Picking a cell phone plan

Mobile technology has rapidly revolutionized our ability to access information and communicate, from anywhere. Unfortunately, phone bills have also rapidly increased, sometimes without delivering more value to the consumer—a mobile plan can easily cost over $100 per month before additional fees and charges. Fortunately, there is a lot you can do as a consumer to cut your bill down to size.

  1. Check your bill for unknown charges. The Federal Trade Commission recently took legal action against a company alleged to have taken in millions of dollars by billing for a service that mobile phone users had not requested. The practice is called “cramming;” a third-party company tells a mobile provider that a consumer has authorized charges for a service from the third-party. In reality, the consumer has not requested the service or authorized charges, and may be completely unaware that they are being charged by a third-party vendor. Protect yourself by checking your monthly statement for additional or unknown charges. You should also be careful about providing your phone number online. If your bill has been crammed, contact your mobile provider and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.1,2
  2. Get help shopping for the best plan. There are hundreds of possible combinations of minutes, carriers, and features. The comparison tool at billshrink.com can help you find the best service for the lowest price, personalized to include the details of your usage patterns.
  3. Don't sign up for another long-term contract. The total cost of buying a phone and then purchasing a pre-paid plan is a fraction of the cost you will incur over the course of a two-year contract that comes with a “free” phone. Recently, the major carriers introduced pre-paid plans for iPhone and Android devices, meaning you won't have to sacrifice quality. If you can afford to buy the phone up-front, you will save big in the long run.3
  4. If you sign up for a contract, use the 15-30 day trial period to test your phone and service. All long-term mobile contracts have a period during which you can cancel your contract without an Early Termination Fee (ETF). Test your service at home, work, the store, and any other place you frequent. Test the apps and features to make sure that you like the OS, configuration options, and anything else that you care about. If it doesn't meet you needs, you've got a get-out-of-jail-free card for the first two weeks—check with your mobile provider to find out if you have a longer trial period.
  5. If you don't like your long-term contract, try to get out early without paying the ETF. If your carrier changes your contract terms (e.g. text message prices or administrative fees), you may have legal grounds to cancel the contract. You can also make someone else responsible for your contract, swapping out yours for theirs at cellswapper.com, celltradeusa.com, cellplandepot.com, or trademycellular.com. If you think you have a good justification to end service, like unemployment or military deployment, try customer service and escalate by asking to speak with higher level authorities until you get the answer you want. 
  6. Don't settle for a bad signal. Start by checking to see if your carrier thinks that you should have reception at www.cellreception.com. Walk around your area to check the size of the dead zone. It may be easier to gauge if you change your phone's signal setting to give you a numerical rating for your signal. Next, complaint to your service provider—if the issue is bad enough, they may provide you with a signal boosting device at no additional charge. Bad signal strength could also give you leverage if you'd prefer to find a new carrier.  

 

Sources:

  1.  FTC “Is Your Mobile Bill a Cram Sandwich?”: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/your-mobile-bill-cram-sandwich 
  2.  FTC Files Its First Case Against Mobile Phone “Cramming”: http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2013/04/wisemedia.shtm 
  3.  NYT Blog: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/02/prepaid-phone-plans/ 

Issue updates

Trouble in Toyland

The 2011 Trouble in Toyland report is our 26th annual survey of toy safety. In this report, we provide safety guidelines for consumers when purchasing toys for young children and provide examples of toys currently on store shelves that may pose potential safety hazards.

> Keep Reading

Big Banks, Bigger Fees

Since Congress largely deregulated consumer deposit (checking and savings) accounts beginning in the early 1980s, the PIRGs have tracked bank deposit account fee changes and documented the banks’ long-term strategy to raise fees, invent new fees and make it harder to avoid fees. 

> Keep Reading

Trouble in Toyland

The 2011 Trouble in Toyland report is our 26th annual survey of toy safety. In this report, we provide safety guidelines for consumers when purchasing toys for young children and provide examples of toys currently on store shelves that may pose potential safety hazards.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Survey Finds Toxic or Dangerous Toys on Store Shelves

Dangerous or toxic toys can still be found on America’s store shelves, according to U.S. Public Interest Research Group’s 26th annual Trouble in Toyland report.This morning U.S.PIRG, joined by Commissioner Robert Adler from the Consumer Product Safety Commission and Ivan Frishberg, a parent, released the report. It reveals the results of laboratory testing on toys for lead and phthalates, both of which have been proven to have serious adverse health impacts on the development of young children. The survey also found toys that pose either choking or noise hazards.

> Keep Reading

Big Banks, Bigger Fees

Since Congress largely deregulated consumer deposit (checking and savings) accounts beginning in the early 1980s, the PIRGs have tracked bank deposit account fee changes and documented the banks’ long-term strategy to raise fees, invent new fees and make it harder to avoid fees. 

> Keep Reading

Pages

News Release | US PIRG

Representatives of several leading U.S. consumer and traveler groups today met with U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Pete Buttigieg to urge action on the most pressing consumer protection priorities affecting consumers flying commercial airlines. It was the first time representatives of consumer groups were granted a meeting with a U.S. Secretary of Transportation in nearly five years.

Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

This report recaps the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s results for consumers over the past 10 years, the steps taken to return the CFPB back to its mission after three years of retrograde decisions under the Trump Administration, and our recommendations for CFPB action moving forward.

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

As the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) turns 10 years old, a new report from the U.S. PIRG Education Fund recaps how the agency has helped consumers over the past decade and the steps under way to refocus the CFPB on its mission after three years of retrograde decisions under the Trump Administration.

News Release | US PIRG

Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. said Wednesday it’s voluntarily recalling all lots of five types of Neutrogena and Aveeno aerosol sunscreen after internal testing showed “low levels of benzene” -- which can cause cancer -- in some samples. J&J also said consumers should stop using the sunscreen.

News Release | US PIRG

Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. said Wednesday it’s voluntarily recalling all lots of five types of Neutrogena and Aveeno aerosol sunscreen after internal testing showed “low levels of benzene” -- which can cause cancer -- in some samples. J&J also said consumers should stop using the sunscreen.

View AllRSS Feed

Support us

Your tax-deductible donation supports U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s work to educate consumers on the issues that matter, and the powerful interests that are blocking progress.

Learn More

You can also support U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s work through bequests, contributions from life insurance or retirement plans, securities contributions and vehicle donations. 




U.S. PIRG Education Fund is part of The Public Interest Network, which operates and supports organizations committed to a shared vision of a better world and a strategic approach to social change.