COVID-19 has drastically slashed most Americans’ budgets, and we’re all starting to feel the squeeze. More than 700,000 jobs were lost in March alone, and some analysts believe we’ll hit a national unemployment rate of 20% by June.
Governments and corporations are doing what they can to ease the burden. Many telecom companies are halting disconnections and waiving late fees as part of the Keep America Online program. Tap or click here to find out what to do if you can’t pay your bill.
It’s still worth looking over your internet use and seeing if you’re paying for more than you actually need. Here are seven ways you can shrink your monthly bill.
1. Figure out how much internet you need
If you can afford it, it’s tempting to sign up for the highest-priced internet plan, thinking it’ll cover everything you want to do online. In reality, you probably don’t need data caps and speeds that come with the highest tier.
Browsing the internet and sharing photos here and there barely scratches the surface of your data cap. The biggest hogs are video streaming services — especially if they broadcast in 4K high definition.
How do you find out how much you actually use? Tap or click here to use AT&T’s data calculator. This tool includes estimates of the data you consume based on time and quantity. Watching 4K video is significantly more impactful than sending emails or browsing the web.
Once you have an estimate of your monthly usage, call your ISP to find the best plan. You may be able to cut down your monthly payment significantly by dropping down a pricing tier.
But be careful: If you sign up for too small a plan, you may go over your cap and end up with speed throttling or surcharges. Tap or click here to see how a VPN can show you if your ISP is throttling you.
2. Grab a bundle
Bundles are a great way to save money. Many ISPs offer plans that include television, so you can get a good discount by subscribing to a bundle that includes discounted internet and cable TV service.
With so many people cutting the cord and moving to streaming, the deals are more competitive than ever. Tap or click to see some of the top plans available.
Save $20 a month bundling AT&T DirecTV and U-verse internet. Cox subscribers can get as much as $40 off their monthly charges for creating a bundle. And Spectrum, one of the largest providers in the nation, offers a flat $15 off for anyone who combines services.
RELATED: Thinking of ditching your cable bill? Tap or click for what you need to know before you go the streaming route.
3. Find out the latest promos
Promos are a double-edged sword: They can save you money in the short term but cost you more if you’re not careful. The advertised rates you see from ISPs are often the promotional rate. Once the promo ends, they revert to the “real price.” Spoiler: It’s always much, much higher.
It’s still worth calling your ISP to ask about any special rates. If no additional promotions are available, ask the representative when/if the promotional price for your current rate ends. Much of the time, the answer is “one year from when you signed up.”
As that date approaches, call your ISP and negotiate a better deal before the higher price kicks in. You have a trump card in your pocket for this, too: potentially leaving for another provider.
4. Know who to talk to
Long term, is it better to switch companies to get that great promo deal? Probably not — if you make sure your current ISP knows you can take your business elsewhere.
Before your promotional rate expires, call your ISP and say you’re considering moving to a cheaper provider. Tell the person on the line the promotional rate worked for your budget, but the regular rate does not.
At this point, ask to be transferred to your ISP’s “retention department.” This where the company’s representatives will try to prevent you from quitting by negotiating the terms of your plan.
Now it’s time to play hardball. Your ISP would much rather negotiate a cheaper rate with you than lose a customer, so make sure they know you’re serious and have the prices of competitor services at hand.
Don’t play ball until they offer to lower your bill without downgrading your service. Sometimes, the retention agent will give you what seems like a good deal, but the plan just reduces your speeds and data cap.
Let them know you’re satisfied with your service and that the issue is purely about money.
5. Stop renting a modem or router
An often-overlooked part of your bill is the so-called “device charge,” which refers to a rental fee you pay for your router or modem. The router that comes with your internet service is not free unless otherwise specified by your plan.
Rather than paying for an average router from your ISP over time, you can pick up a much better router of your own and keep your bill where it belongs.
Here is a great option. This router from TP-Link is a solid choice for homes up to 2,500 square feet.
Another option is this ASUS Router, which is a bit more expensive but prioritizes network security for multi-device households. It includes WPA-3 encryption, which is the latest security standard you can buy. Plus, it has plenty of hardwiring ports for all your devices that need as much speed as possible.
If you want to make sure you have Wi-Fi coverage throughout your entire home, set up a mesh network. An eero system blankets your whole home with fast, reliable Wi-Fi.
6. Cut your landline from your bill
Not all bundles are created equal and many telecoms include landline phone services. Landlines typically average $20 to 40 dollars extra per month, and that really adds up.
If you need a landline, check out a VoIP (voice over IP) service that uses your internet connection to dial out. Skype offers unlimited calls to mobile phones and landlines within the U.S. for just $3.59 per month. Vonage offers unlimited calling to all of North America for $14.99 a month.
With VoIP, you don’t need to worry about buying a phone for your house. These services can use your web connection and your computer’s microphone to make calls.
7. Federal assistance can get you a discount
If you’re already struggling and relying on federal assistance to get you through the month, you can get a great discount on your internet bill. Special internet plans are available for low-income customers and people depending on government financial aid.
Here are some of the programs that can qualify you for a discount from many of the largest telecom providers:
- National School Lunch Program (NSLP)
- Community Eligibility Provision of the National School Lunch Program (CEP of the NSLP)
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
- Public Housing (HUD)
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Pell Grant
- Senior and/or veteran government assistance
If you participate in any of these programs, reach out to your ISP and ask about subsidized rates or low-cost internet plans. You might be surprised at what you’ll qualify for and what options are available.
In addition to these federal programs, many states also participate in the FCC’s Lifeline program, which offers a special discount on top of your current internet bill for specific low-income customers. Different states have different requirements to qualify, so check with the official Lifeline website to see if it’s a good fit for your situation.
Ultimately, the ISPs are banking on the fact that most people don’t know what goes into their bills. Now that you do, you can save money and reap the benefits. Just make sure to ask nicely.
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