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Slash your phone bill by jennyyingdi


									                                                                                                                New phone
                                                                                           Slash your phone bill
                                                                                           Call it a paradox of plenty: As phone                               number of calls you make. In fact, the        ample, a home long-distance plan that
                                                                                           rates have steadily declined, consumers                             phone bill is pliable. It probably has a      charges 5 cents a minute may seem a bar-
                                                                                           have snapped up more and more min-                                  good deal of fat in it, and you can find      gain, even if it also carries a $3.95 monthly
                                                                                           utes of telephone time. That has in-                                meaningful cuts without trimming the          fee. But if you use only 30 long-distance
                                                                                           creased the phone outlay to more than                               number of calls.                              minutes a month ($1.50 of talking time),
                                                                                           $1,400 a year for households with land-                                 The trick is to think minutes. Time is    the actual per-minute charge is 18 cents,
                                                                                           line and wireless service, according to                             what you’re buying, and knowing the           once you factor in the monthly fee. Over a
                                                                                           the Yankee Group, a Boston research                                 number and type of minutes you use is         year you’ll overpay by at least $47, com-
                                                                                           firm. But we’ll show you how to cut                                 critical to knowing whether you’re paying     pared with what you could get in a plan
                                                                                           $200 or more from your telephone tab.                               the least possible.                           with no monthly fee.
                                                                                              You probably think of your phone bill                                Phone companies have plenty of ways          You might also be paying too much
                                                                                           as relatively fixed, varying mainly in the                          to fog your true per-minute costs. For ex-    because you haven’t mastered the cor-

                                                                                           First things first. Know the kind of phone user you are, to know how to start saving.
                                                                                            To find the best                        BUDGET CALLERS                                                 AVERAGE CALLERS
                                                                                            combination of phone                    Monthly minutes Up to 70 long-distance on a landline,          Monthly minutes 70 to 110 long-distance on a landline,
                                                                                            service, price, and                     up to 500 wireless.                                            400 to 900 wireless.
                                                                                            technology, you need                    Current monthly outlay $30 to $70.                             Current monthly outlay Around $120.
                                                                                            to know your phone                      Profile Most calls are local. If you own a wireless phone,     Profile You use a mix of wireless and landline. Most cel-
                                                                                            usage patterns.                         you probably have a basic calling plan or prepaid serv-        lular calls are local, but you’ve shifted some of your
                                                                                            Peruse your phone                       ice intended mainly for emergencies.                           long-distance calling to the wireless phone to capitalize
                                                                                            bills to see how many                   Best ways to save Try measured local service. Avoid            on a plan that includes long-distance.
                                                                                            minutes you talk per                    unlimited local and long-distance bundles. Consider either     Best ways to save Drop “savings” plans and calling
                                                                                            month, what kind of                     a long-distance prepaid phone card or a long-distance          features from your landline. Consider a long-distance
                                                                                            minutes you use, and                    carrier with no monthly fee and low per-minute rates.          prepaid phone card or a carrier with no monthly fee
                                                                                            how much you spend.                     Consider either prepaid wireless or limited-local-area         and low per-minute rates, or use the wireless phone for

                                                                                                                                    wireless with no contract. For details on these strategies,    all long-distance calls. For details on these strategies,
                                                                                                                                    see “Budget callers” on facing page.                           see “Average callers” on facing page.

                                                                                            Meet the                            $206 savings                                                        $304 savings
                                                                                            savers                                  Ross Cameron and Kathleen                                       Ronald and Debra Seitz of Uni-
                                                                                             We asked these                         Kirkwood, of Oakland, Calif.,                                   versity Place, Wash., spend $112
                                                                                             readers to send us                     spend $90 per month for one                                     per month on one landline and a
                                                                                             their phone bills to                   home line and one cell phone.                                   cellular plan with shared min-
                                                                                             test whether our                       They could save $206 a year                                     utes. They could save $304 a
                                                                                             shopping techniques                    by dumping their $12.95                                         year by dropping their current
                                                                                             and advice could cut                   “Saver Plus” plan, which pro-                                   long-distance landline service,
                                                                                             their costs. Here’s                    vides 180 minutes of unneeded local toll calling,               using the cell phones for long-distance calls, and
                                                                                             what we found:                         and switching to a long-distance service that                   switching to a local service plan with three hours of
                                                                                                                                    charges 3 to 4 cents per minute.                                calls per month.

                                                                                           12   C O N S U M E R R E P O RT S   &Z    F E B R U A RY 2005   •   Expert • Independent • Nonprofit
                                                                                                                SPECIAL PHONE SECTION

      Internet                                 Best cell                              Best cell                                 Best
      phoning                                  carriers                               phones                                    headsets
      The newest way to communicate             Our third annual survey covers        Pictures, games, video.The sell            Hands-free talking isn’t just
      is with a phone linked to a               wireless service in 17 metro areas.   today is anything but voice. But           for the car. We tested 10
      broadband Internet connection. It’s       Chronic problems remain, but we       our tests of 24 phones speak to            headsets, wired and
      inexpensive and growing like mad.         found one carrier consistently        the main event: How good are               wireless, for comfort and
      But is it suffering growing pains?        ahead of the pack.                    they for talking and listening?            voice quality.
      page 16                                   page 18                               page XX
                                                                                      page 21                                    page 25

      nucopia of choices. You can get phone              charge and minutes that don’t expire.              for a monthly rate of $40 to $70. But if you
      service from your cable company, a wire-           • 13 cents per minute for weekday nation-          don’t tend to make many calls, the bun-
      less carrier, a Voice over Internet Proto-         wide wireless service on a plan with 250           dled price will raise your monthly cost.
      col (VoIP) newcomer, or a company that             to 400 included minutes; 8 cents on a plan             Get a long-distance plan with no
      buys phone time wholesale and sells it.            with 900 to 1,000 included minutes; 6              monthly fee and low per-minute rates.
          Based on the rates we found while              cents on a plan with more than 2,000 in-           Major companies charge 5 to 10 cents a
      shopping for better deals for several              cluded minutes.                                    minute plus $1.50 to $5 a month for long-
      CONSUMER REPORTS readers who sent us                   It pays to check the way you’ve allo-          distance. You can find much better deals
      their phone bills, you’re probably overpay-        cated phone service among local, long-             online from long-distance resellers such
      ing if you spend more than these amounts:          distance, and wireless carriers and to             as Enhanced Communications Group. It
      • 3 to 5 cents per minute with no monthly          shop for better deals at least once a year         charges less than 3 cents per minute for
      fee for state-to-state landline calls, 4 to 15     as well as near the end of a wireless-             interstate calls and 4 to 15 cents per
      cents per minute for in-state calls.               phone contract. Here’s what to do:                 minute for in-state calls in most states.
      • 3 to 4 cents per minute for a prepaid                                                                   Use prepaid phone cards. If you
      long-distance card with no connection              KNOW HOW MUCH SERVICE YOU USE                      make very few long-distance calls, con-
                                                            Looking at recent phone bills, use the          sider dropping your long-distance carrier
                                                         form on page 14 to total the various types         and using a prepaid phone card.We found
                                                         of minutes you use and the monthly costs.          a good deal at
  HEAVY USERS                                            Focus only on the charges we list (not on          $29.99 for 1,000 minutes.
  Monthly minutes 110 or more long-distance on           the taxes and fees), so that you can make              Prepaid cards are a little inconvenient,
  a landline, more than 1,000 wireless.                  proper head-to-head comparisons. See               however, because you have to enter a toll-
  Current monthly outlay $170 or more.
                                                         First Things First, starting on facing page,       free number first, then an authorization
  Profile You gravitate toward the wireless phone
                                                         to determine what type of user you are.            code and the number you want to call.
  and probably have multiple phones and a plan
  with thousands of shared minutes to accommo-           Then read the appropriate targeted                 Plus, some cards may have a hefty per-
  date teenagers, business-related calls, or lots of     strategies that follow.                            call connection charge. Check the terms
  friends and family members.                                                                               first, and avoid cards with those charges.
  Best ways to save Choose a landline plan               BUDGET CALLERS                                         Find a better wireless option. If you
  offering unlimited calling. Or consider VoIP (see         Consider measured local service.                want a wireless phone for roadside emer-
  page 16). Shop for a new wireless plan with low        Unlimited local service may be unwise if           gencies, consider a prepaid phone.
  rates or one offering a larger bucket of minutes.
                                                         you don’t make many local calls or if they         TracFone sells them for as little as $50.
  For details, see “Heavy users” on page 14.
                                                         aren’t billed as local. In California, for ex-     Per-minute charges are 10 to 50 cents. Or
                                                         ample, SBC customers pay long-distance             consider limited-local-area cellular. One
$677 savings                                             rates for calls beyond a radius of about 17        such provider is MetroPCS, available in
Susan Musilli, of Valle                                  miles. In Washington state, Qwest charges          the Atlanta area, Sacramento, the San
Crucis, N.C., spends $160                                $10.70 per month for measured local                Francisco Bay area, and south Florida. It
per month on a home                                      service—180 minutes of local calls per             offers unlimited local calling and long-
small-business line, a                                   month—and $12.50 for unlimited service,            distance for $40 per month. The phones
cellular plan, long-                                     a saving of $22 a year. But unlimited local        are not intended for roaming outside their
distance service with a                                  service is a better bet for budget callers         home calling areas.
toll-free number for                                     who have dial-up Internet service.
customers, and a prepaid long-distance phone
                                                            Avoid local/long-distance bundles.              AVERAGE CALLERS
card. She could save $677 a year by using
VoIP and changing her long-distance carrier.
                                                         MCI,Verizon, and other carriers offer un-              Like budget callers, users with average
                                                         limited local and long-distance packages           bills might benefit from switching long-

                                                                                                 F E B R U A RY 2005   &Z   w w w. ConsumerRepor 13
distance carriers or using prepaid phone                            promotes Saver Plus. Other carriers may      switch to a plan with a bigger allotment of
cards for long-distance. Average callers                            have similar plans.                          minutes. Choose a national (not regional)
might also benefit from these changes:                                 Weigh local/long-distance bundles.        plan, which typically has no roaming or
   Drop false “savings” plans. Some                                 The more long-distance calls you make        long-distance charges. If you’re ready to
companies offer plans that charge a flat                            on the landline, the more beneficial a       change wireless carriers, look for a plan
fee for a set number of local toll calls—                           local/long-distance bundle will be. If       with more minutes than you’ve had and a
calls to nearby towns billed as long-dis-                           you’re spending more than $40 to $70 a       lower monthly fee.
tance. In California, for example, SBC’s                            month for local and long-distance plans          Use your wireless phone for long-
“Saver Plus” plan charges $12.95 for 180                            and no other cost-cutting strategy works     distance. Many consumers have a wire-
minutes of local toll calls, or about 7 cents                       for you, then consider a bundle.             less calling plan that includes long-dis-
per minute. But if you don’t make many                                 Seek a better wireless plan. If you       tance, yet they often pay for the same
local toll calls, you’re buying minutes you                         regularly exceed the minutes in your call-   service on their home phone.
don’t need. SBC says it no longer actively                          ing plan or pay high roaming charges,            Many cell phone users also don’t use
                                                                                                                 up all their allotted monthly minutes.
Shopsmart                                                                                                        About 25 percent of minutes are left un-
                                                                                                                 used each month, according to a 2003 sur-
     Here, itemize your monthly outlay for phone service using recent bills. (See “Cell-
                                                                                                                 vey by the Yankee Group. On a 500-
     Phone Bills: How to Decipher Them,” page 51.) You’ll enter specific charges, minutes
     used, and their cost. Then use the accompanying report to find ways to save.                                minute plan, that leaves 125 minutes
                                                                                                                 available. Assuming that you’re happy
 LOCAL LANDLINE                                                                                                  with wireless voice quality, you can use
 Enter the following data. Then look at your local usage charge, which can indicate if
                                                                                                                 wireless for long-distance and drop the
 you’re underusing part of your local service and steer you to an obvious place to save:
      _______Itemized local minutes             _______Itemized local toll minutes                               landline long-distance service.
 Next, add up all that apply:                   a.________Monthly fee for all phone lines                            Drop redundant calling features.
                                                b.________Federal access line surcharge                          Verizon charges New Jersey customers
                                                c.________Local toll-call savings plan                           $5.50 a month for voice mail, $4.59 for call
                                                d.________Total usage charge                                     waiting, and $7.50 for caller ID. Verizon
                                                e.________Features such as call waiting                          Wireless charges nothing for the same
 A = LOCAL CHARGES (add a through e):                              $_________TOTAL
                                                                                                                 features. If you have a wireless phone, you
 LONG-DISTANCE LANDLINE                                                                                          can save $211 a year if you drop those fea-
 Enter the following data. Then look at your total long-distance charges, which can indi-                        tures from the landline. Give out your
 cate if you’re underusing part of your service and steer you to an obvious place to save:                       cell-phone number, where callers can
      _______In-state minutes + _______ Interstate minutes = _______ Total minutes                               leave messages; you can return their calls
 Next, add up all that apply:                    f.________Monthly fee                                           more cheaply from your home phone.Any
                                                g.________Minimum usage charge                                   calls that come in while you’re talking will
                                                h.________Total usage for in-state and                           be on the cell phone, negating the need
                                                            interstate calls
                                                                                                                 for call waiting on the landline.
 B = LONG-DISTANCE CHARGES (add f, g, h):                            $_________TOTAL

 WIRELESS                                                                                                        HEAVY USERS
 Enter all that apply, to help you understand plan details and to point to places where you                          Consider local/long-distance bun-
 can save with a different plan that lets you avoid excess-minute charges:                                       dles. Such plans are most beneficial to
 ______Weekday minutes included               ______Cost of excess weekday minutes used.                         big-time callers and often include free
 ______Night/weekend minutes included         ______Cost of excess night/weekend minutes                         calling features.
 ______In-network minutes included            ______Cost of excess in-network minutes used.                          Consider phoning over the Internet.
 ______Roaming minutes included               ______Cost of excess roaming minutes                               If you have a broadband connection, you
 ______Long-distance minutes included         ______Cost of excess long-distance minutes                         may want to sign up for VoIP service. It
 Next, add up all that apply:     i.________Monthly plan fee
                                                                                                                 generally costs $25 to $40 a month for un-
                                  j.________Charge for additional phones
                                                                                                                 limited U.S. calling.
                                  k._______All excess-minute charges, from list above
                                                                                                                     Eric Tucker, a principal in a New Jersey
 C = WIRELESS CHARGES (add i, j, k):                                                  $_________TOTAL
                                                                                                                 financial advisory firm, and his wife,
 TOTAL MONTHLY HOUSEHOLD PHONE-SERVICE EXPENDITURE                                                               Marisa, use VoIP for nearly 1,800 minutes
    ADD A + B + C                               $_________
                                                                                                                 of calls per month for $29.99.We estimate
 Free on                                                                                     that VoIP saves them $828 per year. But as
  Access to our interactive long-distance and cellular plan selectors, powered by                                the report on page 16 makes clear, VoIP worksheets let you compare rates of many companies.They                                   shouldn’t be a household’s only phone
  will be free from Jan. 4 to Feb. 8.                                                                            service, because of its uncertain ability to
                                                                                                                 make emergency calls.

14    C O N S U M E R R E P O RT S   &Z   F E B R U A RY 2005   •   Expert • Independent • Nonprofit

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