Looked at your phone bill recently?
If you're like me, you'll need to shut off the TV, grab a cup of coffee and a calculator, lock yourself into you room and find a comfortable spot where you will spend the next several hours deciphering the mumbo-jumbo that passes as your phone bill. Back in the "old days" before deregulation, you received your bill broken down into local service, long distance, telephone "lease" fee and taxes. One page. Now? Billing page, tax code/rate code, service provider, monthly local service, other charges, itemized calls, taxes (Federal, Florida Gross Receipts Surcharge, County), messages (4 pages), Long Distance Company Calling Plan Fee, taxes (3 categories), LD calls, calling card calls, Universal Service Fee. Sixteen pages! Add to that some additional pages for any of you who use the "1010---" calling services and you can see why people these days want to pull their hair out over the phone bill.
There's not much you or I can do to change taxes, but here are some useful tips to work with when reviewing your bill:
- What are you really being charged per minute for long distance calls? I took a look at my bill one day and even though the rep I had spoken to at the major long distance carrier promoted the "five-cents-a-minute plan," between the five-cent calls, regular calls and monthly service fee, I was paying an average of 8.9 cents per minute.
- Don't get slammed! "Slamming" refers to the illegal practice some carriers use to switch your long distance service from your chosen company to theirs without your permission. You can avoid this by calling your local phone company and having a "pic freeze" placed on your line so your local toll and long distance company can't be switched without your verbal or written authorization.
- Beware of "rounding." My phone charges were in "round" numbers like 3 minutes, 5 minutes, etc. Use a company that breaks down your bill into 6-second increments. For example, if your call is 2 minutes and 5 seconds, you should not be billed for 3 minutes rounded but for 2 minutes, 6 seconds.
- Discounted Bundled Services are a relatively new way of keeping your phone charges down. Find out if your carrier offers discounts for "bundled" local, long distance and Internet services. Also, if you're being charged some kind of monthly "service" or "connection" fee, find out if it can be waived with email billing. The "future" is at hand now so perhaps this is the time to get with it, conserve paper and save some money in the long run.
- Watch out for long-term contracts. If you have one, two, even up to 10 lines, there's no reason you need to sign a contract. You should be able to get a month-to-month agreement and not be locked into a company for an extended period.
- Negotiate! When I recently switched carriers, I got a call from my former company offering a better deal if I switched back to them. What? I wasn't getting a good deal for the past three years that I had used them? Also, if you have a small or medium-sized business, see if the carrier offers a free audit of your phone bill -- it's worth a shot. Find out what their best deal is. Finally!
- Do your homework! No one can do this but you. A small amount of your time now can save quite a bit in the long run, and that's the bottom line!
Celeste Peterson is a Communications Consultant at Norcom, Inc., Boca Raton, Florida, providing complimentary phone bill analysis for small to medium-sized businesses. She can be reached at her Fastrack number (800)842-0467 or email firstname.lastname@example.org