The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division released its annual Top 20 list of consumer complaint categories today in conjunction with National Consumer Protection Week. Complaints about phone companies held pole position for the 12th consecutive year. That seems like a good reason to rerun last year's tips on choosing a wireless phone plan. We've also included a few links to resources that rate cell phones and plans.
- Compare plans
- Where will you use your phone? Carriers offer a variety of calling plans, such as local, regional and nationwide. You may also be able to add-on international calling plans.
- When will you use your phone? Many carriers offer calling plans that include one “bucket” of minutes that can be used anytime or at designated peak times during the month and a second bucket that can only be used during nights or weekends or off-peak times. Check with the individual carrier to determine what constitutes nights and weekends or off-peak.
- Alternatives to a long-term contract: Some carriers offer month-to-month options or “prepaid” wireless services, which do not require long-term contracts and therefore generally do not have an early termination fees. If you choose a prepaid option, make sure you know if and when the minutes you buy will expire.
- Carefully read the contract. Understand all costs, services and cancellation policies.
- Account for all costs:
- Activation fees: Will you be charged a fee to initiate service?
- Airtime: Will you be charged for both incoming and outgoing calls?
- 411 service: Will you be charged to call directory assistance?
- Dropped calls: Can you receive a credit for dropped calls?
- Minute increments: Does the carrier bill in whole minute or partial minute increments? When does billing begin and end?
- Roaming: Will there be an additional charge for making and receiving calls while outside of your coverage area? Are voice mail, caller ID and other services available while roaming?
- Long-distance: Are long distance calls are included in the service plan or will you will be billed an extra per-minute charge?
- Toll-free numbers: Will you be billed airtime for toll-free calls?
- Unanswered Calls: Will you be charged for unanswered calls?
- Additional fees: How much can you expect to pay per month in taxes and regulatory cost recovery fees?
- Test your phone during the trial: Take advantage of the trial periods that most carriers offer to test all the features of the phone as well as your coverage area. Use your phone at home, your office, frequently driven roads, and during the time of day that you generally expect to use your service. During the trial period, typically 14-30 days, consumers can cancel service without incurring the early termination fee.