Your bill: part 2
Charges for text and multimedia messaging and data services can add up just as quickly as fees for making calls. And just like in life, there's no getting around taxes when it comes to your cell phone bill. Federal, state, and local taxes, as well as fees and surcharges, can add up to $10 or more on a monthly bill, and there's not much you can do to avoid it.
Messaging/data charges 1. Text-messaging plan
Like John, did you get a monthly bucket of SMS messages to go with your monthly rate plan? If so, it's a good idea. For as little as $4 a month, you can buy a pack of 400 text messages, while most carriers charge about $15 a month for unlimited messaging. Did you go over your monthly allotment of text messages? Or worse yet, were you texting without a text-messaging plan? While sending and receiving a text message is a relatively cheap proposition--up to 10 cents each to send and receive--all those text messages can add up. 2. Text-messaging surcharges
Messages sent to your friends abroad won't be included in your monthly allotment. They'll cost more too, usually around 15 cents per sent message. 3. Data plan
Your friends at your favorite carrier rub their hands together when it comes to this line item. Did you send lots of multimedia messages without a monthly plan? They can add up quickly, costing around 25 cents per message. Did you download any ring tones, wallpaper, games, or applications last month? Cha-ching. Surf the Web without a data plan? Look for itemized charges, computed by the megabyte. Alternatively, if you signed up for a data plan that lets you surf the Web or check e-mail on your handset, you'll find the monthly charge right here.
Taxes, fees, and surcharges 4. Federal tax
Up until the summer of 2006, a particularly galling charge on our monthly cell phone bills was the Federal Excise Tax. Dating back to the late 1800s, this 3 percent tax was intended originally to help fund the Spanish-American War. Extended in 1965 to help subsidize long-distance calls (back when Ma Bell was the only game in town), this archaic tax raised the ire of consumer groups, lawmakers, and even cellular carriers themselves, for years. But in August 2006, the federal government said it would no longer collect the tax. The tax will continue to apply to local landline phone service, however. 5. FCC universal service charge
Cell carriers are required by the FCC to help fund telecommunications infrastructure for low-income and rural residents, schools, libraries, and outlying health-care services, and these costs are passed along to subscribers. 6. State and local charges
Depending on your locality, your state or local government might impose a sales tax or surcharges for wireless infrastructure, E911 service, or discounted lifeline service for low-income subscribers. 7. Regulatory fees
Here, you'll find costs of federally mandated programs such as wireless-number portability, services for hearing- and speech-impaired subscribers, and technology for enhanced 911 services, which track your location in case of an emergency. 8. Administrative charges
Handling all these regulations and mandates takes paperwork, and your carrier might pass along the cost right here. Also, if you just signed with a new carrier and your first bill packs a bit more punch than you expected, this section is the likely culprit. Carriers typically charge a one-time activation fee of $35 to $50 for new customers. Are you irked by the idea of paying an activation fee? Carriers sometimes waive them if you're signing up for a two-year contract. Or you can just call and ask for a break--you might get lucky.
Insurance 9. Handset insurance
This portion of your bill includes such charges as equipment-protection (essentially insurance for your phone in case of loss or theft; $4 to $8 a month, plus a deposit of about $50) and roadside-assistance plans, which provide AAA-type services such as fixing flat tires, towing, and locksmiths, again for about $4 to $8 a month. Both are worthwhile investments, considering the price.