smart spending

4 ways to cut your phone bill

While calling cards can save money, buyers should be aware of hidden fees. Some plans require minimum usage times, monthly charges or both. Once you use up all your minutes, some calling card plans may also charge a higher rate to replenish the long-distance minutes.

New users will also need to get used to the idea of dialing their account numbers and PINs each time they make a long-distance call.

"It's cumbersome to dial a lot of numbers, but I tell myself that it's a whole lot cheaper than dialing a land line," Brixey says.

Another potential problem for users is the risk of running out of minutes while on a call. Before placing a call with a calling card, an automated prompt will tell you how many minutes you have left to use.

"You don't want to be in the middle of a business conversation and then have the phone go dead," says Brixey.

Instead of calling cards, consumers can also use toll-free services for long-distance. Users dial a toll-free number for service access before making their long-distance calls (which incur charges).

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Many toll-free services are offered by traditional phone companies, and consumers can use enhanced features, such as the ability to access directory assistance, make collect calls and purchase calling cards for later use.

Other toll-free offerings are linked to "dial around" or "10-10" plans (an online search will yield several providers). With these services, callers bypass their traditional phone company's long-distance services to make the calls.

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