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A teller at a customized mobile telephone service provider transacts through on the Internet in Nairobi in this 2006 file photo. (TONY KARUMBA/TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images)
A teller at a customized mobile telephone service provider transacts through on the Internet in Nairobi in this 2006 file photo. (TONY KARUMBA/TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images)

Personal Finance Tips

Seven questions to ask about your wireless plan Add to ...

If you've ever tried to choose between the myriad wireless plans on the market, you know how daunting it can be.

Three years ago, San Francisco entrepreneur Schwark Satyavolu had to shop for a cellphone after leaving a company that had been paying for his wireless plan. "I very quickly realized it is almost an insurmountable task to understand what is out there," said Mr. Satyavolu, who launched Billshrink.com to help others find the best deals on wireless plans, credit cards, cable bills and more.

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Having the wrong wireless plan, or not fully understanding how charges are billed, can be a costly mistake, Mr. Satyavolu says. He was once billed $500 for data accidentally downloaded to his phone, but was able to negotiate with his provider to reverse the charges and find a more appropriate plan.

Not everyone is so lucky. A Billshrink survey found 8 out of 10 people are paying an average of $300 more than they need to each year on their wireless bills because they have not researched their usage and their plans do not suit their needs.

To find out if you fall into this group, Mr. Satyavolu suggests you ask yourself these questions about your wireless plan:

1. Is your unlimited plan necessary?

Unless you're spending a significant amount of time on the phone - like 2,000+ minutes - you probably don't need the hefty monthly charges. Sites such as cellplanexpert.ca and billshrink.com can help you analyze how you use your phone so you can pick the right plan.

2. Are you taking advantage of a family plan?

They aren't just for families. Friends, co-workers and neighbours can all share minutes and get the benefits of a less expensive phone plan. Just remember that the person whose name is on the bill is responsible for the payment.

3. Who do you call the most?

Studies show that 65 per cent of an individual's calls are typically to the same five numbers. Figure out which carrier your friends and family use and consider joining them so you can take advantage of in-network, "family and friends" and "Fav 5" types of discounts.

4. Do you like to roam around?

If so, find out how roaming and international charges are applied. Not every carrier charges extra fees for these, but many do, and it's easy to accidentally rack up huge fees. Some roaming rates are an unforgiving $2.49 per minute. And some carriers will even charge you to access your voice mail, even when you don't pick up that call while you are roaming. The biggest "ouch" charges could occur if you send a video message to your pals while on vacation. So remember to turn your phone off in roaming areas, especially overseas, if you don't need it.

5. Do you know what you're paying for?

Eliminate services you don't use. Do you pay for an emergency roadside assistance plan that you never even requested? Calling your cellphone company and questioning them on some of these fees can often lead to the elimination of all those extra charges that add up.

6. Can you do better?

It may be worth paying the termination fee to get a less expensive plan. It's confusing to monitor all the constantly changing prices and plan options, so set aside a few minutes to comb through your cellphone bill.

7. You're not still calling 411 are you?

Carriers can charge $1.25 or more for every 411 call. Try using a service like 1-GOOG-411 or (800) FREE-411 for free directory assistance.

Follow on Twitter: @diannenice

 

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