Cut your cell phone bill on the Web

Steve Tarter

Now there's a Web site that can help cut cell phone costs.

The Citizens Utility Board, the Illinois watchdog group based in Chicago, has launched Cellphone Saver, an online tool that analyzes wireless bills.

"Our job is to fight for cheaper telephone, electric and natural gas rates and the Cellphone Saver is another weapon in that arsenal," said David Kolata, CUB's executive director.

Launched just a week ago, allows customers to upload an online copy of their bill with one of five companies, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and Verizon, he said.

Last year, CUB offered its first online tool, one that helps a customer find the right calling plan for a land-line phone.

During the initial testing phase, the new cell phone CUB site saved the average cell-phone customer about $260 a year, said Kolata.

"Cell phone bills are a maze for consumers. There are so many variables. When you factor in text messaging and data services, it can be very confusing to a customer," he said.

CUB's Web site shows the cheapest plans offered by carriers, given the cell-phone usage reflected on the customer's bill, said Kolata, adding that consumers are also shown ways to cut their existing bill without switching carriers and paying an exit fee for leaving a wireless contract early.

The two biggest mistakes people make is paying for more minutes than they use and failing to recognize the costs of text messaging, he said.

"Text messaging problems can result in bills of $500," said Kolata.

To use the service, residential customers must have online billing with one of the five aforementioned carriers, he said. "We have links to cell company sites to help people receive an online bill. There's no charge and you can still get your paper bill," said Kolata.

Prepaid and business plans as well as AT&T bills that combine land-line and wireless services don't work on the cell saver site, he said.

Kolata said he's received positive feedback on the site so far but asked users to provide CUB with comments "so we can continue to improve it," he said.

"We want to expand the site to include the purchase of individual (cell) phones but we haven't gotten to that yet," said Kolata, who added he hopes people able to save money won't forget about CUB's financial needs.

The cell-phone Web site was adapted for Illinois consumers from software developed by Validas, a Texas company that offers a similar online service but charges for it.

Steve Tarter can be reached at (309) 686-3260