Hidden Cell Phone Fees

Cell phones seem to have gotten more expensive over the years. While much of that has to do with the costs of phones and data plans, hidden cell phone fees also play a major factor in your monthly bill. Before you sign up for a cell phone plan, you may want to familiarize yourself with the various fees you will encounter along the way. Here are some to keep in mind.


Most cell phone bills have a series of fees known as wireless taxes that go to city, state and federal government organizations. These taxes vary by location, but they make up an average 17.2% of your bill. Most people complain about the sales tax rates in stores, but they don’t notice how high the taxes are on their cell phone bills.

911 Services

Nearly every phone plan carries a 911 service charge, including landlines and cell phones. While they still charge people after sending an ambulance or administering medication on scene, the money gained from 911 services pays for the phone operators, police officers and other workers that respond to the issue. 911 charges are usually a percentage of the overall bill, and usually range from 0.64% to 2.55%. Some cell phone companies charge state and local wireless 911 fees.

“Free” Phones

Ever wonder why you receive a free phone when you sign up for a two year contract with a wireless provider? Part of this is because the company is locking you into a contract for a long stretch of time. But it’s also because you may be getting charged for your phone on your monthly bill. This is usually not something they tell you at the store, but you will have a small portion of your monthly payments reserved for your smartphone. You still get to keep and use the phone as if it were your own, but technically, you’re financing it for the first two years.

411 Services

411 services provide basic information for people who are in unfamiliar areas. For instance, you may dial 411 to find the number and location to a restaurant that you have never been to. If you are stranded on the side of the road, you may ask 411 to find a tow company for you. Most cell phone providers charge a 411 fee on all of their plans, regardless of whether you actually use the service. Then they charge an additional fee once you actually call in, usually around $0.50-$1.00 per call. With easy access to the Internet on most smartphones, paying this secondary fee usually isn’t necessary.

Activations and Upgrades

When you go to activate a new phone or upgrade your current one, you may be charged a fee for the change. Some cell phone companies will tell you this ahead of time, but others may simply slip it into your bill. There is not a lot that you can do about this, but you need to be aware of it before you make changes to your plan.

Late Fees

Late payment fees aren’t necessarily hidden cell phone fees, but they can be more expensive than you expect. If you have other services like Internet tied into your wireless plan, you may end up paying a late fee for each of those services. Try to make your payments on time or arrange a payment plan with the phone company if you know you are going to be late. You may want to set up an auto-draft to avoid the fees.

Overage Charges

Overage charges aren’t hidden cell phone fees either, but they are ones that you can avoid. You could be charged a fee for going over your minutes, data and text messages. It is important to monitor your account throughout the month to make sure you are on track with your usage. Adjust your usage accordingly and you won’t have to worry about the costs.

About John Oldshue

John Oldshue is the creator of SaveOnPhone.com. He worked for over 15 years in television and won an Emmy award for his reporting. He covers long distance and cell phone topics for SaveOnPhone.