New survey: One in five get sticker shock from cell phone bill

Get sticker shock from your cell phone bill? You’re not alone.

One in five consumers report getting unexpectedly high monthly bills when they exceed limits on voice, text or data, according to a new Consumer Reports survey of the magazine’s online subscribers.

That figure is higher than a recent Federal Communications Commission survey finding that one in six cell phone users had experienced a sudden increase in a monthly bill, Associated Press reports.

But both percentages are at odds with the very low figures acknowledged by the major cell carriers, Consumers Reports said.

As a potential remedy,  federal regulators want to require the wireless companies to alert subscribers before they run out of minutes, hit data usage or text messaging caps or start racking up international roaming charges, AP reports.

The FCC is expected to vote Thursday to seek public comment on such rules, which are on the table after a flood of consumer complaints, AP said.

The proposed regulations would require wireless companies to send voice or text alerts to customers as they approach monthly usage limits on their plans and when they reach those limits, AP said.

But the reaction from CTIA-The Wireless Association was wary, AP said.

Chris Guttman-McCabe, CTIA’s vice president for regulatory affairs for the trade group, told AP wireless companies are concerned about “prescriptive and costly rules that limit the creative offerings and competitive nature of the industry.”

What do you think of the FCC idea? Do you think the problem is pervasive or limited?

Have you been surprised by your bill?

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55 comments Add your comment


October 14th, 2010
8:08 am

I think its crazy! And, so many people complained about how much their home phone/land line bill was, so they cut that to go totally wireless – now, those bills are double & triple the amount the land line was!


October 14th, 2010
8:09 am

With all the ways in place now to check your minutes by yourself (txt msg, online, free call to check, apps) – Americans are so dumb that we now need the government to help us know how many minutes/txt msgs we have left..unbelievable..

Road Scholar

October 14th, 2010
8:18 am

What happened to personal responsibility? Besides, how can people talk so much on cell phones? I wonder when I’m driving on the Interstates who they are talking to at 6 am? Some peoples ear must be growing around the phone since they are on them so much.


October 14th, 2010
8:22 am

Chatarri – when was the last time your land line sent texts or checked e-mail?

NC_atlanta native

October 14th, 2010
8:24 am

my daughter has a small data usage-had to get it with her phone…she never goes over because you can check it yourself very easily! geeze…


October 14th, 2010
8:25 am

Kinda like when they complain about there mortgage payment, I DIDNT READ THE CONTRACT, WWWWWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA, grow up America, time to learn to read!


October 14th, 2010
8:27 am

The biggest rip is that cell phone users pay for 800 calls. if you call from a landline 800 calls are only paid for by the party receiving the call. The business pays to make their company available to their customers.
Why the difference. i spoke to Clark Howard and he says that will never get changed because the Tel Companies have a very strong lobby in DC.


October 14th, 2010
8:31 am

I’m usually humored or saddened by the whole idiot nut job anti-government talk . But gees , this is all stuff you can find out on your online account . Ignorance isn’t bliss .


October 14th, 2010
8:34 am

I really don’t think that regulators need to outline rules on notifying customers, but I do think that carriers should create options so that the subscriber could manage their account and set up automatic alert texts of usage to come to their phone at a designated interval of their choosing. I know there are ways to go out and check on this data any time you like, but setting up some automation so that the info is sent to you instead of you having to request it would be very beneficial.


October 14th, 2010
8:35 am

next i guess servers will be required to remind diners that if they order another course, beverage or dessert they will be charged for it-that it is not free. cell users use air time for 800 calls, they do not pay long distance fees. landline users on limited use plans are also charged airtime for 800 call. clark needs to enjoy his new lake house, a foreclosure special, and avoid blaming lobbyists for everything.


October 14th, 2010
8:38 am

I just signed a new contract yesterday with Verizon… They were very thorough and explicity said the cost for everything, such as the phone plan, data plan, usage rates outside the plan, etc. If you have a problem and can’t understand this without someone holding your hand, you probably don’t need a cell phone.

People need to take more responsibility for their decisions

Motocross Survivor

October 14th, 2010
8:48 am

Still use land line here and proud of it. Who the hell needs to get on the Web, check e-mail or text somebody while they are out and about? I see clowns out supposedly enjoying nature when they are really just physically there, but mentally still completely chained to their little whizbang gizmo, trying to communicate with some other loser who needs to get a life. The c-phone industry is laughing their collective asses off at their promotion success. I’ve had regular c-phones in past years but dumped them for lack of use. I realize in today’s world they can be handy at times, but for me that comes nowhere near justifying getting one again.

Jusy my opinion

October 14th, 2010
9:00 am

I don’t believe in handholding either, but I think the carriers should allow you to opt into alert notifications. Its similiar to the overdraft charge debate in which banks were convinced that customers would rather allow a charge go through and incur the overdraft fee….sure, it’s just another stream of revenue for the carriers and they will use any excuse not to give it up.

Lt Col

October 14th, 2010
9:01 am

What people who talk, text, and surf should do is shop around and then vote with their pocketbooks. There are so many wireless providers who provide free and unlimited local and long distance voice, text, and web surfing services at economical prices, that any smart shopper is bound to be able to find such a plan – often without being locked into lengthy contracts. If more people would do their homework there is no need for bureaucratic FCC regulations that drive up the cost of providers doing business, which ultimately leads to higher prices for everyone.


October 14th, 2010
9:06 am

Straight Talk – No Frills – No Thrills – No Unexpectly High Phone Bills ~ Just Straight Talk


October 14th, 2010
9:08 am

I gave up my cell phone for 3 years, and then got another one. This was with Sprint, and it was the lowest I could get because I only use it when I travel. It is 200 minutes per month, and $29.95. When I get my bill, it is over $40 dollars, and I never go over my minutes. Most times I don’t even use 100 minutes. When I tried to check my usage on the phone, they charged me for internet connection, which is 50 cent per page. So I stopped checking over the phone, and started watching how long I was on the phone by looking at my watch. Anyway you go they are ripping us off. I don’t know what plan those people have who are on the phone in line at the bank, the DMV, the grocery store and other places. Even if we are in line for an hour, they are on the phone the entire time.

Burned once

October 14th, 2010
9:26 am

I got burned once about 10 years ago with “roaming charges” for a couple of hundred dollars. About that time another carrier came out with One Rate and like lightening I jumped! I am no longer with that particular carrier either but once burned you learn, I over subscribe my minutes each month for “insurance”, I never know when business is going to keep me on the phone for extended periods of time. I will only purchase “one rate plans”, and I always try to buy unlimted plans for things that can “bite me”. I stil manage to keep my bill around $100 a month for a business cell which has voice, data, email and text, much better than most of my peers.

Peanut Gallary

October 14th, 2010
9:37 am

But you look like you are important if you are carry and use an i-phone. It better to look important and sophisticated than to really accumulate wealth. Obama spends like a drunken sailor citizens the new generation is learning it from him and his “leadership”.


October 14th, 2010
9:45 am

Most everyone agrees they want less government intrusion in our lives yet some feel the need to have the governmnet regulate even the simplest of tasks. Really? It is not the government’s job to make sure you stay within your phone contract’s limits.


October 14th, 2010
9:58 am

Peanut Gallary give me a break! I worked in the wireless industry four years ago and for the largest nonetheless. People were spending out on cell phone bills long before President Obama took office. Like some other comments already made, learn your services and what is offered with your plan. Would you buy a house or car and not know the specifics concerning it?


October 14th, 2010
10:07 am

Some people see absolutely everything through a clouded lens of Obama-hatred. You should get that checked by a psychiatrist, Peanut.

Husband and I cut the landline free almost two years ago, and we haven’t looked back. (We do still use DSL–we want a connection with variable IP that is more stable than cable. People don’t realize you can still have DSL even without a landline).

We haven’t had bill-shock with our phones in years. We know how much we use our phones, and we buy plans with that many minutes plus a small buffer. If you plan for it, you’re fine. The problem is with people who purchase small plans when they use their phones way more than that in an average month.


October 14th, 2010
10:20 am

I have 4 lines on my plan and periodically throughout the month I will request my free text message to look at my usage as well as everyone else. I’m with you Shannon, you can’t pay for a small plan and use the phone excessively. To Mitzymy though your plan is $29.99 your bill is $40.00 because of taxes,regulatory surcharge use,FCC charge, 911 fee etc.


October 14th, 2010
10:29 am

Idiots!!! Quit being so CHEAP and get the unlimited package. Being CHEAP will get you in the long run!!!


October 14th, 2010
10:32 am

in the us, if you make a call or send a text, both you and the person you call get charged. we are the only country that is that way. other countries only charge the person sending the text or making the call.


October 14th, 2010
10:35 am

Ever heard of prepaid phones? When you get to your minute maximum, they simply cut you off. You pay only for what you use. Use more one month, pay more. Minutes good for a few months, and can be bought anytime. Hmmmm. What a concept.


October 14th, 2010
10:39 am

I have my service with Metro PCS and I have unlimited text and talk for $40 a month. I know what my bill is going to be and I’ve been very pleased with the service. I used to have AT&T and you never knew what they were going to stick you with.


October 14th, 2010
10:44 am

Why do we need the goverment to do this? Don’t they have better things to do. You can go online, you can punch in a code on your cell phone, and if you are with TMobile you already get a text message that you are getting close to your limit. Why waist tax payer dollars on something that you can check for your self.


October 14th, 2010
10:45 am

You can depend on the government for everything. What ever happened to personal responsibility?


October 14th, 2010
10:46 am

sorry meant to say “can’t depend on the government for everything” not can.


October 14th, 2010
10:50 am

Get a prepaid service. Verizon (prepaid for Verizon is called Virgin) and TMobile both have prepaid services for $50 a month for unlimited text and voice, and you don’t even have to pay tax or any kinds of fees. It’s about $20 cheaper than a regular contract plan, and you never have to worry about a different billing amount.

I wouldn’t say people are dumb, but those companies give you options but you choose the bad options. How can you blame the companies for your bad choices?


October 14th, 2010
10:53 am

Everydayjane said it right. Our contract ran out w/AT & T. We went to Straight Talk. Unlimited voice, text and internet, $45.00 per month and no contract. You can get 1000 voice, 1000 text and 3MB internet for $30.00 and again no contract.


October 14th, 2010
10:58 am


Sound like a nice plan. Do you have to pay tax and fees?


October 14th, 2010
11:08 am

Lt Col: EXACTLY!! Couldn’t have said it better….Great post!


October 14th, 2010
11:16 am

Alphare verizons prepaid is not viirgin first off.Second do your research on what amount of profits the cell phone industry makes off of overages.This has to do with recent law suits in regard to overages and phantom charges that they are forced to pay back.After seeing all of this false billing its another step in preventing that practice.Cell phone company’s bread and butter has always been overages and auto pay you have no clue how many people every month never look at bill and just auto-pay..


October 14th, 2010
11:19 am

Get a Straight Talk phone from Wal-Mart. The cost is $45 per month for unlimited talk, text, data, and 411. It operates on the nationwide Verizon network.


October 14th, 2010
11:34 am


Since it gives you so much trouble, get a prepaid then. As a company, they have to make money to survive. I did a little reading of the Virgin brochure, it says they use Verizon network, so it’s most likely a Verizon satellite company. Second, if autopay creates trouble for you, why don’t stop it? I only have my mortgage autopaid because it’s a fixed amount. Other than that, I don’t trust anybody for autopay.

does the $45 Straight Talk include tax and fees?


October 14th, 2010
11:36 am

People just need to be cognizant of their usage. Most companies have apps for cellphones and features on their websites to check limits and usage. If people are angry because they are paying more than they bargained for, they have no one to blame but themselves. PAY ATTENTION SHEEPLE!

Ben Stoke

October 14th, 2010
11:57 am

Shannon mentioned that “People don’t realize you can still have DSL even without a landline.” which is interesting since the only reason you can get a DSL line without a landline is due to an FCC ruling that prevents forced bundling of services. This ruling was put in place as a condition of the merger between Bell South and AT&T. So, I do find it ironic that someone would promote one FCC rule which they deemed positive and then reject another which is very similar.


October 14th, 2010
12:22 pm

Virgin Mobile has never been a part of Verizon Wireless. They use each others towers to eliminate roaming fees. The comment was made that they make money on overages, while that may be true the real catch is to keep you under contract. If you don’t pay for services within those two years they still collect with EARLY TERMINATION FEES!! That’s why when you go in the store or online they recommend upgrading your phone.Trust me. (former employee and customer with 4 lines out of contract).


October 14th, 2010
12:29 pm

The only reason people have sticker shock when their cell phone bills come in is because far too many people today are complete financial morons. Americans are getting dumber by the year. We turn people out of our schools who don’t even have a good command of the English language and we expect these cretins to be able to competently run their financial lives? I think not.


October 14th, 2010
12:58 pm

How many more times do we need to proof to the rest of the world that we may very well be the dumbest folks on earth? How hard is it to keep track of your minutes and texts? And who said “speak only if you can improve the silence’? How wonderful if people would actually act on this. And cellphoning while driving and putting make up on at the same time – don’t get me started.


October 14th, 2010
12:59 pm

If you, the user, is tired of your bill. Try getting a phone that ONLY allows you to talk, not watch TV, check stocks,etc.Lots of luck they do not make such a weird thing as this any more widhthey did


October 14th, 2010
1:06 pm

Requiring notification prior to exceeding minutes, etc. is a great idea and federal regulators should jump on it. It is a great consumer protection idea….


October 14th, 2010
1:12 pm

Check with you carrier. Some carriers offer monthly discounts on your bill(contract only).I get 18%. I know for sure with Verizon that State of Ga. employees, teachers, Fed Ex, UPS, Railroad, Military, to name a few.Instead of name calling and bashing each other let’s find ways to share information to help us all. Heck we are all being ripped off. CHECK CHECK CHECK Happy talking and texting!!! It’s not that serious folks.


October 14th, 2010
1:21 pm

Alphare i do not use auto pay i was only giving info in regards to tactics used to produce extra revenue in regard to unmonitored overages.And virgin is piggy backed off of sprints towers.I do not have problems because i know what to look for and have more insight in regards to dealing with the company’s then most.I do not want to see any one ever ripped off including you.You work hard for what you have and you deserve to keep it.They have the right to make money but do it the right way.
Dub Your right for the most part contract also helps cover cell phone prices hence why a phone costs so much with out a contract.Activations activations but you already know that…


October 14th, 2010
1:31 pm

Alphare…not sure about tax. We just got our Straight Talk phones last week and bought the package, phone and the $45.00 card. There were no fees though. You can either go to Wal Mart and pick the phone or go to the website. So far we like it and have had much better coverage while talking in the house. No lost signals, etc.

Bob from Accounttemps

October 14th, 2010
1:53 pm

Folks, this is called requiring full disclosre when the cards are stacked against you. They don’t want to tell you because they’re able to so easily stick it to you and profit from the lack of information. And how hard is it to do? These are tech companies after all. Send a text and be more customer friendly. Yes you can check online, but since you can’t control who texts you and it’s impossible to know how much data you’re consuming, how often do you want to *have* to check? The hidden agenda by the phone companies is either to stick it to you on overcharges or force you to buy more than you need. Either way, it’s a lose/lose for the consumer.

Feel For the Hard Hearted

October 14th, 2010
2:24 pm

Why are so many people protective of these huge multinational companies and so contemptuous of their fellow man?

The hard hearted people have manged to politicize everything including this issue which is really a simple matter of customer service. That’s right, customer service. They serve us, we don’t serve them.

We the people own the airwaves. These companies also rely on our consent through government to place many of their cell towers.

Beware the “big government” crybabies who while preaching “personal responsibility (for others) and individual liberty, have no problem with the government to let corporations take even more control of our lives.

Thanks to these people and their shilling for corporate interests, this country’s economy is a mess and will remain that way until people wake up and understand that citizens, not corporations are supposed to be running things.

Free markets can’t function properly without a basic level of honesty and information.It’s a shame when we have to waste time with hearings to force companies to disclose information that they should routinely provide as a matter of honesty.

Compared to other country’s around the world, when it comes to telecommunications, we pay too much for less in this country and it’s time to start reversing that trendline. This would be a start.


October 14th, 2010
3:20 pm

I’m in the mortage businees and use my phone a lot.I left AT&T for Boost Mobile’s unlimited Blackberry plan.It’s on the Sprint 3G network and I get unlimted talk,text and data for 60 dollars a month including taxes and fees..I dont understand all of the confusion.

Bob from Accounttemps

October 14th, 2010
3:58 pm

@James — some people travel outside metro Atlanta — and even outside the US. ATT is best for outside the country. How does that Sprint phone work in Europe?