10 sneaky charges carriers tack onto your phone bill

You might think you’re only going to pay $50 per month, but you’re wrong.

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That $50/month smartphone plan you have—is it really only costing you $50/month?!

Yeah…it's more like twice that.

Look, it makes sense: Wireless carriers need to advertise bare-bones pricing to compete with other wireless carriers. So they cut out all the extra charges and fees, and pretend like their $50/month plan is a fabulous deal. But it’s not.

Here are a few of the sneaky charges carriers tack onto your phone bill. They’re not all complete nonsense, but that doesn’t make them any easier to stomach.

Activation fee

You sign a new two-year contract and slap down $300 for a new phone—but wait, there’s more! Before you can start using your phone, you need to pay a $40 ‘activation’ fee.

But you know that’s just a carrier upcharge, because if you complain about it enough, they’ll eventually waive it…

Upgrade fee

Think you can avoid the activation fee by upgrading your phone? Wrong. The upgrade fee is usually lower ($30 - $36), but it’s still there!

Phone insurance

When you first get a new phone, phone insurance sort of makes sense. But when your phone’s a year or two old, $10 a month is too much, so you call your carrier and ask them to take the insurance off. And they do…six months later.

Ringback tones

Ringback tones are cool tunes that people hear when they call your phone (instead of hearing a super boring ringing phone sound). What a sneaky way to get an extra $0.99/month out of the parents of teenagers.

Restocking fee

Sure, you can get a full refund on this new phone. A full refund minus a $35 restocking fee.

SIM starter kit fee

T-Mobile doesn’t charge an activation fee, but in order to activate your Simple Choice plan, you’ll need to buy a SIM starter kit for $15. Which is totally not the same thing as an activation fee.

Tethering charges

In 2012, the FCC ruled that Verizon couldn’t stop its Android users from downloading third-party tethering apps. And these days, Verizon’s new plans include the ‘mobile hotspot’ in the base price. But if you were paying for tethering before those plans were introduced…you might still be paying for it. Because a carrier will never stop charging you for something, unless you ask them to.

So you're paying them for the data, and then you're paying them AGAIN to use it a particular way. Genius!

‘Detailed’ paper bill fee

A few years ago, in an effort to get users to switch over to paperless billing, wireless companies started charging ‘invoice’ fees of around $2 for each paper bill. They backed off that practice…sort of. If you want to receive a ‘detailed’ paper bill, it’ll still cost you $2/month, and sometimes ‘detailed’ is the default for paper billing (so you’ll need to call your carrier and ask for a free summary bill, instead).

Administrative charges

You might see this fee (usually $1 or less) on your bill as a standalone object, or it might be bundled into an ‘Other fees’ line. Either way, it’s pretty much just a random charge that your wireless company uses to defray expenses such as ‘paying property taxes’ or ‘calling customers’ or ‘running a business.’

Because, you know, wireless companies are not profitable in the least and must therefore charge you extra so they can keep the lights on.


Okay, so taxes are a legitimate charge. But that doesn’t make them any less annoying!

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