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Buying a cell phone for your teen

Just keep in mind that endless gabbing on a cell phone is far from cheap. If you exceed the monthly allotment of minutes included in your calling plan, a higher per-minute fee kicks in.

Use up your airtime for the month and you'll quickly be paying 45 to 50 cents per minute on your calls. A monthly cell phone bill could get awfully big, awfully quick.

It's not a good idea to hand a teen a cell phone with a postpaid calling plan without laying down some strict ground rules.

Is the teen responsible for the entire bill each and every month? Half of the bill? A parent could also agree to pay a fixed amount of a teen's cell phone expenses each month. Any other charges would be paid by the teen.

Make it clear to your teen just how much airtime comes with the calling plan each month. Be sure to point out how much any extra airtime will cost them.

"Show them the bill. Make sure they understand what the overages would be," Simon says. "Show them how to check how many minutes they've used on the phone."

Again, it's crucial that the calling plan you choose for your teen matches their calling needs. Have a long talk with your teen on how they plan to use the phone and then do some serious comparison-shopping.

This article from Bankrate.com will show you how to find a calling plan that matches your teen's calling patterns.

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Today's teens do a lot more than talk with their cell phones. So be sure to ask your teen about text messaging.

Paying 5 to 10 cents per message really adds up, especially if your teen and all their friends text message each other like crazy.

"I run into people who say 'My child. Five hundred dollars for text messaging. What could they possibly say?'" Blecher says. "It's insane."

If your teen is keen on text messaging, you may want to sign up for a calling plan with unlimited text messaging, which costs about $5 or $10 a month.

Teens also like to change ring tones and cell phone covers. Make it clear that they can be as creative as they want with the phone as long as they pay for it. And you may want to remind them that it will cost them a dollar or two each time they change ring tones.

Another option for families is adding a teen to a parent's calling plan. Many providers offer calling plans that allow families to share airtime on as many as five phones on a single account. You'll pay $10 to $20 a month for each phone you add to the account. And you could pay a one-time activation fee as high as $36 for each phone you add. Be sure to check.

The biggest thing to think about with family calling plans is sharing your airtime every month.

"Here's the scary part with family plans. You all share minutes so your child could use all your minutes if they're a gabber," Blecher says.

One way you can conserve pooled airtime is by signing up for a calling plan that gives you unlimited calling to other family members in the plan.

"It's basically free minutes," Blecher says. "It doesn't get deducted from your plan."

Before you sign on for a family calling plan, you'll want to weigh the costs of getting your teen their own calling plan with your cell phone carrier. It may be cheaper for each of you to have your own calling plan.

"Parent and child together have to be honest about how they'll use the phone," Blecher says. "And then they need to find the best calling plans for their needs."

-- Posted: Sept. 29, 2003
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See Also
Matching your teen and a cell phone plan
Key questions to ask about prepaid phone plans
Cell phone comparison worksheet
Glossary of personal finance terms
Glossary of personal finance terms
More Frugal U. stories



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