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Get the Best Phone Rate
by Marc Eisenson

Just when we thought we understood their residential calling plans and discount time periods, the long distance companies go and change it all. Even as we write, we know the playing field may have changed by the time you read this newsletter.

No matter. Your best defense against paying top dollar is a good offense -- and these rapid, often unannounced, frequently misleading rate deals are certainly offensive! Like many companies now hawking their wares to a nation looking to simplify, "simple" seems to be the phone industry's current operative word. The big three, AT&T, MCI, and Sprint are each offering a flat 15 cents a minute, 24 hours a day.

Sound simple? It is, but depending on how many calls you make, and when you make them, one of their less advertised plans might be a better bet.

Each of the long distance giants offers a menu of options, including different flat rate deals -- some with lower night rates but higher day rates, some with discounts based on your volume of calls, and believe it or not, some based on how hard you negotiate.

There's no way around it. You'll have to do your homework and make the calls. And given the fact that the long distance carriers change their plans so frequently, if you want to make sure that you always save the most on your phone bills, it's smart to shop around a few times a year.

Dial for Dollars
Scan a few recent, typical phone bills. Figure out how much, on average, you spend a month. Look at when and where you call most often, and how long you generally talk per call. In this new world of flat rate billing, you need to decide whether a mid-range 24 hour rate is better for you than a low evening/high daytime rate.

Armed with this info, call at least the big three carriers, including yours -- even if you don't think you'd switch.

AT&T: 800-222-0300
MCI: 800-444-3333
Sprint: 800-746-3767

Warning: Say you're comparison shopping, not authorizing a switch. And remember, all ads are slanted to make the advertiser a winner -- often by leaving out facts you'll be sorry you didn't discover before swallowing their bait.

Your goal is to see who's currently offering the lowest rates -- given your calling patterns. Be sure to ask if you qualify for any special promotions, sign-on bonuses, rewards, or rebate programs that give you cash back or even frequent flyer miles based on your call volume.

As we detailed in issue #18, if you're reasonably happy with your current carrier, but it's not offering the best rate, say you'll switch unless it at least matches the better deal. If not, switch. It beats overpaying.

After all, changing carriers isn't like moving to a new home. It's pretty painless. Your local phone company may charge a small switching fee ...one your new long distance carrier should be happy to credit to your account. (Ask!)

And don't worry. If it doesn't work out, your old carrier -- or any other -- will welcome you with open armes ... and with whatever "the deal of the week" might then be.

The Pocket Change Investor
The Secrets to Getting Ahead -- Even If You Have a Pile of Credit Card Bills, Hefty Mortgage Payments,
Loans Out on a Clunker or Two, & a Bad Case of the "I'm Tired of Living Payday to Payday" Blues.

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Reprinted from The Pocket Change Investor © 1992 (updated 2002), Marc Eisenson & Nancy Castleman

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