What smartphone plan is right for your family?

December 3, 2013 5:12:19 PM PST
When it comes to figuring out the right smartphone plan, do you suffer from cell phone confusion? It could end up costing you hundreds of dollars. But there are ways to cut your costs and data usage.

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...

"A puzzle within a puzzle within a puzzle," said Amy Boone.

It's a pricing puzzle because as our exclusive analysis reveals, the four major U.S. cellular carriers combined offer about 200 different plans.

We worked with Validas, a mobile analytics firm, that crunched the numbers for us 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 choices for consumers, but then that choice creates confusion because when people want to buy they want things simple," said Todd Dunphy with Validas.

Dunphy, the president of Validas, says 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 gonna go over, but in fact what they keep doing is never using that, those gigabytes they're buying," said Dunphy.

Thanks to the FCC 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 bill shock.

Dunphy says some mobile providers are responding to customer calls for simplicity. There are now twenty 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," said Dunphy. "And you know, the one-size-fits-all is not going to work."

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.

The National Consumers League recommends reviewing three months worth of bills.

"Are you using less voice than you thought you were going to? Are you using more texts that you thought you would?" said John Breyault with the National Consumer League. "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 Boones' bill and found they don't need unlimited data. And simply changing to a shared data plan should save them $400 a year.

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

"A huge headache to try to figure this stuff out," she said. "I think a lot of people just let it go."

Some other ways to save -- use Wi-Fi when you can to surf the web from your phone. That saves on your data charges. If you have cellphone insurance, look closely at how much you're really paying over the life of your contract and the deductible. And remember, any fee is negotiable if you're a longtime customer. So make sure you point that out to the sales person.

Find Patricia on Facebook at ABC13PatriciaLopez or on Twitter at @patricialopez13

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