smart spending

Time to hang up on your landline?

Using smartphone
Highlights
  • How much you save depends on where you live and the type of landline.
  • The decision to cancel comes down to accessibility, safety and budget.
  • In some circumstances, getting rid of a landline could compromise safety.

Elizabeth Haynes of Long Beach, Calif., began thinking about canceling her landline phone when she realized the gardener accidentally cut the wire, and it took her two weeks to notice.

According to a recent 2011 study by the National Center for Health Statistics, Haynes is not alone in debating whether to hang up on her home phone. In fact, if she cuts the cord permanently, Haynes and her family will join more than 26 percent of Americans who have already opted for cell service only. In 2010, 1 in 4 homes in the U.S. reported no landline. It's a trend that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shows no sign of slowing.

"We got rid of our landline over six months ago," says Marcelle Papp of Valley Springs, Calif. "It was a waste of money." Papp says she realized she was being charged minimum usage fees for long distance in addition to basic long distance charges even though she wasn't using the service. "Then I monitored my local calls for about three months and decided only two or three people even called me on that phone, and we rarely called out on it. It took another month to make sure all my bills had my correct information, and then I canceled it."

How much could you save?

Depending on the type of landline service and which part of the U.S. you call home, Atlanta-based tech analyst Jeff Kagan estimates consumers could save between $180 and $240 a year "on the low side" and up to as much as $480 annually by dropping the landline.

Kagan says local phone companies nationwide are losing 10 percent to 12 percent of their business annually to cellphone services, Voice over Internet Protocol, cable companies and Internet technology such as Skype and Vonage. "There are plenty of options now that were not available 10 years ago," Kagan says.

Renters lead the cell-only charge

The National Center for Health Statistics reports the trend toward cell-only households has been led by renters. For young adults -- who never obtained their own landline -- and low-income consumers, the idea of nixing an underused service is catching on. For many, however, deciding when to make the leap comes down to accessibility, safety and money.

Homeowner Christina Moran of Portland, Ore., says she has been landline-free for the past four years. "We got way too many solicitations on the landline, and people who knew us called us on our respective cellphones," she says. Now when Moran and her husband leave the kids home with a baby sitter, they also leave one of their cellphones. She says it hasn't been a problem.

Increased reliability and safety for cellphones

Nor does Moran worry about the possibility of needing a landline in an emergency. "My theory was that, if there was a disaster, the landlines are just as likely to go out as anything else. So they don't make me feel safer."

Unlike some areas of the country, however, Moran is fortunate to live in a city equipped with reverse lookup. This emergency feature allows 911 call centers to redial callers if they are disconnected. Registering mobile phones for reverse lookup is free and encouraged in areas that provide the service.

Shop and compare before you cancel

In terms of safety, Haynes says she must consider that her home alarm relies on the landline to call 911. "(Home security systems) now have products that don't require a landline to communicate to police, but we'd have to pay more to buy ADT's equipment, and we might as well just keep the phone for now."

Tony Mucci, director of product planning for ADT Security Services Inc., agrees consumers must weigh their options. "Moving away from a traditional landline will save the monthly telephone bill expense, but (homeowners with security systems) may be required to purchase a digital cellular or Internet accessory plus the monthly subscription for the service," Mucci says.

In spite of trends that foreshadow landline phones going the way of phone booths, Kagan says he doesn't see the concept of a wired network disappearing completely. Instead, he predicts a hybrid service.

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