Cell phone bills hit students’ wallets

Courtney Kerrigan

Extras increase cost of monthly payment

Handwritten letters were first, followed by telephones, which are slowly becoming obsolete because of the growing popularity of cell phones.

And while a new technology will eventually diminish the interest in portable phones, for now, they play an intricate role in the wear and tear on college students’ wallets.

People are highly dependent on their wireless gadgets, and the price of a phone alone can cost hundreds of dollars.

And that’s not even including the plan.

Erica Sevilla, spokeswoman for Verizon Wireless, said a cell phone plan depends on the type of college student using it, but suggested an unlimited calling plan on a Smartphone for $99.99 a month.

“I think most college students who want to have a single predictable bill each month should consider a Smartphone plan that offers unlimited data, free SKYPE calls and unlimited e-mail and texting,” she said.

But with all the expenses that come with being a college student, not everyone has an extra $100 to spare.

Joe Geiszler, sophomore business management major, used Verizon for years until recently switching to T-Mobile because he said it’s cheaper and doesn’t require a contract.

“With the phones I wanted at Verizon, you had to pay for the Internet, which was an extra $20,” he said. “Now I pay $39.99 a month plus tax, and I’m not committed to any contract.”

Mark Siegel, executive director of media relations for AT&T, said AT&T offers a plan for $39.99 and suggested college students buy quick message devices like the Backflip.

“It seems to me, college students use texting as their primary means of communications, so I would always recommend an unlimited texting plan,” he said.

While many students find comfort in their two-year contracts, most overlook easier and affordable options available at stores such as Walmart and Best Buy.

Geiszler said he used to have a prepaid plan. Although he didn’t like the phones, he agreed it was easier.

“I was paying about $45 a month with my Tracfone, but I didn’t mind it because if I didn’t have the money, I wasn’t obligated to have to pay that month — I could wait a little bit and then pay,” he said.

Walmart sells a range of prepaid cell phones, including brands such as AT&T, Virgin Mobile, NET10, T-Mobile and Tracfone.

With these, students aren’t trapped in any contract and control how long they have the phone and how much they pay for minutes.

Students can buy the phones and then purchase airtime cards with a given amount of minutes. Prices of phones vary depending on the type and students’ brand preference.

On Walmart.com, a regular flip phone from Virgin Mobile costs $8.88 while a Samsung touch screen sells for $99.88 and includes Bluetooth, a camera, Internet access and a hands-free speaker.

The newest brand in prepaid phones is Straight Talk, a cell phone with inexpensive phones and plans that last anywhere from one month to one year.

Found on StraightTalk.com or in Walmart, students can pick their phones, which range from a $29.99 LG flip phone to a $328.99 Samsung touch screen, and then decide if they want to keep their existing phone number or change it.

They can then choose what plan would best fit their budget: one month unlimited minutes for $45, three months unlimited minutes for $135, six months unlimited minutes for $270 or one year unlimited for $540.

Features include no contract, unlimited nationwide minutes, text or picture messages and mobile Web access.

Sophomore integrated language arts major Molly Patterson said she used to have a Tracfone, but found that it was unreliable.

“I didn’t always get calls when people tried to call me and sometimes I wouldn’t receive voicemails,” she said.

Patterson said she spent about $100 a month in minutes for the phone, but now she only pays about $50 with Verizon.

“I don’t think prepaid phones are easier for college students just because for a lot of people their phones are the only line they have to call home,” she said. “If it’s not reliable, then they can’t get a hold of their parents if something happens.”

Contact student finance reporter Courtney Kerrigan

at [email protected].