on that:  http://www.myrateplan.com/carrier_price_compare/ 

7. As a more general rule, if your bill is bouncing around a lot month-month… investigate why.   If it is associated with voice or text, it probably means you are paying overage and could potentially be on a better plan

8. In most cases, cell phone insurance isn't worth it due to the deductibles, monthly cost and the fact that you'll likely end up with a refurbished phone (possibly a model you no longer want if enough time has gone by) if you need to make a claim.

 9.  All carrier prorate their termination fees.  Since many will likely consider moving to the Verizon iPhone in the months ahead, people can estimate their fee here:   http://www.myrateplan.com/contract_termination_fees/

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