How to Lower a Cell Phone Bill

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Americans now value their cell phones more than their car insurance, at least that’s what the numbers say.

According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, the average cost of owning a cell phone has risen from $50 a month in 2007 to $93 a month, while the average spent on car insurance is $80 a month.

With 95% of Americans now owning cell phones, there’s certainly no going back to the era of the landline, which you could probably get for under $25 a month. However, there are a few things you can do to save some money on that little computer that’s always in your hand and maybe pay off your credit card debt faster.

Tips That Will Cut Your Cell Phone Bill Immediately

Switching to a cheap cell phone plan is a no-brainer, but there are plenty of other things you can do today that will lower your cell phone bill.

You can save money by simply monitoring your data usage. Overages add up. Verizon charges you $15 per additional GB, and they round up, which means if you use a single byte over your limit, you’ll be charged $15.

According to Domo, a computer software company specializing in data visualization, more than half of all web searches are done from mobile phones. That means that somewhere along the line, some of us are bound to go over our data limits.

The key isn’t limiting your data use altogether, but knowing when and where to use it. Here are a few best-use suggestions:

  • Stick to Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi is everywhere, so you shouldn’t have a problem staying connected. It’s worth asking an employee about it anytime you walk into a restaurant or department store. Applebee’s, Arby’s, Lowes, Macy’s, Target, BestBuy – the list goes on and on — all offer free Wi-Fi. Use it, and save your data for something important.
  • Monitor Your Background Data Usage. Some apps will eat away at your data even when you’re not using them. Apps like Twitter and Facebook will preload videos so they’re ready to watch as you scroll down your feed. You can save data by going to your settings and turning off “auto-play” for these specific apps.
  • Turn off Background App Refresh. Background app refresh keeps the content of your apps current by checking for new information while you’re offline. This is why your Instagram feed looks different every time you open the app after a short break. Go to your settings and toggle background app refresh to “off” or “Wi-Fi only” so you’re not eating up the last few bytes of your precious data.

Family Plans

The concept of a family plan is simple enough: the more lines you add, the less you pay.

That means if you and your partner are on two separate plans you’re both wasting money.

Verizon’s “Go Unlimited” plan is $75 a month (with autopay). If you add another line, the price of both lines drops by $10. The price drops for each additional line added (up to four lines) so, if you want to add an uncle or your old college roommate, that will save you even more money. A Verizon Go Unlimited family plan with four or more lines would cost $40 a month per line.

Is an Unlimited Plan Worth It?

It depends on what you’re using your phone for. If it’s your main source of entertainment and you’re using it to stream anything from the latest Solange songs to YouTube cat fail compilations, then an unlimited plan can save you money.

But if you’re mainly using your phone to send emails (10KB/ email) or view a webpage (1MB/pg.) skip the unlimited plan.

Sprint’s Unlimited Plus plan offers 10GB of data for $70 a month, while their basic plan offers 2GB of data for $40 a month, and $15 a GB once you’ve reached your limit.

HD video streaming uses 1.6 GB/hr. (500MB/hr. for SD), which means if you had the $40 a month plan, streaming one movie would eat up your whole data supply for the month. So, if you plan to stream HD videos for a few hours from places with no Wi-Fi, like a park or on the bus, looking into an unlimited plan is the way to go.

Keep in mind many unlimited plans are misleading. What they really mean is “unlimited until you reach a certain limit,” after which your speed will be throttled down, often to as a low as 600 kbps.

You’ll still be able to tweet, but you can forget about watching the latest Game of Thrones in 720p.

Do You Need Cell Phone Insurance?

Insurance is only worth it if you undergo a series of unfortunate events with your phone.

If you’re constantly leaving your phone behind in Ubers or dropping it into toilets, look into insurance. But if you’ve gone six months without a scratch and treat your phone like an extension of your body, a durable case (something between $30-$60) is your best option.

According to a 2016 consumer reports survey, 50% of respondents reported at least one major cell phone mishap in the previous two years.

If you lose your phone without insurance, you’ll have to pay for a replacement out of pocket. If you’re carrying the latest iPhone XS, that’ll cost you around $1,000. Fixing a cracked screen can cost you anywhere from $50-$300, depending on the model.

If you are really that careless, $13/month for coverage doesn’t sound too bad. What you have to remember is that this price does not include the deductible you will be charged for each claim, which can range from $19-$199.

Also, there is usually a limit to the number of claims you can file. For example, Verizon’s Total Mobile Protection Plan caps you at three claims a year.

Should You Switch Carriers?

It’s the most drastic option, but switching to a smaller carrier almost certainly will save you money. Smaller carriers cost less and use the same cell towers as the larger ones, so you don’t have to worry about second-rate signal.

Many of the smaller carriers have high reports of customer satisfaction. According to the American Customer Satisfaction index, TracFone Wireless received a score of 78, compared to T-Mobile (76) and Sprint (74).

The downside is your data may be deprioritized during times of high network congestion. Also, you’ll have a smaller range of phones to choose from. Verizon offers over 60 different phones. Republic Wireless offers 12, none of which is the iPhone. If you must have the iPhone, then shop online for gently-used, unlocked phones.

Republic Wireless, Google Project Fi and many other carriers will let you bring in your own phone to use on their network. Just make sure the phone you buy is compatible with whatever carrier you choose. Older iPhone models won’t work with Google Project Fi, but anything after the i5s should be fine.

I Need to Pay My Phone Bill but I Have No Money

If you’re struggling to pay your phone bills you may qualify for Lifeline, a government program that offers subsidies to low-income families and individuals.

Households with an income at or below 135% of the federal poverty level are eligible for Lifeline. So, if you are a family of three with a household income of $38,874 or below, you qualify. Be ready with proof of income like a tax return or three consecutive pay stubs.

Another way to qualify is if you, or someone in your household, is a beneficiary of federal assistance programs like:

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as food stamps.
  • Medicaid
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPHA)
  • Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit.

Just remember, only one Lifeline allowed per household.

A lot of us are constantly on the go and need unlimited data plans to stay up to date with news and work. But some of us just need our phones to talk to family or friends now and then, or record something spontaneous, like a toddler’s first steps or a passing celebrity.

You don’t need to spend a fortune for these features. Be frugal about spending on your smart phone. Use the money you save help you pay other debts.

About The Author

Joey Johnston

Joey Johnston has more than 30 years of experience as a journalist with the Tampa Tribune and St. Petersburg Times. He has won a dozen national writing awards and his work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Sports Illustrated and People Magazine. He started writing for InCharge Debt Solutions in 2016.


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