Senior Citizen Calling Tips

by : Raymond Klesc

The AARP, American Association of Retired Persons, ( ) conducted a survey in 2000 entitled, “Consumer Understanding of pricing Practices and Savings Opportunities in Long Distance Telephone Industry." This report was an update of an earlier survey conducted in 1998. As the title implies, the survey examines the pricing issues surrounding long distance calling plans in the market and the public’s awareness, with a particular focus on people over 50, of these types of savings plans. Only one-quarter of those interviewed 65 and older, looked for long distance calling plans that would save them money. More alarming was the fact that only a little more than 40% knew that the best rate was not the standard rate. To read the complete report, click here. ( )

Since deregulation, there are literally dozens, if not hundreds, of calling plans available in the market today. This has been a windfall for consumers but unfortunately all of the various plans and options can become very confusing for most consumers – particularly our elderly who grew up during the AT&T only reign. Please read on if you or one of your family members fall into this category. We offer these tips to help cut through some of the confusion and ease the burden (pain) of selecting a calling plan that will save them considerable sums over time.

• Telemarketing Issues:

Telemarketers and receiving spam email are one in the same, as far as I am concerned. With unwanted email you can hit the delete key; with telemarketers simply hang up. Besides, selecting a calling plan should be done with full knowledge and disclosure and reading the fine print. You cannot do that over the phone and you can rest assured that the telemarketer is not going to be terrible forthcoming. As the drug commercials say, just say no – then hang up.

• Peak versus Off-Peak Rates:

You need to look for a calling plan that delivers the same low price, any time and all of the time. Although there are numerous plans out there that offer different rates for different times and weekends, they have the tendency to mystify and bewilder mere mortals such as you and me.

• First Steps:

Start with people you know and trust; family members, close neighbors and business associates if appropriate. Ask who they use and why; what their rates are and if there are any limitations. Check with them on whether there are monthly fees and minimums with their calling plan and most important, whether they are satisfied with their service and would recommend their carrier to others. Answers to these types of questions will get you pointed in the right direction at least. Also, if you hear the same company recommended by more than one friend then you need to look into their plans first.

• Primary Considerations:

Unfortunately, getting the right calling plan requires a little work on your part. You need to study your telephone calling behavior, check for patterns, times, particular cities that you call more frequently and so forth. Do you make most of your calls locally, within the State or State-to-State? Are you a large consumer of International calls? Once you understand your personal calling habits and patterns you can begin to focus your attention on which carrier will best meet those need and meet your expectations with the most competitive price. Match your calling pattern with the recommendations you received from others in the first step above. Is there a good fit? If so, pursue them further.

• Monthly Fees:

There are many calling plans available in the marketplace that does not force you to pay a monthly fee. Avoid monthly fees if at all possible. Even more so if you do not make many calls. One more word of caution, do not buy in to the hype about low state-to-state rates because in some cases, lurking in the fine print may be a monthly fee. It’s like spotting an attractive lady across a dimly lit room, once the makeup and wig comes off you discover the true ugliness lurking beneath.

• Leasing versus Owning the Phone:

There is no reason today to lease a telephone from your local carrier. Check your telephone bill and see if there is a line item for leased equipment. If there is, head down to your local retailer that sells telephones and pick up a phone that suits your needs. Chances are you will be able to purchase a telephone with more features and at a cost that will save you a tidy sum every year. There are many retailers that sell phones for well under $100 with some below $50. There are many telephone carriers that charge leasing fees up to $20.00 per month or $240 per year. Today that is just a waste of money.

• Cramming:

Get into the habit of reviewing your telephone bill every month. Although reputable telephone carriers do not indulge in the spurious practice of cramming, they do occasionally make a mistake. Cramming is the practice of placing additional charges for goods and services on your telephone bill that you did not authorize or purchase. It is illegal. In the case of a mistakes or suspected cramming, you need to contact the company and ask them, politely initially, to explain the charges. If you didn’t authorize the purchase then ask your carrier to remove it from your bill. If they fail to remove the charge from your bill, and you feel that the charge is wrong, then contact your local office of

Public Utilities or go to the FCC web site and file a complaint.

• Added Features:

There are many fine features that can be added to your telephone service to enhance its functions and permit a broader range of useful information. But if you are like me, and could care less about the fancy bells and whistles, remove those services that you really don’t need or want. Unfortunately, there are many seniors that are sold a package of goods and services when they sign up for a new service or when telemarketers call with the latest gizmo. If you don’t need it, don’t get it. If you have it and don’t use it, remove it. All of these little “extras" increase your bill and could be a waste of money.

• Saving on Calling Plans with Fixed or Low Income:

The Federal Government is committed to providing telephone service to all Americans. The Federal Universal Service Fund includes the low-income program; which provides discounts on telephone installation and basic monthly service to qualifying consumers. There are two components to the low income program, Lifeline Assistance (“Lifeline") and Link-Up America (“Link-Up"). Lifeline and Link-Up are available to all qualifying low-income consumers nationwide. The FCC’s enhanced Lifeline and Link-UP programs, however, which offer additional discounts, are available only for qualifying consumers living on Tribal Lands. Check with your local provider and ask about these programs in order to earn discounts on the basic telephone service. For more information about these low income programs click here. ( )

• Changing Long Distance Carriers too Much Trouble:

Many people feel that switching carriers is just too much trouble and a bit too confusing. They are probably right. But in any event, if you decide to keep your existing carrier then at least check with them to make sure you are getting the best value for your money and the cheapest rates they offer. Do some of the other tips we suggest here, such as getting rid of leased equipment and extra features and you will be able to trim your bill substantially.

Copyright 2004 Raymond Klesc

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