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How to Reduce Cell Phone Data Charges

All the major cell phone carriers require data plans for smartphones purchased from them. Until recently, it was one-size-fits-all, with each carrier offering an unlimited or nearly unlimited data plan for $30 a month. AT&T,  T-Mobile, and Verizon have now gone to tiered data pricing, with a lower-priced data plan offering.   T-Mobile and AT&T offer 200 MB for $10 and $15/month respectively.  Verizon offers 150 MB for $15.   Versus the prior $30/month data offerings, these new plans can save you $180-$240/year, if your data usage needs are light.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take too much to blow through 150 or 200 MB of data. One way to minimize data use, to stay under the allowance is to use WiFi (assuming your phone has WiFi) wherever possible. This is particularly important for data-intensive activities like streaming video or audio.

If you exceed your data allowance, the carrier will give you another block of data for an additional $10 or $15 to use until the billing cycle ends.  If you blow through this block, it will happen again.  Obviously, by this point you’ll be paying more than if you had gotten the carrier’s unlimited (or almost unlimited) data plan.  Therefore, if you do sign up for light usage data, keep track (you can usually do it on the phone or at carrier website, or your carrier may push you text alerts) of how much data you are using.  Of course, for cost certainty, you can opt for the unlimited (or near unlimited) data plan.

Sprint continues to bundle data into its rate plans, limiting their subscribers’ flexibility to reduce those charges.  It is worth noting that they require an additional $10 data feature for their new 4G phones, such as the Evo and Epic.   There aren’t many 4G options on other networks (a few are starting to pop up on T-Mobile).  If Sprint persists in this add-on, and other carriers don’t require it when they launch 4G (T-Mobile is not requiring this), you may be able to save money by going with a different carrier.

One final tip: Turn off Data Roaming on your cell phone when traveling outside the U.S.  Accessing data internationally can run up huge bills; this will help you avoid that situation.  Use WiFi when traveling internationally.