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Shrink Your Long Distance Bill
Chris Andrews -- If you're looking for ways to spend your telephone dollars wisely, this will help shrink your personal and/or business long distance bill.

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Part 1: Plans for the Average Long Distance Caller.

As a long distance consultant, I've often wondered why people are hesitant to switch to new, lower priced, long distance plans.

Then it hit me. It's the same reason I get stuck in the tooth paste aisle at the grocery store. There are so many tubes of toothpaste to choose from. Each with different benefits, flavors, features. I'm not a toothpaste expert. How do I know which toothpaste is best?

So I pick up the usual tube, just to avoid making a decision.

Are you doing the same thing when it comes to long distance? If so, you're missing out on the lower rates offered in today's market. Read this and get ready to shrink your long distance bill!

Average Usage Plans

Most of us make between fifteen minutes to two hours of long distance calls a week.

If you fit into this range, you'll get your best deal from a small long distance company. One that specializes in low per minute rates for residential and small business callers. Small companies have to compete against the big three (AT&T, Sprint, MCI). They often do so by offering lower rates.

Most small long distance companies are very dependable. They generally provide better, more personal, customer service. Most offer plans with rates under 5¢/minute.

Call quality is the same whether you're using a big or small long distance company, they all use the same fiber optic networks. There are two exceptions to this. One is international calling, which does vary from carrier to carrier. If you make international calls, find a service with experience in that field. The other exception is "voice over Internet" services, which have a reputation for poor voice quality at times.

When comparing plans that charge by the minute, look for:

1) A flat rate. The price should be the same any time of day or night.

2) No service fee. This will save you $4 to $8 up front. You may need to use a credit card, or use certain amount of service, to get this benefit.

3) Billing increments of one minute (or less), and a one minute (or less) per call minimum. Nothing should be billed in higher than one minute increments.

Avoid services that advertise a per/unit price. Don't assume "unit" means "minute." It doesn't.

Avoid plans that require you to sign a multi-month or multi-year contract, and avoid plans that require you to use a certain amount of service each month. You can find low rates without these restrictions.

Do keep in mind that the primary rate long distance companies advertise is the interstate (state-to-state) rate. If you regularly make in-state long distance calls, be sure to check and compare those rates as well.

Part 2: Plans for High Volume Callers.

In Part 1 we looked at plans for the average long distance caller. But what if you make LOTS of calls?

High Usage Plans

Let's say you make three, four, five hours of long distance calls each week. There are four different service types you want to consider:

1) A Per Minute Plan.

2) Bundled Service, which includes both unlimited local and unlimited long distance for one set rate.

3) Unlimited Long Distance, for a set monthly price.

4) Fixed Price Long Distance, i.e., $30/month for up to 3000 minutes.

If you use a lot of long distance, it's worth sitting down with a calculator and doing a little figuring.

Start by estimating how much time you spend making long distance calls. Figure out what this would cost using a low cost per minute service. Compare this to what you would pay with an unlimited or fixed price long distance service in your area.

Then combine your estimated long distance cost with the price of your current local service bill. Compare this with what you would be paying for a bundled (combined) local and long distance service.

Keep in mind that fees and taxes often raise the advertised price of most unlimited plans by $10 to $15 a month.

If it looks like a bundled, unlimited or fixed price long distance plan would be cheaper than using a per minute service, your next step is to read the plan's fine print.

Most "unlimited" plans are actually limited in the fine print. Generally you'll have lots of time, but not endless time. Look for anything that indicates additional charges for in-state long distance calls. Do you make international calls? Check to see if they are included. Be aware that some unlimited plans are only unlimited if the person you're calling to is on the same plan.

Unlimited plans can be great for high usage callers, but it's very important to read the fine print and fully understand the plan before you sign up. Keep in mind that you're committing yourself to pay for a high priced plan whether you use lots of service or not. If the amount of long distance you use varies from month to month, you might come out ahead by sticking with a per minute plan. Calculate out the costs and consider your future calling patterns carefully.

Compare and Save

When considering any long distance plan (whether per minute, fixed or unlimited) you need to get a list of the following costs: the interstate (state-to-state) rate; the service fee; USF Charge, PICC Fees;, Carrier Recovery Charge; in-state rates, and any minimum usage requirements. If you make international calls, get international rates and any international plan fee.

These costs vary from company to company. If you can't find them on the company's advertisment or Web site, ask about them. Asking questions is a good way to learn what the company is like before you sign up with them.

You CAN make a smart choice when it comes to long distance. It's well worth applying yourself and getting a lower rate.

Chris Andrews is the president of Andrews 3.8¢ Long Distance. He provides free consultations to our readers. Email your long distance questions to chris@andrews.com. New customers are welcome. For more information, visit http://www.andrews.com for details.

© 2004 Chris Andrews

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The views and opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily reflect those of College Central Network, Inc. or its affiliates. Reference to any company, organization, product, or service does not constitute endorsement by College Central Network, Inc., its affiliates or associated companies. The information provided is not intended to replace the advice or guidance of your legal or medical professional.

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