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Living on a Budget
by AARP Outreach & Service, AARP, February 25, 2008
As you check your cell phone statement each month to make sure it is correct, it’s not always easy to understand what everything means. And if you don’t know what all the charges mean, it can be difficult to know whether something is right or wrong.
Charges You Agreed To
First, check your statement to make sure you are being billed only for the services you requested. Some amounts are frequently called “recurring charges,” because you pay the same cost each month. You may have to refer back to the contract or service agreement to know what services you signed up for. Many plans offer—at an additional cost—text messaging, three-way calling, extended hours, or additional minutes. You don’t want to be charged for a service you didn’t order.
Before you sign a wireless service contract, get a good explanation of the cost to you of each extra item. Ask for a sample statement that includes only the features you ordered, so you won’t find any surprises when you get your first bill. Your first bill shouldn’t be the first time you see all of the charges. After you have signed the contract, you typically will be locked into those fees for the rest of the contract. If you see a charge on your statement that isn’t correct, contact your provider.
Charges That Add Up
Next, check your wireless statement to make sure you’ve selected the right service plan. Before you got your cell phone, you had to guess how much you would use it. After you have used your cell phone for a while, you have a better idea of how much time you need by studying your statements. You don’t want to pay too much and have a plan with more minutes than you routinely use, but you also don’t want to pay a lot extra each month if you go over your maximum minutes.
Cell phone costs are calculated differently than for regular land lines. You are probably accustomed to paying the flat monthly charge for unlimited local calls and per-minute charges for long-distance calls you make on your land line. Most wireless services charge by the minute for all calls that you make and for those you receive . Depending on your wireless service, you may also see “roaming” charges at a higher per-minute cost if you make calls outside the service’s calling area.
Most cell phone companies offer a trial period; however, it is seldom long enough to let you review your first bill before hefty contract termination penalties kick in. Many cell companies allow you to move to a different plan with more—or fewer—minutes. Before you change plans, be sure you find out if you will be charged any new fees, or if you will have to extend the length of your contract.
Charges You Don’t Understand
You expect to have to pay federal and local taxes. But your cell bill may have several other charges that sound like taxes or government fees. These go by a variety of names, such as “regulatory cost recovery,” “Federal Universal Service,” “E-9-1-1,” or “number portability.” The government does not require the companies to collect these fees. They are the business costs to comply with government regulations. If you see a fee you don’t understand, ask your carrier to explain.
When You Have a Question or Complaint
First go to your service provider for answers or to resolve your issue. Try to negotiate with the company if you think you have been wrongly charged. You should file complaints with the Federal Communications Commision and with the Better Business Bureau.
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