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Saving money on long-distance calls

Another advantage of going small with your long-distance company is six-second call rounding. Each call is rounded up six seconds rather than going to the next minute no matter how many seconds are left. Smaller long-distance companies offering six-second call rounding include Primus, Everdial, Capsule Communications, 1Plus, Unitel and PowerNetGlobal.

"Check call-rounding policies. A lot of low-cost plans will round to six seconds," Keiter says. "It's something you want to look for."

The more calls you make, the more money you can save with six-second rounding.

"If you have a lot of short phone calls or send out a lot of faxes, you can really save a lot of money," Sayers says.

Some low-cost carriers may charge a fee if you receive a paper bill and you spend less than $15 or $20 on long distance in a month. You can sidestep this $1 to $2 billing fee by paying your bills online.

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Another thing to consider when studying long-distance plans is in-state calling rates. If you make a lot of long-distance calls within your state, you'll want to choose a calling plan with a low in-state rate. Rates on in-state calls tend to be higher than the rates for state-to-state calls, but that doesn't mean you can't find a good deal. Once again, don't overlook the little guys. Smaller companies tend to charge lower rates for in-state calls.

"The final decision might come down to the in-state rate for the carrier," Keiter says.

Web sites such as MyRatePlan.com, Telebright.com and SaveOnPhones.com have search engines that make it easy to compare long-distance offers between companies.

Be sure to shop carefully. For questions about a particular long-distance plan, contact the carrier directly.

Pure prepaid play
If your long-distance phone calls are few and far between, you may want to drop your long-distance carrier altogether. You can pay for the few calls you make with a prepaid phone card, a dial-around service or even your cell phone if you've got the minutes. And you'll avoid the monthly fees and taxes charged by long-distance carriers.

"It's time to think about not having a long-distance company," says Sam Simon, chairman of the Telecommunications Research and Action Center.

With rates between 3 cents and 4 cents a minute, a prepaid phone card may be a good option for folks who make only occasional long-distance calls. But you'll need to read through a lot of fine print to land a good deal.

There are plenty of really lousy phone card offers mixed in with the good ones. Carriers can levy a host of fees for everything from connection charges to weekly or monthly fees simply for maintaining the card.

Watch out for scams.

"I've seen all kinds of stuff," Keiter says. "I've seen four-minute rounding. So you talk for two minutes and they round it up to six minutes."

For tips on landing a good deal on a prepaid phone card, check out this article from Bankrate.com.

Dialing around
A dial-around service is another good option for infrequent, long-distance talkers. With a dial-around number, you dial 10-10 plus a three-digit code to make calls from your home phone.

Dial-around numbers have gotten so popular that there are 10-15 and 10-16 numbers, as well. Many of the best deals aren't advertised on television. Web sites such as 10-10PhoneRates.com can help you pinpoint the best dial-around number for your calling needs. Dial-around numbers offer great rates on international calls. They can also help you save money on your in-state calls.

Another way to save money on long distance is to simply use your cell phone.

"If you've got a plan that includes long distance that's a good option," Keiter says.

Just be careful not to go over your airtime for the month. If you do, you could end up paying 40 cents to 45 cents a minute for your calls. Yikes.

For tips on finding a good calling plan for your cell phone, check out this article from Bankrate.com.

Saving a bundle
Can't imagine cutting long distance from your landline? Do you make a ton of long-distance calls every month? You may want to consider a plan that gives you unlimited local and long-distance calling for one monthly fee. Many of these plans include features such as call waiting, caller ID, voice mail and call forwarding. Most major phone companies offer these plans with costs running anywhere from $30 to $70.

If you're paying more than $60 a month for your local and long-distance charges each month, you may want to consider a bundled long-distance plan.

Keep in mind that fees, taxes and surcharges still get added to the cost of a bundled plan. Be sure to ask about fees and charges. It's the only way to determine the true cost of a bundled plan.

Study the calling details of a bundled plan carefully before signing on. Some plans will charge you a per-minute rate if you call a friend that uses a different long-distance company.

For example, MCI's Neighborhood Choice only gives you unlimited long distance when you call other MCI customers. Call a non-MCI customer and you pay 7 cents per minute for the call.

Here's another thing to think about: If you bundle your long-distance and local phone service, you may lose the option of using a 10-10 number for international calls.

Anyone who makes a lot of overseas calls will want to steer clear of bundled long-distance plans.

Mix and match
As convenient as it may be to pay a single bill for all your calling needs, there's a good chance you'll save money by mixing and matching your phone services.

There's little chance a single long-distance company or service is going to give you the best deal on all your calling needs. If they did, they'd have a hard time staying in business.

"They give you a cheap deal one way and a more expensive deal some place else to make it up," Sayers says.

Beat the long-distance companies at their own game by mixing and matching your services.

Choose a cheap, no-name company you'll never hear advertised on television for your state-to-state long distance.

Buy a prepaid calling card and save money on pricey in-state calls. Pick up a dial-around number for international calls.

Got a cell phone? Go wireless for your long distance whenever you can. If you're paying for the minutes you might as well use them. Keep a prepaid calling card or dial-around number by your landline as a backup.

Use whatever combination works for you and save money.

Love your long-distance company too much to leave? At the very least call and ask for the cheapest calling plan that matches your calling needs. And make this call at least one or two times a year. New plans get introduced all the time, but you won't know unless you call and ask.

"Call up," Sayers says. "You can definitely find a better deal."

-- Posted: Sept. 15, 2003
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See Also
How to get a good deal on a cell phone
Prepaid cellular: Is it for you?
Frugal U. definitions
More Frugal U. stories

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