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The Bottom Line

Buy a plan with slightly more minutes than you think you will need; this will minimize the need to use additional minutes — which are often very expensive.

Most rate plans include a certain number of anytime minutes plus what we call “plan benefits” (e.g., free night and weekend or free mobile-to-mobile), in exchange for a monthly fee. Overage and optional features, along with fees and taxes can significantly increase your bill.

The key to choosing the right rate plan is to figure out how many anytime minutes you'll need, add a small buffer to that, and then find the least expensive plan with that many minutes in it. However, the number of anytime minutes needed will vary by plan, depending on the plan benefits — and to what extent you can take advantage of this free airtime. The TruBillTM calculator in MyRatePlan's rate plan finder will make these calculations for you, saving you both time and money.

Overage

Overage charges, usually 35 to 45 cents a minute, can add up fast. Let's say your rate plan gives you 500 minutes for $39.99, with each additional minute costing 40 cents. If you end up talking for 560 minutes (one extra hour) your bill will be $63.99, an increase of 60%. Talk 100 extra minutes, and your bill is doubled.

Adjustable Minute Plans

One way to lessen the risk associated with overage is to consider an adjustable minute plan. These plans, including AT&T Rollover and Sprint Nextel Fair & Flexible, are particularly helpful if your airtime needs vary significantly from month to month.

Unlike most plans, AT&T's Rollover lets you keep unused airtime for use in a subsequent month. However, you lose those banked minutes after a certain time period or if you make certain rate plan changes. With Fair & Flexible, a block of minutes is added (e.g., 30 minutes for $5) if you exceed your allowance of anytime minutes. The catch here is that Sprint doesn't add exactly the number of minutes you need, so in certain cases — particularly if you just barely exceed your package allowance — this doesn't turn out to be such a great deal.