BBB Advises Consumers To Use Data Limit Features To Avoid Cell Phone Bill Surprises

June 26, 2012

Popular games, music downloads and online surfing can run up cell phone bills in a hurry. Consumers can avoid big bills by learning to set limits on data usage for themselves and any teens or children who have access to the phones.

Cell phones have become indispensable for many of us, but monthly bills can get out of hand if we don’t pay attention.  Learning to use the controls available from your cell phone company can help you avoid nasty surprises when the bills come due.

The BBB surveyed major cell phone carriers about the controls they provide to customers. The data plans and packages provided by some carriers are listed below:

AT&T: Customers can use “Smart Limits of Wireless” to set a dollar limit on usage or to control downloads. The program sends a notice when the customer is nearing the limit, then stops the service until the next billing cycle.

Sprint: Sprint Mobile Controls allow customers to monitor usage, with options to lock a phone at certain times of the day or on demand. Parents can use the plan to control how much children talk, text or use data.

Verizon: Customers can use “My Verizon” usage controls to limit usage for each line in a family plan, including limits on voice minutes, messaging, data and content purchases such as ringtones, games and downloads. The controls send a text message alert when the user is approaching limits. Once the allowance is used, the plan has an option to restrict usage.

U.S. Cellular: Customers can use “My Account” tools to oversee usage. Parents can receive text message alerts when a child’s data usage is close to the limit, or they can block data use on a specific line or handset.

T-Mobile did not respond to the BBB’s request for information, but the company’s website has information about Family Allowances, a plan that allows parents to set up-front limits on family plan minutes, messages, and downloads.

The BBB recommends that customers contact their carriers directly to find out what usage control tools may be available to them. Cell phone plans vary widely, and some tools may not be available with all plans.