(ARA) - Do you dread opening your monthly phone bill because you know it will be expensive? Perhaps you’ve considered switching the company that provides your long distance service but are confused by the many options out there. Or maybe you’ve already switched providers, but haven’t noticed the promised savings in your bill.
In order to really save money on your long distance service, you need to understand your phone bill and be sure you’ve considered all the options. In addition to the “name brand” companies providing long distance connections (such as AT&T, MCI WorldCom, Sprint and IDT), there are hundreds of other companies with which you may not be familiar. These smaller companies often have lower overheads, less debt and therefore, better prices.
With this in mind, here are some tips for saving money on your long distance charges:
1. Eliminate monthly fees -- Many long distance companies still charge monthly fees. In some cases, the monthly fee can represent more than 50 percent of the total bill. However, there are carriers, such as Everdial, that offer low rates with no monthly fees and no minimums, no matter how much or how little you spend every month.
2. Pick a plan based on your calling pattern -- Most advertised rates only apply to out of state calls. Calls within your state may be charged at a much higher rate. If you make more calls within your state (known at intrastate), then pick a plan based on the best intrastate rates. A company called Worldxchange charges a maximum of 5.9 cents and as low as 3.9 cents per minute for intrastate calls with their “Penny Plan.”
3. Cheaper international calls -- Many long distance plans come with high international rates, unless you specifically ask for the international plan, which usually runs about $3 per month. You can cut your costs with dial around numbers, which you can use without switching long distance carriers. For example, 101-5335 (enter activation code 211593 on first call) has international rates that include 13 cents a minute for calls to Brazil and Mexico, 7 cents a minute for China, and 6 cents a minute to Germany and the UK. All calls have a 10-minute minimum and there is no monthly fee.
4. Never pay for collect calls again -- If your kids are at college or you call home from the road, then you know all about pre-paid rip offs and the high cost of collect calls. If you have your own 800 toll free number you can avoid these inflated costs. You can get an 800 number that rings right to your home phone for as little as $2 per month plus the cost of the calls from a company like National Telegraph. Incoming calls on your toll free number cost as little as 4.6 cents per minute.
5. Don’t get slammed -- Having your long distance service changed from one company to another without your permission is known as slamming. One way to ensure against this is to place a “Picc Freeze” on your line. This locks your long distance to your line so that nobody can change your long distance except you. To activate this free service, call your local phone company. Just remember that the next time you want to switch carriers, you’ll have to remove the freeze first.
6. Don’t get crammed -- Cramming is when extra unauthorized charges are added to your bill; they often appear under “miscellaneous charges and credits.” You should call your local phone company and dispute any such charges. They may be charges from supposedly free calls to psychic hot lines or dating services. If you do call any of these types of services, be aware that if you are prompted to state your name and then say “I want the service,” this statement can be used as proof that you authorized charges on your phone bill. A full rundown of cramming scams is available online at www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/services/cramming.htm.
7. Don’t forget about your business -- Business customers often have higher bills and therefore a greater capacity to save money. Businesses can now pay as little as 1.9 cents for dedicated long distance or 3.5 cents for switched long distance. You can compare business plans free online at www.smallbusinesslongdistancerate.com. Here are some other money-saving suggestions.
* Six second billing -- Don’t have your calls rounded up to the next minute when you can get six-second billing from any reputable business carrier. This option alone can save you up to 18 percent.
* Don’t sign a contract -- Don’t fall into the trap of signing long-term contracts, often due to scare tactics of overzealous salespeople. Rates are falling, just as they have since deregulation arrived in 1984, so a contract could lock you into a long-term overpayment scheme.
* Check the PICC Fee -- If your lines are registered business phone lines with your local phone company, then you will probably have to pay a PICC Fee to your long distance carrier; you shouldn’t be paying more than $5 per line per month for this fee. If you are, it’s time to start looking for a new carrier.
8. Beware of switching your local phone company -- Before you switch to a new local phone company, get assurances in writing. This can result in restrictions on your choice of long distance service. The new breed of local phone companies (known as CLECs, or competitive local exchange carriers) sometimes charge higher access rates to long distance companies to the extent that they will not offer service at all to customers who choose these CLECs. While switching to a CLEC may save you $10 a month on local service, it may raise the price of your long distance by that much or more.
9. Air miles are not the point -- If you want to fly from New York to Los Angeles, then buy a plane ticket. The so called “free” air miles are not free at all. You pay for them with higher rates and fees in your plan. Look for plans with no gimmicks or so-called freebies.
10. Check your bill -- This sounds obvious, but most customers just look at the total. You may find that you were billed for non-completed calls, services you don’t have or want, and you may have been billed at a rate higher than you signed up for. In all cases, call your local or long distance carrier and dispute the charges.
Remember, for best savings, select a plan based on the types of calls you actually make and then pay attention to your bills when they arrive. In addition, call your carrier every three months to see if rates have gone down; your rate will not be adjusted automatically.
For more information on the calling plans mentioned in this article, call or visit the following Web sites: Everdial -- www.everdial.com, (800) 263-6690; Worldxchange -- www.thepennyplan.com, (800) 972-8894; 101-5335 -- www.1015335.com, (800)972-8894; National Telegraph, www.nationaltelegraph.com, (800) 361-6264.
Courtesy of ARA Content