Tag Archives: bill

Cut your cell phone and landline bills in half

phoneIf you want to save money, your phone bill is a good place to start looking for savings. There is no need to spend a lot for cell phone or landline phone service. Third party companies, not associated with the major phone companies, are giving you more options to save.

iPhone 4A prepaid cell phone plan is the best way to cut your bill in half. These plans used to be marketed to people with poor credit who couldn’t qualify for a phone plan, but now they’re becoming mainstream. Pre-paid plans are now being used by consumers who simply want to reduce their phone bill. Some of the plans are offered by third party companies, while others are offered by the phone company itself.

One of the more popular ones is offered by Straight Talk. Walmart sells the plans, but you can also buy the service directly from Straight Talk online. The company offers a $45 unlimited talk, text, and data plan for smartphone users. That’s far less than the traditional plans for similar service that typically start at $75-80.

You need an unlocked phone for this service, but spending several hundred dollars upfront for the phone may be worth it because you are not tied into a hefty monthly charge or contract. Some users say that while it’s advertised as “unlimited” there are limits on the data you can consume before being throttled. I couldn’t get a straight answer on this, but a techie who uses it said he stays below 2 GB to avoid potential problems.

My NewsChannel 5 story breaks other prepaid plans and the limits with each one. Most cost around $50 a month.

Save on landline service
phone resized
Straight Talk is now offering you the chance to save on landline service too. The cost is $15 a month. My mom pays $43 a month for basic phone service. The cost is outrageous, and I’m ready to switch her to save her $28 a month.

You need to buy a $99.99 wireless home phone device to make this possible, and then you pay the monthly fee. You can keep your old number by porting it.

What’s unclear is whether your phone number remains unlisted. My mom pays $5.50 a month to keep her phone number out of the phone book. That’s an outrageous price, and she said it’s gone up considerably in the last few years.

phone book 3I read all the fine print on Straight Talk’s website, and can’t find anything about keeping your number private. I called customer service and none of the options really applied to what I needed. They were mostly for existing customers. I hit a few options when prompted, and was hung up on twice.

On my third try, I finally hit the correct prompts to get connected to a customer service representative. Or, so I thought. I sat on hold for more than 23 minutes, when I finally gave up and hung up the phone.

That’s the big tradeoff with Straight Talk. It’s hard to get straight answers because it’s hard to reach customer service. You get what you pay for in a way. If the little details are not important to you, it’s a good option for you. However, I have a feeling many of the people holding onto their costly landline phone service are not exactly willing to try new technology without asking lots of questions and reading all the fine print.

The other option is magicJack, but it requires some technical know-how to use it. A computer was once a requirement, but now you just need a router or Internet service.

That company makes it clear you can keep your private number for no additional fee, but it won’t work for my mother who doesn’t own a computer and has no desire to get one. I’m sure many people with landline phones fit into this category.

The bottom line: there are options out there to cut your phone bills in half. In my opinion, it’s worth some of the tradeoffs if you’re going to save some money. People who have made the switch seem happy they did. They’re celebrating all the way to the bank.

Time Warner Cable adds modem fee

Computer With automated bill pay, I pay less attention to my itemized bills. I make sure the debited amount is consistent, and I don’t actually look at the bill unless I notice a different charge. I recently noticed our Time Warner Cable bill increased slightly, so I looked and found a new fee for our cable modem.

The cable company began charging $3.95 for lease of its cable modem in November. Time Warner said customers were notified in October. I don’t remember seeing it. Perhaps it was on that bill I don’t read. I would have seen an insert because they always fall out of the bill advertising some product I don’t want. I even get emails from Time Warner advertising new products. Apparently, the notice wasn’t in any of those communications that I see. It slipped by in one I didn’t.

Cable Modem CUIf you’re not happy with the charge, you can buy your own modem from an approved list. They tend to range from $50-150 based on the model you buy.

A Time Warner spokesman said “Modem fees for company-provided modems are standard across the industry. We are one of the last providers to implement the practice and at a much lower rate than most. For instance, WOW charges $5 and up, while Cox charges $6.99.”

It’s another fee companies are passing on to customers. At least we have a way out of this fee. If you plan to keep TWC for awhile, it’s worth it to buy your own.  You’ll pay off the cheapest modem in a year, and the average priced modem of $100 in two years.

Avoiding sticker shock when you open your cell phone bill

Consumers have long complained about going over their minutes on their cell phone bill and getting charged excessive overage fees. Unless you constantly check your minutes online or keep track on your phone, it’s easy to do especially if your limit is low.

Whether it’s overage minutes or roaming charges, these shocking bills are called “bill shock.” A survey by Consumers Union found 60% of wireless customers with traditional cell plans would support a government rule to prevent this financial nightmare.  The rule would require cell companies to alert you when you’re about to exceed your plan limit.

In late 2010, the FCC proposed rules that would require your carrier leave you a voice mail or text message when you are close to your text, voice, or data plan limit.  There are similar warnings in the European Union.

One in five customers in the Consumers Union study reported having an extra charge on their bill during the last year. For 38% of people the charge was more than $30.  The FCC estimates 30 million American have experienced bill shock, and they want to hear from victims and other consumers who want to comment on the proposed rules.

The survey also found 57% of consumers favored a government rule that would allow cell phone providers to disable accounts in danger of overage fees.

“It’s time to give wireless customers the tools they need to avoid these charges. The FCC needs to adopt its pending Bill Shock rule to ensure consumers are uniformly notified as they approach their usage limits and offer consumers a chance to adjust their plans,” Consumers Union policy counsel Parul P. Desai said.

Rental car fees

Spring break is just around the corner, and many travellers will head to the airport and hop in a rental car.  I know you are in a hurry to reach your sunny destination, but take an extra five minutes at the airport. It will save you a big headache later.

I’ve heard from several consumers who rented a car only to get charged for damages they say they didn’t cause.  It’s a problem that keeps hitting unsuspecting consumers.

When I hop in a rental car, I give it the white glove inspection. Half the time the guard who really just does paperwork at the exit will tell me the ding I found doesn’t matter. I still mark it down on the sheet and make him sign off on it. I don’t want a bill for that ding a few months after I return the car.

It may not be a bad idea to take pictures or video of the car before you take it out, and after you return it. That’s a good first step toward protection.

Also, check with your credit card company before you leave. Some offer protection against damage.

While buying the car company’s insurance may be tempting after watching this story, don’t feel obligated. In most cases, your own insurance company or credit card will cover any damage you may cause on purpose. Just check before you hit the road.