Cell phone confusion could cost you

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - When it comes to figuring out the right smartphone plan, do you suffer from cell phone confusion?

41 Action News discovered there are thousands of combinations of options to choose from when you are selecting and customizing your plan.

You could also be paying too much each month out of fear you'll join the ranks of the 30 million Americans who have suffered from bill shock.

The high tech hustle and bustle of the Boone family costs about $240 a month.

They'd like to pay less, but when it comes to finding the best plan, Amy Boone describes it as, "a puzzle within a puzzle within a puzzle."

41 Action News found the four major U.S. cellular carriers combined offer about 200 different plans.

Mobile analytics firm Validas crunched the numbers for usage and found that within those plans, there are also thousands of combinations available for options like messaging, data services and device protection.

"You have to have choice for consumers, but then that choice creates confusion because when people want to buy they want things simple," Validas President Todd Dunphy said.

Dunphy added cell phone plan confusion often results in wireless waste. That's the difference between what you pay for your mobile plan and what you actually use.

Validas found last year, Americans overpaid more than $52 billion and 83 percent of users with high data plan limits didn't use all they paid for.

"People are over-buying in the fear that they're going to go over," Dunphy said, "but in fact what they keep doing is never using those gigabytes they're buying."

Thanks to the FCC's pressure on carriers, 97 percent of wireless customers now get alerts if they're about to exceed their plan limits, so there's no overage charge or bill shock.

Dunphy said some mobile providers are responding to customer calls for simplicity.

There are now 20 percent fewer plans than there were just two years ago but he says providers still need to give users choices.

"They have different sets of users and people that need all kinds of different things. And, you know, the one-size-fits-all is not going to work," Dunphy said.

So how do you know if you're on the right plan? Most major cellular providers' websites offer plan calculators.

You can also call your carrier for an analysis. John Breyault with the National Consumers League recommends reviewing three months' worth of bills.

Breyault said good questions to ask include, "Are you using less voice than you thought you were going to? Are you using more texts that you thought you would? See if there's a way that you can adjust your cell phone plan or maybe switch carriers to find one that better meets your needs for a cheaper cost."

Validas did an analysis of the Boone family's bill and found they don't need unlimited data.

And simply changing to a shared data plan should save them four hundred dollars a year.

Amy Boone is happy about the extra money she'll now get to keep in her pocket and is thankful for the help.

"It's a huge headache to try to figure this stuff out," Boone said.

Experts tell 41 Action News many carriers recently updated their plans so now is a perfect time to check and see if there's a better one for you. 

Some other ways to save: Use Wi-Fi when you can to surf the web from your phone. That saves on data.

If you have cell phone insurance look closely how much you're really paying over the life of your contract, and also at the deductible, and make sure it's worth it.

And remember, any fee is negotiable! If you are a longtime customer, point that out to the sales person.

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