How to Avoid Paying Cell Phone Overage Charges

by Kevin on January 10, 2011

We moved recently and I’ve spent a lot of time on the phone. Scheduling a rental truck, having friends and co-workers help us pack and unpack, giving updates to family, and spending an insane amount of time on hold with various utility companies took quite the toll on our monthly minute allotment with Verizon Wireless.

We’re on a family share plan with three total lines (my phone, my wife’s phone, and my Mom’s rarely used phone) and we share 700 minutes. I checked our minutes yesterday and we were at 607 and 12 days left in the month. (I told you we spent a lot of time on hold!)

Not good.

Wireless overage charges on a per minute basis with Verizon are a whopping 45 cents per minute. Compare this to our 700 minutes at $70 per month (before a corporate discount). Our plan is 10 cents per minute. The overage charges are 450% more!

Not only were we in the midst of a move, but my Dad has been doing some traveling and his phone is with AT&T. So every call between my parents costs both of them, and thus our family share plan, minutes.

It’s the perfect storm that without any action on my part was going to result in a much larger cell phone bill. As the writer of a personal finance blog you can imagine how I feel about that. πŸ™‚

Never Pay Wireless Minute Overages

There is no reason to pay extraordinary cell phone overage fees.

You have two options:

  • stop using your phone(s) until the next monthly billing cycle begins
  • acquire more minutes for your plan

Since I use my phone a lot for managing my freelancing and blogging work, not to mention the rest of my family makes calls on their phones, simply not using our phones was not an option.

But, it’s not possible to get additional minutes for your mobile phone plan unless you have a pay as you go plan, right?

Wrong.

Change Rate Plans with Major Carriers

You can change the number of minutes associated with your current cell phone plan without any changes to your contract length with at least three of the four major carriers. Verion, AT&T Mobility, and Sprint all allow you to bounce back and forth between rate plans (assuming you’re not adding or dropping lines) at will while on contract.

I couldn’t confirm whether or not T-Mobile allows you to change rate plans without a contract extension. Their website wasn’t clear and I tried Googling it for a while.

What this means for you: if you’re in a situation like me where you’re about to go over your maximum minutes and there are still a bunch of days left in the month you can jump up to the next rate plan at a much lower minutely rate. Once your situation passes and you don’t need the extra minutes you can jump back down to your original plan.

For me this means I can take my 700 minute plan and turn it into a 1,400 minute plan (the next lowest tier) for a $20 jump in my bill. That’s 700 extra minutes at 2.85 cents per minute (a savings of about 93% over the regular overage charge!).

Here’s how to make the changes with the major carriers per their websites:

How to Change Rate Plan Minutes with Verizon Wireless

  1. Sign in to My Verizon
  2. Go to My Plan
  3. Select Change Plan

You can also make the changes over the phone with a representative, through the My Verizon app, or go in store. Ask to have the change backdated to your current month’s beginning date.

How to Change Rate Plan Minutes with AT&T Mobility

  1. Log in to your myWireless Account.
  2. Select Account Overview under the My Account tab.
  3. Select Change Rate Plan in the Quick Links section.
  4. Choose Select Plan next to the desired rate plan.
  5. Choose the effective date for your desired rate plan from among these options:
    • Backdate – your new rate plan will be backdated to begin on the first day of your current billing cycle.
    • Today’s Date – your new rate plan will begin on today’s date.
    • Future Date – your new rate plan will begin on the first day of your next billing cycle.
  6. Compare the features on the new plan to your current plan.
  7. Accept the Terms & Conditions by selecting Submit.

How to Change Rate Plan Minutes with Sprint

You can change your plan without extending your contract. To change or update your rate plan online:

  1. Visit www.sprint.com and register if you have not done so already
  2. Scroll down to find the phone whose plan you would like to change
  3. Scroll to the I Want To… section on the right-hand side of the screen and click Change my Plan
  4. Next to the device you want to change services for, click Change Plan
  5. Plan tabs expand to show details and plan options. Select the plan that is right for you and click Continue.
  6. Next, select add-ons for the phone pictured at the top of the page and click Continue. Note: If you have more than one line on your plan, you need to repeat this step and select add-ons for each phone.
  7. Review your order details to ensure that they are correct. Note: Before you change your plan, be aware that once you change your plan, you will not be able to change back to your previous plan if it is a plan that we no longer offer. However, you will be able to switch to other plans we currently offer.
  8. It is required that you enter your email address for confirmation
  9. Scroll down to the bottom of the page, and then click Continue
  10. Your plan change will be reflected on your next bill

How to Change Rate Plan Minutes with T-Mobile

  1. Go to My T-Mobile and log in. For more information, go to How do I log in to My T-Mobile?
  2. Select Manage and then Plans & Services.
  3. A summary of the plan and services you currently have appears. To make changes to your rate plan, within In this section, select Change Plan.
  4. If you want to make changes to your current services, click to select the services to add or remove, and then select Change/manage services.
  5. The details of your new plan are provided prior to completing any changes. To complete the change, select Submit Changes.

{ 14 comments }

D January 10, 2011 at 8:13 pm

T-mobile doesn’t require you to extend your contract when you change your plan. I’ve done it several times over the years as my minutes fluctuate or when they come out with a better plan option. The only time they require you to extend your contract is when you want to buy a new phone and don’t want to pay full retail. Which is the same with some of the other carriers. πŸ™‚

D January 10, 2011 at 8:19 pm

P.S.

Just an FYI, for Verizon and Tmobile, if you want to change your rate plan, make sure you do it either the day of a new billing cycle or at the end of your billing cycle. Otherwise, you will get charged for your previous plan and prorated for the new plan for the rest of your cycle = more money than you want to give away.

Kevin January 10, 2011 at 10:18 pm

That is unless you have them backdate it to the beginning of your statement month.

Kevin January 10, 2011 at 10:17 pm

Thanks for confirming that. Every search I did led me to their prepaid cell website. Not what I was looking for.

Golfing Girl January 10, 2011 at 8:58 pm

My Sprint plan has unlimited nights and weekends (7-7) and unlimited Sprint-Sprint calls, so since most of my calls are to my husband, and my lengthy calls are made at night, it works out well. I’m guessing you didn’t have access to a landline?? I know many people have gotten rid of their land lines, but mine is only $25/mo and is worth it to me to have the cheaper cell plan that meets my needs and a phone my 7 year old can dial 911 from easily.

I never use my cell phone during peak (non 7-7) times if I’m near a land line, especially if I think it’s going to require a hold time. That’s how I avoid it–but I’m a real tightwad, as I have texting blocked, and no data plan so our 550 shared minutes plan (2 phones) runs only $65/month INCLUDING taxes and fees and I haven’t paid for extra minutes in over 10 years.

Note on Sprint: They are cheap and will offer you (or give it to you if you ask) a 5 or 10% discount every time you renew your contract–sometimes overlapping a previous discount. But if you have a problem, expect to spend 30-60 minutes on the phone with a rep and be prepared to have to call back the next month to discuss the same exact issue. That being said, the few times I was charged too much (sometimes it was my own fault) they have always EVENTUALLY given me the credit. πŸ™‚

Kevin January 10, 2011 at 10:22 pm

No access to a landline. We would never use it. A lot of that hold time was spent on the road — one person driving, the other person calling utility companies and sitting on hold. We tried to maximize our efficiency that way. πŸ™‚

We used to be the same way… low minutes, texting blocked, only called each other during peak hours. But texting really has grown on me (I’m not doing 30,000 per month or anything), and the benefits of using a smartphone are pretty impressive in my situation. Plus, I’ll be able to deduct some of it due to using it for business.

And I know you’re right about Sprint. They’ve been known for poor customer service for quite some time. I know they are working to improve it, but it is what it is. I’ve always had a good experience with Verizon. Less hassle, never drop calls, etc. Worth the premium price they charge… again, for my situation. Every situation is different.

Russel.G January 11, 2011 at 12:25 pm

Thanks, Kevin for the timely post. It not only prompted me to check my minutes usage for the month (48 shared minutes left in 14 days), but gave me the proper information to upgrade my AT&T plan and backdate it to save overage charges.

My only frustration is that now that I have upgraded my plan to include more minutes, I can use the “A-list” feature which gives us 10 numbers that aren’t charged airtime, a feature that would have been beneficial if it were available on my previous plan. Now that we have more minutes, we really won’t need the A-list, although I will use it (add my and my wife’s Google numbers, etc.).

With the increase in available minutes and the A-list feature, I would be tempted to dump our landline, but I’m not sure I could cut that string.

Budgeting in the Fun Stuff January 11, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Wow, this is one heck of a guide! Thanks! We still have 269 of our 700 minutes from Sprint and only 2 days left, but I’ll definitely remember this guide on busier months!

Curtis March 3, 2011 at 12:43 pm

If there was a service to watch your usage and prevent overages, would you use it? I’ve been looking for one for years and have not found one, and I’m thinking of building it. My experience is that 3 times I’ve been gouged with big bills ($400+ in one case). My mom just got a $187 overage arranging for my step-dad’s funeral. The cell phone companies could easily provide this, but it’s a cash cow for them. Especially for teens with new phones (confirmed by a cell phone marketing friend)

I’ve found a few attempts at solving this, but they were half baked and you could rely on them. Most people just pay for more minutes than they know they will need because checking is too much effort.

My idea: you would sign up for this service, and provide your account info. The service would check your usage throughout the month and alert you if you are in danger of going over minute, text, data limits. It could even provide info on cheaper plans.

– Is privacy a concern? You’d need to provide your account, but this is already done by sites like Mint/Quicken, Yodless and other financial aggregation sites.
– Would you pay? To build out the service in a secure, reliable way, would take time/$$$$. Would you be willing to pay some nominal fee like $1/month. More or less?

I’d love opinions on this. Is this a real problem for enough people and should I try and solve this?

Danielle Kuehn July 19, 2011 at 8:14 am

I got back from Iraq in June 2009 and opened a family account with T-Mobile. After about 6 months it became apparent that I needed to adjust the number of minutes my mom and I were using.

Fast forward…….June 2011. I purposely waited to change carriers until after my 2 year mark, so that I would not be charged the early termination fee. I just got my last bill in the mail. $100 per line for contract termination fee. I called customer service. Low and behold…..the rate change extended my contract.

I had no idea and never saw anything stating the change would cause an extension. Let there be no doubt that I did NOT add or delete a line, but changed the number of minutes and my contract was extended.

Hope this saves someone else a headache or surprise on their last bill because it cost me $200.

Melissa Sassone July 25, 2011 at 10:10 pm

T- Mobile does require you to extend your contract if you are upgrading or downloading your plan. I just got off the phone with them as I recently changed my plan to an unlimited family plan and was required to extend my contract to do so. Also please note I was note given the plan that I requested and in order to change it, I have to agree to another contract extension.

caseydc78 February 25, 2012 at 10:24 am

T-Mobile does require a contract extension if you change plans. I just did and now I’m stuck with them for another 2 years. They also charge .45 cents a minute for going over. Stay away from T-Mobile, they are crooks.

Bob Jones July 31, 2012 at 9:11 am

This is one of the most worthless articles I have ever read. How to avoid paying cell phone overages? Your advice is to change plans with more minutes, seriously? Did you get paid for writing this ‘no $hit Sherlock’ article?

I thought it would be more informative on how to dispute the overages when you have a single month that is out of the norm.

Kelly Clarke November 1, 2012 at 12:28 am

Like others said, if you are a T-mobile user beware of changing minutes on your plan as it will extend your contract. Also keep in mind they might call you at the end of the month that you went over and offer to eliminate the overage costs “with no catch.” The catch is they will renew your contract! My plan is ending soon and they’ve been trying all kinds of trucks to get me to extend my contract so beware.

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