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

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.

> Keep Reading
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.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S.PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection, Make VW Pay

Leading Groups Send Criteria for Evaluating VW Settlement

Four leading consumer, environmental, and public health organizations wrote an open letter in advance of the April 21st deadline set by U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer for a proposal that deals with Volkswagen’s emission scandal.

> Keep Reading
News Release | WISPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

30th Annual Survey Finds Dangerous Toys on Store Shelves

Dangerous or toxic toys can still be found on Wisconsin store shelves, according WISPIRG Foundation’s 30th annual Trouble in Toyland report. The survey of potentially hazardous toys concludes that, despite recent progress, consumers must still be wary when shopping this holiday season.

> Keep Reading

Pages

News Release | WISPIRG | Consumer Protection

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

Financial reforms enacted in response to the financial meltdown remain popular with those likely to vote in 2012, a new opinion poll by Lake Research Partners shows. The poll was commissioned by AARP, National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) and Americans for Financial Reform (AFR). Saturday July 21 will mark the two year anniversary of the Dodd Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), a new agency with a strong record of successes for consumers despite facing constant unfounded political attacks in its first year of work.

> Keep Reading
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. 

> Keep Reading

Capital Times: New study shows toxics in toys, poisons in paint

Popular children's toys, including Playmobil play figures, are on a list of 650 brand name products containing two hormone-disrupting chemicals, according to a new report.

> Keep Reading

WI State Journal: Some toys can pose hidden or potential dangers

The Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group's 26th annual Trouble in Toyland report, released Tuesday, encouraged parents not to buy balloons for children under 8 because they present a potential choking hazard.

> Keep Reading

WI Radio Network: Still trouble in toyland

An advocacy group says parents should not buy balloons for kids under eight, as they can be a serious choking hazard if they’re popped. That was just one of the warnings for holiday shoppers put out by the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group (WISPIRG). The group held a news conference to unveil its 26th annual danger list called “Trouble in Toyland.”

> Keep Reading

Pages

News Release | U.S. PIRG

Everyone should assume that their social security number has been exposed between this breach and breaches of other major companies’ databases, such as Equifax’s. With that in mind, U.S. PIRG recommends all Americans should use their right by law to freeze their credit reports for free

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Our response to Equifax paying a $650 million penalty for exposing the social security numbers of 148 million Americans to identity theft.

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Fisher-Price recalled 4.7 million Rock n’Play baby sleepers on Friday. U.S. PIRG Consumer Watchdog Adam Garber issued a response: "“While we’re pleased that Fisher-Price is finally recalling these dangerous sleepers, 30 deaths in 10 years is 30 deaths too many and 10 years too late."

News Release

Read U.S. PIRG's statement on Wells Fargo eliminating some fees for student on debit cards.

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Henry Avocado Corporation is recalling avocados potentially contaminated with the deadly listeria bacteria. Adam Garber, U.S. PIRG said in a statement: “We are barely getting a chance to breath between recalls."

View AllRSS Feed

Support Us

Your tax-deductible donation supports WISPIRG Foundation's work to educate consumers on the issues that matter, and to stand up to the powerful interests that are blocking progress.

Learn More

You can also support WISPIRG Foundation’s work through bequests, contributions from life insurance or retirement plans, securities contributions and vehicle donations.