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Free Cell Phone Long Distance - A Caution

Most cell phone plans now include free long distance from the home calling area to the rest of the United States. As a result, more people than ever are exclusively using their cell phones to make long distance calls.

What if doing that was actually wasting money?

Okay, now you probably think we're crazy: How can free long distance be more expensive than paying for long distance? Believe it or not, this can occur in two scenarios:

Scenario 1:

Your long distance calls cause you to exceed your plan minutes, resulting in overage charges.

Let's say you have a $39.99 plan with 500 anytime minutes and a $0.40 charge for additional minutes. Let's say you talk 560 minutes, of which 100 are for long distance calls that you would have made from your home phone except for the fact that they are 'free' with your cell service:

  Cell Phone
Only
Cell Phone +
Home LD
Cell Calling Plan $39.99 $39.99
Overage @ $0.40 $24.00 ----
Home LD ---- $2.75
Total $63.75 $42.74

Your free long distance cost you $21.24, 49.7% more than you needed to spend!

Can I Benefit?
Check your cell phone bill. If you don't exceed your plan minutes, you are okay (although check Scenario 2). If you are paying for extra minutes, compare the number of extra minutes with the total minutes you used for long distance calls that you could have made from your home phone. If the long distance minutes are higher than the extra minutes, you are probably wasting money.

Scenario 2:

You don't exceed your plan minutes, but your long distance calling causes you to buy a more expensive rate plan than you really need.

Let's say you have a $59.99 plan with 800 anytime minutes, and you use 775 minutes, of which 500 are for long distance calls that you would have made from your home phone except for the fact that they are 'free' with your cell service. Let's assume that there is a $39.99 plan with 400 minutes:

  Cell Phone
Only
Cell Phone +
Home LD
Cell Calling Plan $59.99 $39.99
Overage @ $0.40 ---- ----
Home LD ---- $13.75
Total $59.99 $53.74

Your free long distance cost you $6.25, 11.6% more than you needed to spend!

Can I Benefit?
This situation is less likely to occur than Scenario 1, and usually won't be as big of a cost even where it does. It is also kind of hard to calculate. Look at your cell phone bill. If you exceed your plan minutes, check Scenario 1. If you don't, check how many minutes you used for long distance calls that you could have made from your home phone. If you take that number and subtract it from the total anytime minutes you actually used, and the result is less than the minutes available in a lower-priced rate plan, you might be wasting money.

Note: In evaluating your own situation, ignore long distance calling that is done with free night & weekend minutes. The scenarios assume that alternate cell plans only differ in the monthly cost and the anytime minutes. If they are not (e.g., the lower priced plan doesn't have free nights & weekends), then your benefit may be significantly less. Long distance is calculated at 2.75¢ per minute using ECG long distance, which MyRatePlan recommends as an excellent no-fee alternative to higher priced services.