If you’re like most people, you have plenty of recurring monthly expenses – and it can be downright depressing to add them up. While some bills aren’t easy to change – your mortgage, for example – you might be able to lower others with a little research and shopping around. One good place to look is whether you've found the cheapest source of telephone service.
Landlines and Bundles
Even if you have a cell phone plan, there are reasons you might want to hang on to your landline: if your cell signal is spotty at home, to be able to make calls when the power and/or Internet are out, or to be sure 911 emergency responders can find you. Plus, keeping your landline might not add that much to your monthly bills: If you have a “bundle” of services, such as a phone/Internet/cable bundle, you might save as little as $5 a month by dropping the phone line, according to Consumer Reports.
Your options for home telephone service and bundles will vary depending on which carriers offer service in your area. It’s common to get a great rate for the first year, with price increases going into effect after the introductory period (when your rate goes up, it’s worth calling to ask if the company will extend the introductory rate or to find out if there’s a better rate now). Here are a few promos currently offered by some of the larger providers:
• AT&T, Inc. – offers single and bundled services. Home phone plans start at $25 a month for unlimited calls in your local calling area. Bundles start at $54.99 a month (for the first 12 months with a two-year agreement) for more than 145 channels, unlimited calling and Internet speeds up to 3 Mbps (megabits per second).
• Frontier Communications – mainly serves rural areas and smaller communities, and offers single and bundled services. Home phone plans start at $27.99 a month for unlimited nationwide long distance calling. Triple bundles start at $112.97 a month (for the first six months) for more than 190 channels (including one year of Netflix), unlimited calling (this promo includes a digital phone service) and Internet speeds up to 6 Mbps (or 12 Mbps for $10 more each month).
• Verizon Communications – offers single and bundled services. Home phone plans start at $63.99 a month (more expensive than other options) for unlimited local, regional and nationwide long distance calling and advanced calling features. Bundles start at $69.99 month (for the first two years) – not much more than the phone-only plan – for a custom TV package, unlimited calling to the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada, and Fios Internet speeds up to 100 Mbps.
Some companies offer bundles, but the phone service is not truly a landline (it uses the Internet). Two such companies are:
• Time Warner Cable – offers single and bundled service in 29 states. Phone plans start at $10 a month (for the first 12 months) for unlimited calling to the U.S. and its territories, Canada, Mexico, China, Hong Kong, India, the EU and Norway – plus more than 12 advanced calling features. Service bundles start at $89.99 (for the first 12 months) for more than 70 channels, unlimited calling (to the countries listed above) and Internet speeds up to 30 Mbps.
• Xfinity by Comcast – offers single and bundled service in 40 states and the District of Columbia. Phone plans start at $29.99 per month (for the first year) for unlimited nationwide calling and advanced call features. Its “Triple Play” bundle offers more than 140 channels, unlimited nationwide calling and Internet speeds up to 75 Mbps for $89.99 a month for the first year, with a two-year agreement.
In basic terms, VoIP – or Voice-over-Internet-Protocol – is a telephone connection that uses the Internet instead of traditional telephone lines. In general, VoIP is very easy to set up: Your VoIP service provider sends you a VoIP box (a device that converts your regular phone signal into a digital signal), and you plug it into your router and then into your phone. VoIP service usually comes with advanced calling features such as voicemail, caller ID and call waiting, and, in many cases, you can keep your current phone number. (For more on the topic, see Will VoIP Kill Traditional Telephony?) There are many VoIP service providers on the market today. These options ranked well in PC Magazine’s Best VoIP Services for 2016:
• Ooma Telo – involves buying an Ooma Telo device (about $120) to connect your standard landline phone to your Internet connection. Then you can make calls with no monthly fee (calls are “free” but you are still responsible for taxes and fees, which may run as little as a couple of dollars a month). Pick a new number, or keep your old phone number when you buy an annual subscription to Ooma Premier ($9.99 a month) or pay a one-time fee of $39.99. International calls start at 1.4 cents per minute or $17.99 a month to call more than 60 countries.
• Skype – has long been popular for video calling, but you can also use it as a VoIP service to make and receive calls, send text messages, get Wi-Fi hotspot access, leave voice and video messages and share your screen – plus you can make Skype-to-Skype group video or voice calls. Many services are free, and there are also fee-based options, such as calling mobile and landlines overseas. For fee-based options, you can buy Skype Credit and pay-as-you-go, or you can opt for a monthly subscription. “Unlimited World” calling plans are $13.99 a month.
• Vonage – is one of the best known VoIP providers. Unlimited plans to the U.S. (including Puerto Rico), Canada and Mexico start at $9.99 a month for the first year with a one-year contract, or $24.99 a month with no annual contract. Or pay $12.99 a month for 400 minutes in the U.S. and to Canada and Puerto Rico. There is no charge for incoming calls, outbound toll-free calls or calls to other Vonage customers. Pick a new number, or keep your current phone number (most, but not all, customers can transfer their numbers). Download the Vonage Extensions app to make and receive home phone calls on up to two smartphones.
Mobile Virtual Network Operators
Mobile virtual network operators (or MVNOs) lease network capacity at wholesale prices from the Big Four U.S. Carriers – AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile – and sell it under their own brands, saving most customers at least $20 a month over any of the Big Four plans. About one in 10 U.S. wireless subscriptions are now MVNO accounts, which often target niche audiences such as kids, seniors or immigrants. Here are a few options that did well in PC Magazine’s recent story on The Best Cheap Cell Phone Plans You’ve Never Heard Of:
• Consumer Cellular – focused primarily on the senior market, with plans starting at $15 per month for 250 minutes of calling time. Add 300 texts and 30 MB web data for $2.50 a month. AARP members are eligible for a 5% discount off monthly fees and usage charges, plus a 30% discount on certain accessories.
• Red Pocket Mobile – works on all the top networks in the U.S., and plans start at $29.99 a month for unlimited talk and text with 500 MB high-speed data. If you don’t call or text often, you can save more with a one-year pay-as-you-go talk card: $100 gets you a 1,000-minute card that’s good for a full year; text messaging “costs” one minute per text.
• US Mobile – focuses on customers with low usage habits, such as seniors. US Mobile uses T-Mobile’s LTE network, and plans start at $9 a month for 100 minutes of calling, 100 texts and 100 MB of data. You can customize your plan to get the right amount of talk, text and data for your needs.
The Bottom Line
Your options for phone service will depend on where you live and the exact type of service you want. Because phone service is, in general, a recurring expense – meaning you have to pay the bills every month – saving a little money each month can make a big difference by the end of the year. It pays to shop around to find out what’s available in your area, and to learn about options like Skype or one of the MVNOs that you may not have considered before.