Many of the major extras are beyond your control, at least as a subscriber. The biggest bite is from state and local sales taxes. Your telecom bills are typically taxed by those jurisdictions at the same rate as other goods and services, and those rates, to say the least, show no signs of going down. (There used to be a 3-percent federal excise tax—in place since 1898 to pay for the Spanish-American war—but it was repealed in 2005.) There's also a state fee for e-911, the location-based technology that helps emergency responders find you when you dial 911 from your cell phone; you may also have to pay a separate 911 fee to your municipality for having access to those emergency responders.
Carriers also tack an assortment of administrative and regulatory surcharges onto bills to defray the costs they incur when they interface with other networks in the course of providing service, as well as other incidentals. One such fee that's attracted attention lately is one, amounting to a dollar or two a month, that reflects the carriers passing along to consumers their contributions to what's known as the Universal Service Fund, which subsidizes phone carriers operating in remote or sparsely populated areas. With more than $7 billion now in the Fund, the Federal Communications Commission has just capped a portion of it. (If you have Adobe Acrobat Reader software installed, you can see the FCC's press release on the cap on Universal Service here.) But the cap's impact on consumer fees is unclear, since the Fund still requires replenishment to remain at its current level.
But some extras that are swelling your bills are well within your control. Here's a rundown of some, and how to quell them:
A la carte text messaging. Each text message you send or receive without a plan typically costs 10 to 20 cents. The fees can be even higher if photos are attached to them. If you're paying more than $5 a month for sending and receiving a handful of text messages, signing up for plan (starting at $3 per month) can whittle costs down to as little a penny per message.
Going over your allotted minutes. If you exceed your allotted minutes of your voice plan, you may be paying as much as 45 cents for each additional minute—or up to four times or more the rate with your plan. Consider upgrading your plan to knock those charges down. Conversely, if you're routinely going under your allotment by much, consider downgrading your plan.
Using 411. Carriers may charge $1.50 or more for directory assistance. But you can get the same help for free by dialing goog-411 (1-800-466-4411) from your cell phone.
You can find more cell-phone saving tips on Consumer Reports online. Such as:
- Avoid these 20 cell-phone bill rip-offs and gotchas
- 5 ways to cut your cell phone bill (available to ConsumerReports.org subscribers.)