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How to get cheaper rates on your phone, cable and internet service

Updated on August 21, 2012

Sometimes older models are cheaper than newer ones

How to get cheaper rates on technology services

When I was searching for cell phone service for my mom I couldn't believe how expensive it was and how tricky the wording for the service was put together.

One company offered a great deal, but if you read the fine print, the great deal ended after three months at which time the cost for the basic phone, with limited minutes shot up by 60% and you had to sign a three year contract or be penalized if you tried to swap phones, services or cell companies.

I ended up getting her a basic plan for emergency use for 19.99 a month, but tack on fees and services and roaming minutes and it was not uncommon for the bill to be twice that or more.

So, when it came time to choose a home internet service I really did my homework. I started looking into dial up service, but it was so slow and limited that I knew this was not for me.

Since I did not have cable, I was limited in what services I could use and when AT&T offered a 12 month 14.95 fast access internet connection with no added fees and taxes, I jumped at the deal, thinking I was clever.

The problems started right away. My first phone bill with internet combined was almost $200!!!

This was a far cry from the $35 plus tax and fees that I was expecting to raise my bill to about $45. I had even asked specifically what my first bill would be and if I would have to pay any unexpected fees and was told that I would not.

It turns out that the 14.95 fee would not actually go into effect until after the first 3 months of service and the free DSL Router/Modem, which never seemed to be able to find a signal without being repositioned ten to twenty times a day, was charged to my bill at over $100, even though I could buy one on eBay for about $20.

When I called to complain, I was told this was standard business practice and I would be reimbursed in four months for the charges!

After multiple phone calls where I was told no one could help me, that was just the way it was, I contacted the Better Business Bureau and reported AT&T for false advertising and giving false information to lure in new customers.

Three weeks later AT&T refunded the money due to me and corrected the bill discrepancy.

In the mean time, my mother's cell phone, not with AT&T also had issues with overage charges when she had not even used the phone and a charge of nearly $10 a minute for a three minute long distance phone call to a city less than 300 miles away.

When you can drive 300 miles to talk to a friend for an hour for cheaper than you can make a phone call to them, you know something is not right.

While it pays to shop around for a good deal, you have to vigilant when you sign up for a company and read the small print.

With cell and smart phones, the safest plans allow you to prepay for services, allow unlimited text and minutes with specifically outlined long distance fees, as these companies do not send you warnings when your minutes are up and also are not required to send you a notice when their rates are going up (if you read the fine print it will say something to the effect of... prices may increase without notice).

You will inevitably have to be persistent and patient when trying to correct billing errors and overcharges for which you were not aware.

If you pay your bill on time each month, it will help your cause, then you can start with, "I am a loyal customer and I always pay my bill on time..."

This same tactic works well if you are ever one day late on a charge card payment or utilities payment and they charge you $35 or more. I have never had to pay a late fee, though, I did have to make three calls to three different people before having one of them removed.

If you call and they will not take the charge off your bill, do not take no for an answer. Ask to speak with a manager or call back a few hours later. You will rarely get the same person and if you get a local person (someone actually in the US and not in India) your chances of getting your bill reduced are 100% greater. Foreign service representatives follow a script, but local service representatives tend to be more lenient and willing to work with you.

If you stay calm on the phone and do not curse at the service representative, have back up information like who you talked to, what you were promised, what you expect the company to do for you, etc. you can get results.

If you lose your temper and yell, are known to pay your bills late or consistently abuse the plan and push the limits, you probably won't get much sympathy.

If you see the conversation is turning bad, ask for the service representative's name and ask to speak with a manager. Let them know that you have contacted another company (it helps to have actually done this and gotten a rate you can quote - this tactic also works when shopping for technological items in stores) and they can give you a better rate, but you prefer to remain loyal to this company and hope they are willing to work with you since you send all your friends to them telling them how wonderful they are and how great their prices and plans are.

If you are a woman, it never hurts to cry or at least get a shaky voice and give them a sob story about how you can't afford to buy your kids diapers because of the unexpected increase in your bill for which you were not warned was coming.

AT&T will tell you that you have the lowest service plan and that they cannot offer you anything better, but they often have bundle plans that offer you more than what you wanted at a cheaper rate than what you had- just be careful about those added taxes and fees which are often attached to individual services, not the plan as a whole.

If you have bad service, like a phone that is so crackly that you cannot hear the person on the other side, or internet service that goes out on a daily basis, keep calling and demanding to speak with a representative who will agree to reimburse you for the lost time.

It can be a real pain to stay on the phone and you may be tempted to go on-line instead, but you have an increased chance of getting your problems solved by talking to a live person in the United States.

If there is an extremely long wait time to even get connected to a live person, try calling some alternate numbers. For instance if you want to speak to someone in billing and the wait is 15 minutes, try calling new customer service or new plans and they will usually transfer you with no wait, though this is not always the case.

Before you sign on for a new plan or purchase a new phone, do the homework. That free phone may come at a cost if you are required to keep it for three years and will be charged if you change services or update the phone to something better and while that extended warranty may cover electronic parts, it will not cover dropping the phone in the toilet or forgetting you set it on top of the car.

While getting the newest model phone to impress your friends may seem enticing, you may get a better deal by going with an older model and upgrading later. Phone companies are more willing to give you an older model for free verses paying $300 for the newest and best.

Check out websites like http://www.cnet.com/ and http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/index.htm
to compare companies and products and read professional recommendations on which are best, and if you do get a lemon, don't feel like you have to be stuck with it. If you are persistent, patient, polite and present factual information while hinting that the best way for the company to protect its best interest is to protect your best interest, you may be surprised at how much better service you will receive.

Never take no, or "sorry, we can't help you" for an answer!

Your most often used words when trying to get better service should be, "is that the best you can do?" The answer is usually that they do have something better, but unless you ask for it, they will not willingly volunteer that information!


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