5 details wireless companies don't want you to know when choosing a plan

Figuring out which cell phone plan is the best deal can be a headache. Deciding how many minutes you use, how many texts you send and deciphering the added taxes and fees can send you screaming back to your landline. And then there's the mystery of all the little details the wireless companies don't want you to know ...

Originally, that's why I chose a pay-as-you-go phone, with a flat fee of 10 cents a minute for calls and 5 cents per text message, with minutes rolling over to the next month as long as I buy a month's worth of minutes before the month ends.

But I've been looking around for another plan because on a recent trip to Canada, I discovered that my cheap cell phone plan didn't work there, and I was without a phone for a week. No big deal, but I don't want to be stuck again.

My first stop: BillShrink.com, a Web site that WalletPop has written about before that helps figure out which cell phone plan is the best deal.

It was here that I learned that there are certain details to consider before going with a cell phone plan -- that the wireless companies would just as soon you not know about. Here, courtesy of Billshrink, we list five of them:

A family plan is for more than relatives.
You don't have to be a blood relative to be in a family plan to save money with a wireless carrier. A family plan can be used with trusted friends, roommates, co-workers and others. BillShrink surveyed 50,000 users and found that 60% have a family plan -- 20% more than last year. Verizon leads all carriers with 65% of its customers using such plans.

Unlimited plans are limited.

BillShrink says that recent ads on unlimited plans make you believe these are the best deals, when in fact they encourage customers to buy many more minutes than they need. It found that 12% of customers should go with an unlimited plan, and that the average person pays $325 more a year than they need on their cell phone plan, up more than $100 from last year.

Checking voicemail is costly.
BillShrink looked at more than 15,000 bills from AT&T and Verizon and found that the average AT&T customer pays $2.44 per bill to listen to their voicemails, and that the average Verizon customer pays $3.61 per bill.

Talk your way out of unnecessary fees.

Many carriers pass the Universal Connectivity Charge on to customers, although the charge isn't required by the government, according to BillShrink. The money is for a fund to "assure telephone service to all households." Customers can negotiate with their carrier to remove these charges, upwards of $50 over a standard two-year contract.

Turn off your phone during vacation.
Roaming charges are $2.49 per minute for many companies, making that overseas trip much more expensive than the airfare. Some carriers like T-Mobile charge $4.99 if you don't pick up the call and it gets forwarded to your voicemail, according to BillShrink.

Sending a video message while on vacation can cost $7. Roaming internationally and downloading a 5-megapixel picture attachment in an e-mail, or watching a three-minute YouTube video while waiting at the terminal can cost $40.

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