CHAMPAIGN – Nearly three out of four Illinois residents pay more than they should for cell phone service, according to a report from the Citizens Utility Board.
The consumer advocacy group said it appears cell phone subscribers, on average, pay about $27.61 a month more than they need to, and fail to use 7 hours and 19 minutes of the time they pay for each month.
Those results are based on 6,985 people whose cell phone bills were analyzed by CUB's online tool, CUB CellphoneSaver.
The tool – which consumers can use to see whether they're getting the best buy on cell phone service – can be accessed at www.CUBCellphoneSaver.com.
Appearing at the Champaign Public Library on Monday morning, Bryan McDaniel, senior policy analyst for CUB, offered several tips for cutting cell phone bills. Among them:
– Don't pay for minutes you don't use. Get a plan with minutes that approximate your actual usage. If your cell phone company doesn't have a plan that matches your usage level, CUB suggests you consider prepaid options like Cricket, Boost or Virgin Mobile.
– Don't pay for text messages you don't send. Unless you send an extremely high number of messages, you may be better off paying for each text message separately than getting a plan that covers lots of messages.
– Don't buy handset insurance. It's often so limited that it's useless.
– Don't buy roadside assistance features, especially if you're already covered by AAA.
– Don't dial 411 on a cell phone. Instead, get directory assistance by calling toll-free numbers, such as 1-800-FREE-411 or 1-800-INFO FAST.
About 9.3 percent of the cell phone bills analyzed had penalties for going over the plan's allotted minutes, and those penalties averaged $40 per bill, the group said.
The average bill examined by CUB CellphoneSaver was $130 a month. The average customer paid for 956 minutes a month, but never used 439, or 46 percent, of those minutes.
The average customer also paid for 598 text messages a month, but didn't use 386, or 65 percent, of that total.
CUB CellphoneSaver compares a consumer's bill to dozens of plans available from their company and other companies, and provides details on how the bill can be trimmed.
The online tool was adapted from software developed by Validas, a company based in Texas. The tool can analyze bills from the nation's top five carriers: AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, U.S. Cellular and T-Mobile.
It doesn't analyze prepaid and business cellular plans, and it doesn't work with AT&T bills that combine landline and wireless service. You must have online billing to take advantage of CUB CellphoneSaver.
CUB recommends running two or three different bills through the online tool to make sure you're capturing typical monthly usage. The group points out that if you decide to adopt another company's plan, you'll likely have to pay an exit fee of up to $250, and probably will have to buy a new phone.