Phone Savings Center

1. Beware Of Big Flat-Rate Plans

Packages that offer unlimited local and/or long-distance calls—as well as a long list of features, such as call waiting and voice mail—for one set monthly price often look better than they actually are. Remember, taxes and surcharges can increase the total cost of such plans by 20 percent or more. In order to save money on a typical plan, you would have to make several hundred local calls and/or several hours of long-distance calls each month. Plus, you would have to want and need all the calling features offered. Also, even if you don’t make a single call, you still get charged the same amount each month. Maybe you signed up for such a plan because it was bundled with reduced rates for Internet or cable TV. Always check to see if there are other options that could save you even more, such as:

  • your phone company’s standard per-call rates;
  • a lower priced flat-rate plan;
  • ditching your landline and relying on cellphone service. (Just make sure your cell service is good at home.)

If you’re on an AT&T Consumer’s Choice local-calling plan, created by CUB, stay with that good deal as long as you can. Due to changes in the state Telecommunications Act, those plans are now offered only to families who qualify for low-income assistance. Customers already on those plans will be able to stay on them at least until July 2017, when the Telecom Act is up for review again. If you qualify for this plan, call AT&T, at 1-866-582-0713 to sign up.

You can fax or mail a copy of your phone bill to CUB for a free analysis. Fax your bill to CUB’s Phone Savings Center at 312-263-4329, or mail it to CUB’s Phone Savings Center, 309 W. Washington St., Suite 800, Chicago, IL 60606.

2. Shop For Cheap Long Distance

Typical long-distance plans charge 7-10 cents per minute and slap you with a monthly fee of up to $5. But you can do much better. For example, Pioneer Telephone (1-800-808-9000) offers most Illinois consumers rates of about 2-3 cents per minute for calls beyond 15 miles, and a $10 “CUB credit” to start. (The plan also charges a $1.99 monthly “paper-bill fee” in months you make less than $20 worth of calls, but it’s waived if you get online billing. In addition, the company charges a $1.99 Regulatory Cost Recovery Fee.) Remember to read the fine print of any offer to spot hidden fees and other potential rip-offs. If you make very few of these calls, consider dropping your long-distance plan altogether and using a prepaid calling card or your cellphone to make long-distance calls. (If you do this, notify your local phone company to complete the change. You may be charged a one-time fee to drop the service.)

3. Use Your Cellphone As A Money-Saving Friend

Do you have unused wireless minutes left over at the end of each month? Most consumers do. Use them for long-distance calls that you might otherwise make—and pay for—on your landline. Similarly, if your wireless plan comes with voice mail, don’t pay for the same service on your landline. If it will cut your overall costs and you have consistently good wireless service at home, consider dropping your landline service altogether. Regardless, always check your cellphone bill and see if you can downgrade to a lower-cost voice, text or data plan. CUB’s Cellphone Shopper’s Guide and Prepaid Cellphone Guide can help you choose the best wireless plan for you.

4. Eliminate Unnecessary Services

Inside Wire Maintenance (called Line-Backer by AT&T) is an optional landline insurance plan, for up to $10 per month, that covers repairs to your home’s INSIDE wires. However, most landline problems are not caused by the inside wiring. You’re better off skipping such plans. Also, look for any extraneous charges on your cellphone bill. Do you actually need insurance? The coverage can be so limited that it’s not worth the monthly fee. Sometimes fees are added to your bill by a third party without your approval—a scam called “cramming.” Call your phone company to get more details on any extra charges you find.

5. Cut Down On Data

The biggest money-waster on wireless plans is data. Set your smartphone to use Wi-Fi whenever it’s available—including your home, if you pay for Wi-Fi, and places that offer free Wi-Fi. This cuts down on your data usage and could allow you to downsize to a cheaper plan. (Just don’t do banking or other financial transactions on public WiFi, because the network may not be protected.) Also, beware of data-devouring apps or features—like Facebook, Twitter and weather updates—that may continue to run on your phone long after you need them. Make sure they’re turned off when you’re not using them. Similarly, avoid ad-supported games. Every banner or ad that appears on the screen chips away at your data. Read CUB’s data guide for more information.

6. Consider Prepaid

Prepaid cellphones are an alternative to pricey, 2-year contracts, and they don’t slap you with exit and overage fees. Such plans used to be geared more for consumers who just wanted an emergency phone, without a lot of minutes. However, there are now prepaid plans geared for consumers with greater calling and data needs. For more information, read CUB’s Prepaid Cellphone Guide.

7. Don't Pay For Directory Assistance

Avoid paying up to $2 per call for traditional “411” service. Instead, get the number for free. There are numerous on-line white pages and yellow pages that give both residential and business listings free of charge. Or, try dialing this free service: 1-800-FREE411 (1-800-373-3411).