Moms

The Savvy Consumer: Match your cellphone plan to your use to save money

Turns out that throttling -- the practice by three of the big four wireless phone companies that slows down data speeds for those who use a lot -- is not a problem for most cellphone owners.

In fact, the bigger problem is that most people don't use nearly as much as they're paying for.

Consumer Reports this week announced a study of AT&T subscribers of unlimited data plans showing that almost half don't use enough data to warrant the big plan. If they switched to a 300 megabyte data plan, they could save $10 a month.

The usage data came from Validas, a company that uses analytics to match wireless phone users to the right plan.

BillShrink.com, a Web-based service that helps consumers analyze their bills to find savings or cheaper alternatives, says that 8 out of 10 of its customers are overpaying for the wrong usage plan.

"Most phone users don't 'right-size' their plan. Many have way more data than they actually need," said Schwark Satyavolu, co-founder and CEO of Truaxis, owner of BillShrink.com. "It's helpful for users to go over with a fine-tooth comb how much data and minutes they actually use so they can make sure they have the best fit for the amount of minutes and data they sign up for."

A survey of more than 250,000 wireless users last year from BillShrink.com shows that, on average, people waste $336 a year by miscalculating their use of voice minutes, texts and data. That gives an estimated $79 million extra to wireless companies each year.

"Most people have no idea how much data or how many minutes they actually use," Satyavolu said. "Because of that, many opt for a bigger plan than they need because of their fear of going over."

Among BillShrink.com's findings:

Customers estimate they need 711 wireless anytime minutes per month, but the average person used 651.

Customers estimate they use an average of 2,566 text messages a month, but the average person used 1,555.

Customers estimate they need 54 megabytes of data per month, but they average 81 megabytes. Still, this is considerably less than current tiered data options, which start at 150 megabytes.

"Despite the best efforts from the FCC and the carriers to create transparency in wireless fees, we've found that people are becoming even more confused about how to right-size their cellphone plans," Satyavolu said. "While tiered pricing creates more choice, it makes it paramount for people to accurately assess their phone usage. Even though data usage is surging, the majority of wireless customers are still throwing away money by getting plans with too much data capacity."

One way to correct this mismatch of plans is to use online tools that will analyze your bill and compare your carrier's current plans with the plans of competitors.

Validas, BillShrink.com and LowerMyBills.com allow customers to download their recent cellphone bill for a computer analysis to determine any mistakes or savings. BillShrink.com and LowerMyBills.com don't charge for the service.

Validas offers a free view of some of your cellphone report, including how much you could save, then charges $4.99 for the full report, which includes details in savings, usage and recommendations. The company offers to e-mail your phone carrier on your behalf.

Satyavolu recommends family plans for anyone who can use them.

With the average cellphone costing $148 a month, or $1,776 a year, now may be the time to see if you are in the right plan.

Teresa McUsic's column appears Saturdays. TMcUsic@SavvyConsumer.net

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