There’s a Good Chance You’re Overpaying for Data on Your Phone

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AT&T no longer offers new subscribers the option to have unlimited data on their phones. So many subscribers feel lucky if they have been grandfathered in with their old plans and still pay $30 per month for unlimited data. But a new study indicates there’s about a 50-50 chance these customers are paying more than they need to—and they’d save an easy $10 a month by opting for a limited-data plan.

The shop-around service BillShrink estimates that 8 in 10 cell phone users overpay for their wireless plan. In other words, because they don’t use all of the minutes and/or data included in the package, they could painlessly save money by switching to a less expensive plan.

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Why don’t more people switch, then? One reason is that making the change can be nerve-wracking because people don’t like to have to monitor their minutes or data usage. It’s easier to just go with a pricey plan and yack and surf away all you want. That way, you never have to worry about overage charges, which are carefully designed to be painful and costly enough to make customers likely to upgrade to a pricier plan, even if the plan doesn’t make financial sense in the long run.

About a year ago, a Consumer Reports investigation found that the majority of iPhone users would save by cancelling their unlimited plans and switching to a cheaper package. Now, a new Consumer Reports study uses data from the wireless analysis firm Validas to reveal that 48% of AT&T customers who are grandfathered in with unlimited data plans are paying too much.

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AT&T charges $20 per month for 300 MB of data, a mark that nearly half of AT&T’s unlimited-data customers, who pay $30 per month, don’t hit. In the study, nearly 40% of unlimited data subscribers use 200 MB or less monthly, and a surprising 15.2% use 50 MB data or less each month. Surely these customers, who come well under the 300 MB cap, would benefit by switching to the cheaper data plan.

Another 8.9% of unlimited subscribers use between 200 MB and 300 MB of data monthly. These are the customers who have pretty good reason to fear being hit with an overage charge: AT&T dings subscribers who cross that threshold with a $20 fee for an additional 300 MB of data that month. You’d have to get hit with more than six such overages charges per year, though, for it to be more cost-effective to stick with the unlimited $30-per-month plan over the $20-per-month option.

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There are those who feel it’s worth paying the measly $10 extra per month simply to not have to think at all about data usage or monitor one’s MBs, nor to risk losing one’s grandfathered-in status. (It goes away if you ever change from the unlimited plan.) But if you’re sickened by how costly your monthly wireless bill is, it seems silly to overlook the possibility to painlessly knocking off $10 a month.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.
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