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

Blog Post | Consumer Protection

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This week, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau turns five years old! As part of our efforts to tell more people about the CFPB, we're cross-posting this video blog and comments written by Zixta Q. Martinez of the CFPB (check out the infographic at the end, too!).

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News Release | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

National Payday Lending Rule Could Protect Wisconsinites from Predatory Loans

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News Release | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

Faith Leaders, Advocates Release New Fact Sheet Detailing the Impact of Payday Lending on Wisconsinites

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

Stop Payday Predators

Payday loans are among the most predatory forms of credit on the market. Though they are marketed as having “reasonable” fees or charges, typical interest rates exceed 300 percent. And because the payday lenders’ bottom line actually depends on borrowers’ inability to repay — most payday fees come from borrowers who take out more than 10 loans a year — they target people with low incomes and no other options.

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News Release | U.S.PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection, Make VW Pay, Transportation

Framework for VW Settlement Announced

Statement by Mike Litt, Consumer Program Advocate at U.S. PIRG Education Fund, on todays announced VW settlement. For more details on what a strong settlement agreement ought to look like, please see the open letter that we released earlier this week with other consumer and environmental groups.

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News Release | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Survey Finds Dangerous Toys on Store Shelves

Dangerous or toxic toys can still be found on America’s store shelves, according to Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group’s [www.wispirg.org] 27th annual Trouble in Toyland report.

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Free checking still widely available, report says; some banks mum on fee info

Free checking can still be found at financial institutions in Wisconsin and nationwide, but consumers are more likely to see it at smaller banks and at credit unions than at some of the biggest banks, according to a survey by Public Interest Research Groups around the country.
Free checking can still be found at financial institutions in Wisconsin and nationwide, but consumers are more likely to see it at smaller banks and at credit unions than at some of the biggest banks, according to a survey by Public Interest Research Groupsaround the country. 

Read more: http://host.madison.com/business/free-checking-still-widely-available-report-says-some-banks-mum/article_a45e708c-2f79-11e2-8638-001a4bcf887a.html#ixzz2CVvvHGyc

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News Release | WISPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

New Survey Shows Free Checking Widely Available At Small Banks

A survey of 26 Wisconsin banks and credit unions and hundreds of banks and credit unions in 24 states and the District of Columbia found that free checking remains available at more than 6 out of 10 small banks and credit unions but was only found at one-quarter of surveyed big banks (those with over $10 billion in deposits). The survey released by the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group (WISPIRG) also revealed that fewer than half of branches surveyed obeyed their legal duty to fully disclose fees to prospective customers on the first request, while 12% provided no fee information at all.

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News Release | WISPIRG | Consumer Protection

Poll Shows Voters Favor Strong Oversight of Wall Street and Back New CFPB

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News Release | WISPIRG | Consumer Protection

Poison in Paint, Toxics in Toys

A new report identifies for the first time more than 650 brand name products that contain two hormone-disrupting toxic chemicals. 

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News Release | WISPIRG

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) today released a proposal for gutting its own payday lending borrower protections, which were originally set to go into effect this August. “The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, under Director Kathy Kraninger, has officially given payday debt traps its seal of approval," said WISPIRG Director Peter Skopec. "Today’s proposal is a reckless rubber-stamping of predatory lending."

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

While we are glad that Fiat Chrysler is paying something for damaging the health of Americans and deceiving customers, this settlement does not go far enough. It neither ensures these violations of the public trust won’t happen again nor makes consumers whole.

Report | WISPIRG Foundation

Toys are safer than ever before, thanks to decades of work by product safety advocates, parents, the leadership of Congress, state legislatures, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

Despite this progress, our survey of 40 toys this year found 15 toys with issues including toys with high concentrations of unsafe chemicals and with potential choking hazards. With hundreds of new toys hitting the market every year, our survey of only 40 toys suggests there may be other potentially dangerous toys slipping through existing protections or worthy of further investigation. This report not only lists the potentially dangerous toys that we found this year, but also describes why and how the toys could harm children.

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

This holiday season, watch out for dangerous and toxic toys. U.S. PIRG’s 33rd annual Trouble in Toyland report found toxic amounts of boron, which can cause nausea, vomiting and other health issues, in slime products as well as fining that Amazon failed to appropriately label choking hazards.

News Release | U.S. PIRG

Facebook announced today that earlier this week, "attackers exploited a vulnerability in Facebook’s code that impacted “View As”, a feature that lets people see what their own profile looks like to someone else. This allowed them to steal Facebook access tokens which they could then use to take over people’s accounts."

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