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

Blog Post | Consumer Protection

CFPB receives over 2,500 junk fee comments | Ed Mierzwinski

In response to a tidal wave of unfair marketplace practices, the CFPB asked the public to submit comments on the impact of junk fees on their lives. Some 2,500 comments later, consumers have described the pain points caused by unfair junk fees.

Cover graphic courtesy Student Borrower Protection Center, used by permission

> Keep Reading
Report | MASSPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Not First Class: Flyer complaints soar as airlines cancel flights, deny refunds, ruin plans

Analysis of more than 200,000 complaints shows which airlines and airports do best and worst.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

How I got my finances in order | Mike Litt

Even with the knowledge I’ve gained working as a consumer advocate for several years, getting my finances in order has been a work in progress. 

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

How I started my estate and end-of-life planning | Mike Litt

Until recently, I did not have estate and end-of-life planning in mind, but it was the natural next step in my quest to be a responsible adult, with a nudge from the existential threat of the COVID-19 pandemic.

> Keep Reading

Pages

News Release | US PIRG | Consumer Tips, Consumer Protection

Back to school: financial literacy tips for college students, teens

During this time of year, families are thinking about the children going back to school, and for parents who are sending their kids to college, it can be a bit overwhelming. A key to addressing those concerns is making sure their teens are prepared for “adulting” -- in other words, taking care of their own lives.

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

Report: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau turns 10

BOSTON -- As the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) turns 10 years old, a new report from MASSPIRG Education Fund recaps how the agency has helped consumers over the past decade and the steps under way to refocus the CFPB on its mission after three years of retrograde decisions under the Trump Administration. The report also provides recommendations for CFPB action moving forward, especially on credit reporting.

> Keep Reading

Statement: Johnson & Johnson recalls sunscreen products after tests detect carcinogens

Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. said Wednesday it’s voluntarily recalling all lots of five types of Neutrogena and Aveeno aerosol sunscreen after internal testing showed “low levels of benzene” -- which can cause cancer -- in some samples. J&J also said consumers should stop using the sunscreen.

> Keep Reading

Statement: Johnson & Johnson recalls sunscreen products after tests detect carcinogens

Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. said Wednesday it’s voluntarily recalling all lots of five types of Neutrogena and Aveeno aerosol sunscreen after internal testing showed “low levels of benzene” -- which can cause cancer -- in some samples. J&J also said consumers should stop using the sunscreen.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Report | MASSPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Not First Class: Flyer complaints soar as airlines cancel flights, deny refunds, ruin plans

Analysis of more than 200,000 complaints shows which airlines and airports do best and worst.

> Keep Reading
Report | MASSPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

The CFPB Turns 10

As the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) turns 10 years old, a new report from MASSPIRG Education Fund recaps how the agency has helped consumers over the past decade and the steps under way to refocus the CFPB on its mission after three years of retrograde decisions under the Trump Administration. The report also provides recommendations for CFPB action moving forward, especially on credit reporting.

> Keep Reading
Report | MASSPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Getting Off The Hook of a Predatory Tow

Every year, millions of Americans have their cars towed without their consent from a private property or public street. Too often, the unknown rationale behind these tows and what to do next can leave drivers stranded and confused. While getting towed is a justified consequence of parking in the wrong place or for too long, most states don’t offer drivers the decency of basic consumer protections such as access to their wallets or medicine, or maximum rates for towing and storage. And that doesn’t even take into consideration those times when drivers believe they’re towed improperly.

> Keep Reading
Report | MASSPIRG | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2020

It’s that time of year again when parents, grandparents, caregivers and others feeling generous begin shopping for toys for the kids in their lives. Toy safety has come a long way, thanks to years of work from consumer advocates, public health experts, elected officials and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). These days, examples of dangerous toys contaminated with lead or toys with small parts that pose a choking hazard to young children are more difficult to find in the United States.

> Keep Reading
Report | MASSPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Auto Loan Complaints on the Rise

Consumer complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) regarding vehicle loans and leases have increased sharply during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new report by the MASSPIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post | Consumer Protection

CFPB receives over 2,500 junk fee comments | Ed Mierzwinski

In response to a tidal wave of unfair marketplace practices, the CFPB asked the public to submit comments on the impact of junk fees on their lives. Some 2,500 comments later, consumers have described the pain points caused by unfair junk fees.

Cover graphic courtesy Student Borrower Protection Center, used by permission

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

How I got my finances in order | Mike Litt

Even with the knowledge I’ve gained working as a consumer advocate for several years, getting my finances in order has been a work in progress. 

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

How I started my estate and end-of-life planning | Mike Litt

Until recently, I did not have estate and end-of-life planning in mind, but it was the natural next step in my quest to be a responsible adult, with a nudge from the existential threat of the COVID-19 pandemic.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Resources I used to prepare my advance directive | Mike Litt

Advance directives are legal instructions that include a living will (different from a regular will) and a health care proxy. In them, you state what treatments you do or don’t want at the end of your life and who you want making health care decisions for you if you can’t. 

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

What I decided to do after shopping for long-term care insurance | Mike Litt

Before listening to In Case You Get Hit By a Bus, I didn’t know about insurance that covers the costs of long-term care, such as home health care or nursing home care, for people who need assistance with daily living activities. 

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post

In response to a tidal wave of unfair marketplace practices, the CFPB asked the public to submit comments on the impact of junk fees on their lives. Some 2,500 comments later, consumers have described the pain points caused by unfair junk fees.

Cover graphic courtesy Student Borrower Protection Center, used by permission

Report | MASSPIRG Education Fund

Analysis of more than 200,000 complaints shows which airlines and airports do best and worst.

Blog Post

Even with the knowledge I’ve gained working as a consumer advocate for several years, getting my finances in order has been a work in progress. 

Blog Post

Until recently, I did not have estate and end-of-life planning in mind, but it was the natural next step in my quest to be a responsible adult, with a nudge from the existential threat of the COVID-19 pandemic.

View AllRSS Feed

Support Us

Your tax-deductible donation supports MASSPIRG Education Fund’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 MASSPIRG Education Fund’s work through bequests, contributions from life insurance or retirement plans, securities contributions and vehicle donations. 




MASSPIRG Education Fund is part of The Public Interest Network, which operates and supports organizations committed to a shared vision of a better world and a strategic approach to social change.