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Save $30 a month on your cell phone plan -- maybe

Price cuts help talkers and texters, but users of mobile Web could see bills increase.

By Teresa Mears Jan 26, 2010 5:31PM

If you act now, you might be able to save $30 a month on your cell phone bill. Or maybe not.


Verizon and AT&T have announced new cheaper “all you can talk” or “all you can talk and text” plans for both individuals and families. In some cases, the new plans could lower users’ monthly fees from $100 to $70 a month. Text adds another $20, which hasn’t changed.


But if you’re a data user, you might end up paying more. Verizon will start charging $9.95 a month for 25 MB of data use on Internet-enabled phones when customers buy new phones or sign new contracts. Unlimited data is still $29.99. Current customers with those phones can keep the pay-as-you go $1.99 per MB charge. AT&T will also require $20 data or texting plans with some phones.


Verizon started the “price war,” and was quickly followed by AT&T. Sprint pointed out its plans already were cheaper.


When it comes to cell phone plans, nothing is simple. So whether you can get a cheaper plan just by calling and asking (you didn’t think you’d get it automatically, did you?) depends on how you use your phone.

“In short, where consumers can expect to save money is on voice calls,” Marguerite Reardon wrote at CNet News’ Signal Strength. “Whether they are using a smart phone, quick-messaging/multimedia device, or a basic feature phone, the companies have lowered the price of their unlimited voice plans. But where many customers will likely pay more is on accessing the mobile Internet.” She has a detailed Q&A on the new plans.


Brad Tuttle, at Time’s Money Blog, isn’t impressed with the new plans. He wrote: “At the same time Verizon and AT&T's unlimited talk plans decreased from $100 to $70 a month, and plans for fancier devices like the Droid and iPhone dropped from $130 to $100, new and higher charges have been added for other services, such as $20 more for unlimited texting and $10 or $30 extra for data plans.”


Tony Adam at BillShrink’s Shrinkage is Good blog notes that the new plans don’t do much to simplify the complex task of choosing a phone plan. He wrote, “I think that there is still a long way to go before it gets to a point where picking a cell phone plan is simple, even after these various many attempts by the carriers in 2009. There are still way too many plan combinations.”

But he did his best to put together a chart comparing plan costs. That chart shows Verizon and AT&T charging the same fees, with Sprint and T-Mobile charging less for some services. Bill Shrink has a service that asks questions about your cell phone use and then suggests a plan.


Validas, a new service that analyzes your online cell phone bill and lets you know if you can save money, says the changes may cost some families more, even though the cost of some family plans has dropped.


“Because carriers are now offering fewer options for big family plans, more people are being forced to move ‘up-plan’ into unlimited plans, even though unlimited plans are actually oversized for them. For example, some popular 4,000-minute family plans were discontinued with the introduction of the new unlimited plans. Now a family of five will actually pay $480 more per year on the new unlimited plan, which is the closest option to their previous plan, said Tom Pepe, founder and CEO of Validas. “The reality is that the more options there are and the more plans change, the less consumers actually know what's best for them."


One of the most interesting tidbits we found was from Carolyn at Carolyn Blogs, a college student who discovered that Verizon has secret cheaper cell phone plans with fewer than the 450 minutes in their cheapest published talk plan, which is $39.99 for 450 anytime minutes. She found plans as cheap as $19.99 for 50 anytime minutes.


Because the unlimited plans are technically new plans, you’ll need to call and sign up for them, even if you already have a more expensive unlimited “talk and text” plan. Both AT&T and Verizon will allow you to change plans without extending your contract.


Related reading:

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