Cell phones, or wireless phones, can be a convenient way to stay in touch. But the wide variety of cell phone plans and options available can be confusing. Different companies offer different prices, terms and conditions, so be sure to shop around.
- Incoming calls. Depending on your plan, you may pay for calls you receive on your cell phone as well as calls you make. To keep your costs down, you may not want to give out your cell phone number to just anyone. Also, remember to list your cell phone number on the Do Not Call Registry to cut down on unwanted telemarketing calls.
- Read your contract carefully before you sign it. If you have questions, ask the company for an explanation. Making any changes to your plan, like adding a new phone or more minutes, could extend your current contract for additional months or years.
- Expiration terms. Pay close attention to what your contract says will happen when it expires. Some companies provide service on a month to month basis once your contract ends, while others will automatically sign you up for another one- to two-year contract if you do not formally terminate service within a certain number of days.
- Early termination fees. Most wireless contracts are for one or two years. Canceling earlier will likely cost you an early termination fee. If you don’t want to lock yourself in with one company for one- to two-years, consider pre-paid wireless service. Also, some companies will switch you to a different plan, at no charge, if it better fits your needs.
- Hidden monthly charges. Many companies charge extra monthly fees on your bill that aren’t listed in their advertisements. Before you sign up, ask the company to carefully explain any charges you’ll have to pay beyond the monthly access fee. Different companies charge different fees, so shop around for the lowest overall price. The company charging a higher monthly access fee may actually be a better deal if it doesn’t have other hidden charges.
- Roaming charges. Many companies charge you for roaming on calls made outside of your home calling area. Make sure you know the boundaries of your home calling area and what you’ll pay to make calls outside of it. Long distance calls made outside your home calling area might cost both a roaming charge and a long distance charge.
- Data and text plans. Understand your options for data and text plans. If you have used data and text plans before – enough to know your usage pattern – talk to your carrier about the plan that will be best for you. If you’re new to data and text, choose a plan that seems right and monitor your usage during the first few weeks to see if you are approaching your limit. Consider an unlimited plan if your data or text usage is high enough.
- Usage outside U.S. If you expect to be taking your phone outside the U.S. and potentially using it for voice or data (including email), make certain to find out beforehand what charges may apply. It is very common for significant extra charges to apply. Extra charges may apply even if your phone is just automatically checking to see whether you have any new email.
- Free long distance. Many companies advertise “free long distance” but this doesn’t necessarily mean that all of the long distance calls you make from your cell phone will be free. Make sure you understand when you will be billed for long distance calls under your plan and what the rates will be for those calls.
- Peak, off-peak and weekend hours. Some cell phone companies charge different rates for peak, off-peak and weekend calls. Be sure to ask for a definition of hours and rates.
- Ask how your carrier can help you avoid bill shock. Can you sign up for phone or text alerts or monitor your account online?
- Unauthorized charges. Sometimes you may find line item charges from third parties on your wireless bill that you don’t recognize, a practice known as “cramming.”. Read our tips to avoid, detect, and remedy it.
We Can Help
If you have a complaint about your cell phone provider, contact us for help or call toll free within North Carolina at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM.