Family Cell Pitfalls

Most people have a cell phone. But did you realize half of all teenagers under 18 do? And 20 percent of pre-teens have a cell phone! Cell phone companies are pushing "family plans" in order to get even more parents to sign-up their kids. But Consumer Reports says you've got to be careful so it doesn't turn into a pricey proposition.

John Pobanz got his cell phone when he turned 16.

"For Saturday night, what do you want to do?

He's on a family plan with his mother. That lets them share a pool of minutes and they can call each other for free.

"It's a way of keeping in touch with him. We know where he's at this way."

Consumer Reports says family cell phone plans sound tempting, with offers like "unlimited family calling minutes" and "families talk free."

"Within the family you can call family members as often as you wish. But if your kids start calling their friends, you can quickly rack up some very big bills."

Some plans have just 300 shared minutes a month — that's only about 13 minutes a day. And going over the limit is expensive — as high as 40 or 45 cents per minute.

If you've got a talkative teen, Consumer Reports says it's better to contract for more minutes up front.

And keep tabs on how many minutes your family is using. Several companies let you monitor your minutes online.

"It's very important that you keep track of your usage as the month goes on because otherwise come the end, you can really get a big shock when the bill comes in."

Here's another pricey pitfall — kids like to send text messages. But text messages can cost ten cents each, so consider signing up for a special message plan to save money.

And Consumer Reports says do what the Pobanz family does and check your bills carefully. That way you can adjust your plan if necessary so your family doesn't spend a lot more than you expect.

Many cell phone companies are offering lower monthly rates to get you to sign up for a two-year contract. But Consumer Reports says go for the shortest contract possible. That allows you to take advantage of better deals that come along without paying a stiff penalty to end a contract early.

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