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Keeping Cell Phone Data Charges Under Control Not Impossible During Pandemic

FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) - More than ever during the coronavirus pandemic, smartphones are a lifeline to the outside world.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released a consumer expenditure survey in 2018 that found people spend roughly $99 per month on their cell phone bill.

The pandemic could cause that average amount to rise.

Due to social distancing and remote working, people may be using their phones more frequently to keep in touch with others via voice calls, FaceTime and texting.

But an increase in cell phone usage does not necessarily need to lead to higher cell phone bills.

"We've seen a really sharp decrease in the amount of mobile data people are using," said Andrew Moore-Crispin, the head of content and brand at Ting, a mobile virtual network operator.

In the age of coronavirus, unlimited data plans may be excessive for customers who can connect to their own-WiFi networks.

Moore-Crispin said consumers should review their own data usage in order to choose the most cost-efficient plan.

"If you look at a mobile plan, the most expensive thing on that plan is going to be mobile data," Moore-Crispin said. "Our model is pay for what you use, so if you're not using mobile data, you're not paying for mobile data."

There are other steps consumers can take even after the pandemic ends.

Kimberly Palmer, a personal finance expert for Nerdwallet, said customers can typically save between $5 and $10 per month by enrolling in autopay.

"It's one less thing you have to worry about it," she said.

Palmer also said consumers can save more money per phone line by joining a family plan, even if the participants are not related.

But Palmer said customers who want to switch carriers should wait until the end of their contract. Breaking a contract could result in termination fees.

Instead, she recommended contacting carriers directly to negotiate deals.

"It's always worth asking," Palmer said. "The worst thing that could happen is they say no, but you could end up with a better deal."

Moore-Crispin suggested asking carriers for the promotions or deals being offered to new customers.

"There may be some leverage there," he said.

Many carriers are also offering assistance to customers who were directly affected by COVID-19.

Verizon is extending service until June 30 for customers who state they are unable to pay their bills due to the coronavius.

A spokesperson for AT&T said customers can call at any time to discuss changes to their data plans or to request a late fee waiver.

Other companies are temporarily extending access to data.

T-Mobile is providing unlimited, high-speed smartphone data to current customers who don't have it through June 30.

"Keeping T-Mobile customers connected during the pandemic has been one of our highest priorities and we're taking a number of temporary measures to ensure that ALL current T-Mobile customers with data in their plans have connectivity they need," said Steven Carlson, a spokesperson for T-Mobile.

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