Deciphering cell phone bills

May 5, 2008 8:24:00 PM PDT
Trying to save money on your cell phone bill?There is no doubt that deciphering your bill can often times be a daunting task. There are mandatory monthly fees, text messaging fees, 411 fees and others.

It can be quite overwhelming.

But do you really know what your paying for?

Eyewitness News reporter Phil Lipof has more.

Take a walk down any street. Cell phones are everywhere. People are talking, texting, listening to music on them and, once a month, paying for them.

But do you really know what you are paying for? In most cases, it's more than that call to dad or that text to your girlfriend.

"When you sign a contract with a company, there's a lot of fine print, " Consumer Reports' Michael Gikas said. "It's constantly changing."

Gikas says it's not that cell phone companies lie to you, but many do count on you making a mistake.

"In order for you to come out ahead, you have to use exactly what you're paying for," he said. "And whenever you don't use as much or more than you agreed to use, that's when they rake in the bucks."

Take one bill we looked at, for instance.

The user pays $39.99 a month. But if add up all the mandatory fees, you could tack on another 10 to 30 percent to your bill.

Even on the cheapest plan, that could be $7 to $10.

Not to mention the calls to 411, which are almost $2 a pop.

The folks at Consumer Reports say it's really a game that these phone companies are asking you to play. So if that's the case, we're going to help you be prepared for the game. First, how much are you going to use your cell phone?

Consumer Reports says to try a pay-as-you-go phone for a few months, to figure out just how many minutes you use.

Other helpful tips are to identify the people you call the most and see what carrier they use. Many give free calls within network.

Also, watch the text messages. If you don't by enough, you get hit with huge penalties.

The good news is that most cell phone companies give you 15 to 30 days to get out of a contract. Gikas says take advantage of that offer, because the clock will be ticking.

So the experts agree. First, figure out what kind of cell phone user you are, and then get a plan based on that. It could save you a decent amount of money. And you don't need an expert to tell you that in this economy, every little bit helps.