Now more than ever, the internet is our lifeline to what’s going on in the world. We’re all scrolling social media, streaming, and reading the news more than ever before.
Your social media feeds are no doubt clogged with hoaxes and misinformation that spread all too easily. Tap or click here for rumors going around Facebook, so you don’t get tricked into sharing them.
On the other hand, your bank account is feeling the strain from all those streaming services you’ve signed up for. Tap or click here for the money-saving advice the streaming services don’t want you to know.
It’s worth looking over your internet bills to see if you’re paying for more than you need. Here are seven ways you can shrink your monthly bill:
1. Figure out how much internet you need
It’s tempting to sign up for the highest-priced internet plan, thinking it’ll cover everything you want to do online. You probably don’t need data caps and speeds that come with the highest tier.
How do you find out how much data you use? Tap or click here to use a handy calculator from AT&T. Make your best guess at how many hours you stream video, play games, browse the web and more.
Once you have an estimate of your monthly usage, call your internet service provider (ISP). You may be just fine dropping down a pricing tier.
But be careful: If you sign up for too small a plan, you may go over your cap and end up with speed throttling or surcharges.
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2. Grab a bundle
Bundles are a great way to save money. Many ISPs offer a good discount by subscribing to a package that includes internet and cable TV service.
With so many people cutting the cord and moving to streaming, the deals are more competitive than ever.
Save $20 a month bundling AT&T DirecTV and U-verse internet. Cox subscribers can get as much as $40 off their monthly charges for creating a bundle. And Spectrum, one of the nation’s largest providers, offers a flat $15 off for anyone who combines services.
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3. Find out the latest promos
Promos can save you money in the short term but cost you more if you’re not careful. The advertised rates you see from ISPs are often the promotional rate. Once the promo ends, they revert to the “real price.” It’s often much higher.
It’s still worth calling your ISP to ask about any special rates. Ask the representative when the promotional price for your current rate ends. Most of the time, the answer is “one year from when you signed up.”
As that date approaches, call your ISP and negotiate a better deal before the higher price kicks in. You have a trump card in your pocket for this, too: potentially leaving for another provider.
4. Know who to talk to
Long term, is it better to switch companies to get that great promo deal? Probably not – if you make sure your current ISP knows you can take your business elsewhere.
Before your promotional rate expires, call your ISP and say you’re considering moving to a cheaper provider. Tell the person that the promotional rate worked for your budget, but the regular rate does not.
At this point, ask to be transferred to your ISP’s “retention department.” This where the company’s representatives will try to prevent you from quitting by negotiating the terms of your plan.
Now it’s time to play hardball. Your ISP would much rather negotiate a cheaper rate with you than lose a customer, so make sure they know you’re serious and have the prices of competitor services at hand.
Don’t play ball until they offer to lower your bill without downgrading your service. Sometimes, the retention agent will give you what seems like a good deal, but the plan just reduces your speeds and data cap.
Let them know you’re satisfied with your service and that the issue is purely about money.
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5. Stop renting a modem or router
An often-overlooked part of your bill is the so-called “device charge,” which refers to a rental fee you pay for your router or modem. The router that comes with your internet service is not free unless otherwise specified by your plan.
Rather than paying for an average router from your ISP over time, you can pick up a much better router of your own and keep your bill where it belongs. TP-Link, NETGEAR and ASUS are solid options. Look for one with WPA-3 encryption, which is the latest security standard you can buy.
If you struggle with dead spots or bad signal strength through your home, I suggest a mesh router system.
Once you get your new router, you need to secure it. Tap or click for 5 router security steps you must take.
6. Cut your landline from your bill
Not all bundles are created equal and many telecoms include landline phone services. Landlines typically average $20 to 40 dollars extra per month, and that really adds up.
If you need a landline, check out a VoIP (voice over IP) service that uses your internet connection to dial out. Skype offers unlimited calls to mobile phones and landlines within the U.S. for just $3.59 per month. Vonage offers unlimited calling to all of North America for $14.99 a month.
With VoIP, you don’t need to worry about buying a phone for your house. These services can use your web connection and your computer’s microphone to make calls.
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7. Federal assistance can get you a discount
If you’re already struggling and relying on federal assistance to get you through the month, you can get a great discount on your internet bill. Special internet plans are available for low-income customers and people depending on government financial aid.
Here are some of the programs that can qualify you for a discount from many of the largest telecom providers:
• National School Lunch Program (NSLP)
• Community Eligibility Provision of the National School Lunch Program (CEP of the NSLP)
• Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
• Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
• Public Housing (HUD)
• Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
• Pell Grant
• Senior and/or veteran government assistance
If you participate in any of these programs, reach out to your ISP and ask about subsidized rates or low-cost internet plans. You might be surprised at what you’ll qualify for and what options are available.
Many states also participate in the FCC’s Lifeline program, which offers a special discount on top of your current internet bill for specific low-income customers. Different states have different requirements to qualify, so check with the official Lifeline website to see if it’s a good fit for your situation.
Ultimately, the ISPs are banking on the fact that most people don’t know what goes into their bills. Now that you do, you can save money and reap the benefits. Just make sure to ask nicely.
Learn about all the latest technology on the Kim Komando Show, the nation’s largest weekend radio talk show. Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today’s digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 7 smart steps you can take now to shrink your internet bill