Common Billing Errors and How to Spot Them
Recently, a lawsuit found that a Washington-based energy supplier overcharged several hundred thousand households, totaling nearly $43 million in excess fees. Billing errors like these are fairly common and certainly not limited to energy suppliers. Smart phones, internet, credit cards — each of these expenses has room for error that could cost you a lot of money over time. The errors could be the result of miscalculations or simple human error, or they could be part of a bigger problem. How do you find the difference between your typical fees and errors? Here are some tips to help you decipher the things you should and shouldn’t be paying.
Check the dates. Overlapping charges can be a problem with billing cycles that do not line up with the first or last of the month, but with the date you initiated the service. Make sure the date range for that statement coincides with the end range date on your last statement to avoid paying twice for the service you received.
Make sure your move doesn’t cost you more than it needs to. Moving is expensive on its own, but paying utilities on two apartments really costs you. When you move, confirm that you have turned utility services off at your old place, and double-check they have your new address correct. Even the slightest error in your information can lead to you getting charged for someone else’s usage.
Do the math. If there is some sort of calculation, like metered usage of electricity or multiple line items, double-check the math. It may seem tedious, but that is the easiest spot for billing errors to appear.
Note and anticipate irregular behavior. When the weather peaks in a certain direction or your living patterns change, your utilities bills are probably significantly different. When the kids are out of school during the summer, they likely use more electricity, in addition to the cool air pumping throughout the house. You can anticipate big fluctuations like these. But what if you see big swings in your utility usage during quiet, mild weather times like October and May? That may be the sign of a bigger problem. Check your meter for accuracy or contact your supplier to request an investigation.
Don’t let “free” fool you. Many apps or games are free, but some require a subscription or in-app fees in order to really use them. There are also cases of “cramming”, when a third-party company (someone outside of your cellular provider) charges small fees through your regular phone bill. Make sure all of the charges were initiated by you. If not, contact your service provider for help. You can also request a third-party billing block on your account.
International roaming can cost you. Most modern cell phone plans don’t charge additional fees for domestic roaming, but it’s a different story if you travel internationally. Make sure to verify options and fees with your cell phone provider before you rack up your bill for international data and voice usage.
Review your plan. Do you actually use all your data and phone features every month? While this isn’t technically a billing error, you might be able to save money with a different service plan. While you’re taking the time to look at your statements, review your usage and consider downgrading to a more affordable package if it fits your lifestyle. Don’t pay for what you don’t need.
Watch for opt-in options. Sometimes when you get a new phone, you are automatically opted-in for additional services like insurance (when in fact, the company that manufactures your mobile might already cover those things). Make sure you contact your provider to clarify when you upgrade.
Monitor statements for unauthorized usage. Credit card fraud can happen to you even if you’re physically in control of your credit card. To prevent unauthorized usage, avoid sharing your card information with others and storing your card information in any internet browser. Keep an eye on your credit card statements, and follow these steps if you need to dispute unauthorized charges.
Watch for incorrect charges. These can include incorrectly scanned merchandise, charges for items that you didn’t receive, over-charges and other pricing mistakes. Always review your receipt when making a purchase. If you notice an error, keep your receipt and follow up with your credit card provider to dispute the charge. They may ask that you also contact the company that incorrectly billed you.
Limited-time offers can sneak up on you. When you sign up for cable and/or internet, providers like to get you on the hook with a too-good-to-be-true type of deal that lasts for the first year. After the promotional rate is over, you’re left with the same service at a much higher cost. When you initiate a new contract, make a note 11 months from then to follow up and see if you can extend the deal another year or more. Many providers will find an alternative offer to retain you as a customer.
Bundling isn’t always better. Service providers will sometimes offer bundling as one of their promotional options when you sign up. Like limited-time deals, the bundle pricing can significantly increase after an introductory period. Make sure you’re aware of any promotional pricing, and call your service provider before your contract ends to explore your options or cut any service that you’re not using.
Rental charges. Some customers may prefer to rent hardware, like modems or routers. However, if you use your own equipment, you shouldn’t pay for the rental usage. Contact your service provider if you think you’ve been incorrectly charged for rental equipment that you own.
New service, new fees. When you initiate a new service plan with cable companies, they may charge you for installation, equipment, labor for the technician and a regular fee. Don’t let them get away with useless add-ons. Challenge them to include complimentary installation or reduced fees as part of your new customer package.