Avoiding cell phone bill sticker shock

HOUSTON We have seen several cases of parents getting cell phone bills that were the size of a small novel and amounted to thousands of dollars because a family member, usually a teenager, went way over the available minutes. Now the government is considering a rule that would give people a heads up before they go over their plan.

It's not hard to find a teenager with a cell phone and it's not hard to find one who at some point used more minutes than their parents had planned. Ashlyn Sterling sent thousands of texts beyond what her parents wanted.

She said, "My mom still gets mad if I have over 4,000 texts."

Keeping tabs on a family plan is not easy as Troy and Rosalie Myers found out when their manageable $100 family cell phone bill went way up due to overage charges.

"I broke out in sweats," Troy Myers recalled. "It was supposed to be $109 and it was $609."

Currently, keeping track of your minutes requires most cell users to call their carriers. Most cell companies have made it simple by including short cuts to your account on your cell phone, but in the future it may get even easier.

The Federal Communications Commission is considering a plan that would require cell carriers to send you a text message when you are about to go over your minutes.

Rosalie Myers said, "All the phone companies say it is $60 for unlimited talk and text. When you go check your bill it's like $300. I have kids and my daughter has a cell phone."

The FCC says it has gotten hundreds of complaints about unexpectedly large cell phone bills. The association that represents the wireless industry says carriers do provide information to a person's account upon request and the number of complaints to the FCC represents a fraction of all cell users. Some of those cell phone customers say the current options are good enough.

Customer Pamela Kunkle said, "I think that people should have their own personal responsibility to monitor the minutes on their phone. I don't think the government should be involved."

Right now the FCC is taking your comments on the proposed plan. We have a link to the FCC website for you to send in your thoughts. We also have links to the cell carriers short cuts for finding out your account balances.

In Europe, the companies send a text message when you are close to going over your cell phone plan minutes. Also, if you have a prepaid cell phone, you probably get text messages from your carrier right now telling you to buy more minutes, so it's happening here, too, with some companies.

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