Photo: Ollie Craaford via Flickr
An estimated 30 million Americans who were hit with “bill shock”–what happens when a cell phone user surpasses his or her voice minutes, data usage, and text messages, incurring extra charges–will likely rejoice over the Federal Communications Commission’s announcement today that it will ask cell companies to voluntarily start alerting customers via text and/or voice when they’re about to rack up fees.Time’s MoneyLand reports all four major U.S. carriers (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile) are on board with the guidelines, which will likely go in effect 12 to 18 months from now.
So what can consumers do to stave off costs in the meantime? Can they avoid tearing open their bill to find “hundreds or even thousands of dollars in unexpected fees and charges,” as President Obama said in a statement?
They can, and here’s how to do it:
Use a landline for local calls. Think of the minutes not used on your phone as minutes saved at no additional cost, suggests Stacy Johnson, a personal finance expert, on MSN Money. Likewise, eyeball your bill to determine whether you really need 1,000 text messages, 411, or other frills like roadside assistance and equipment insurance.
Start scrutinizing usage on your own. You can monitor cell phone use on your carrier’s website, and sign up for text message alerts to notify you when you’ve gone overboard. My T-Mobile phone, for example, lets me text the company for real-time updates on where I stand.
Also, starting October 24, Pageonce, a financial account tracking app for smartphones, will offer users the ability to view their minutes used at-a-glance.
Use bill comparison tools to trim down costs. One of our favourite sites, BillShrink, lets users view their current plans to better understand what they’re spending and determine where to make cuts. The service also emails subscribers when the site finds a better deal.
Tell us: How do you keep your cell phone bill down? Are you happy with the FCC’s decision?