Consumer Reports: Saving money on cell phone bills

If one of your New Year's resolutions is to try to save money, one thing to look at is the phone in your hand.

Consumer Reports says if you're paying more than $50 dollars a month per phone line, it may be time to rustle up a better deal.

Monica Mautner's family has four smartphones, and she does whatever she can to reduce her bill, which runs around $250 dollars a month.

"I think it is ridiculous. I just find it an astronomical amount of money for a cell phone," said Monica.

She took a good first step recently by ditching her two-year contract. All the big phone carriers now offer no-contract plans, and Consumer Reports' Mike Gikas says that's the way to go.

"With no contract plans, the access fee for each phone is lower and you have the freedom to change carriers whenever you want," he said.

Be sure to check other providers' plans to see if you can save. A Consumer Reports' survey found almost half of those who switched phone service providers in the past year saved $20 dollars or more a month.

"Pay particular attention to your data because that is hands-down the most expensive part of any bill," said Mike.

If you stream a lot of videos, consider T-Mobile, which allows you to stream from Netflix, HBO, Hulu, and more without using up data.

"If you do change carriers, you may have to buy a new phone. And most likely at full price. Fortunately, no-interest leasing and financing options are available to ease the pain," said Mike.

Leasing is generally the cheapest option for people who like to have the newest phone.

But if you plan on buying the phone, most carriers will let you pay for it in monthly interest-free installments. Once you've paid it off, you'll enjoy a lower bill.

If you use only a moderate amount of data - about one gigabyte a month - and use Wi-Fi whenever possible, a smaller carrier might be your best bet. Check out Consumer Cellular or Ting. They earned top marks for value in the Consumer Reports ratings.
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