How to Beat Mobile Phone Bill Shock

24 January 2017

Bill shock isn't as common an occurrence as it used to be, but it's no less shocking when it happens. If you're not careful, it's still possible to end up spending more than you wanted to on your monthly smartphone bill. While most phone plans now included unlimited talk and text and far more reasonable excess data charges (typically $10 per additional gigabyte), international calls, roaming, and more can still result in a nasty surprise. 

The Three Main Causes of Bill Shock

  • Exceeding your inclusions.
  • Using services not included in your cap, like calling premium service 19xx numbers (again, usually due to either confusing plan descriptions, or through not understanding the terms and conditions).
  • Taking your phone overseas and using data or making calls (a problem we’ll look at in a separate guide).

So for those of you wanting to avoid the drama of bill shock, here are a few simple steps to keep your monthly statement as manageable as possible.

  • First and most obvious: try a prepaid plan. This isn’t an option that’s convenient for everyone - it is a universal law that you will run of credit when you need your phone the most – but when you burn through your inclusions on a prepaid plan, you're cut off instead of being charged more. This is perfect if you've got data-hungry kids or teenagers who have a habit of racking up big bills. 
  • If you’re definite about sticking with postpaid, find a phone plan that meets your call, message and data usage needs. Do your research, figure out what you’ll be using your phone for the most, and pick a plan that covers you. Given that talk and text are mostly unlimited now, data is the main issue. For more help on working out how much data you need, check out our mobile data usage guide
  • If you don't have much data, use Wi-Fi when you can.
  • If you don't have international calls or messaging included in your plan, use apps like Skype, Facebook Messenger, FaceTime, or WhatsApp instead. These use data, and unless you exceed your data allowance, won't cost you any extra. 
  • Keep an eye on your usage. Conveniently, most telcos now send real-time messages that alert you to how much of your monthly data allowance you've used at certain milestones (typically 50%, 75%, and 90%).

Managing Your Bill

If you're having trouble, managing your bill, all major networks and some smaller MVNOs all have usage apps that you can download for iPhone and Android to see your real-time usage. Telstra, Optus, Virgin, Vodafone, and Amaysim all have free smartphone apps available for customers. 

While prevention is undoubtedly the best option to combat bill shock, the good news is if you’ve been hit with a mammoth bill, it is possible to get some of your money back, provided you go through the right channels.

The big mobile networks make a lot of money out of bill shock, but they also generate a lot of negative publicity that they’d rather avoid. Telco companies will often refund large amounts if you fight hard enough – don’t be afraid to contest a bill if you think it isn’t defensible or fair, and let your carrier know that you’ll be shopping around for a better deal if they won’t compromise (even if you have no intention of reneging on your contract and getting hit with termination fees).

Remember that you have a right to complain if you're dissatisfied with what you've been charged, or if you have any other issue with your provider.

Overall, it’s a lot easier not to be hit with an outrageous bill than it is to contest one. If you’re aware of what your limitations are with the plan you choose, take the time to ensure that it’s the right plan for your needs, and keep an eye on your monthly usage, you can reduce the bill shock risk and keep your monthly statement under control.

Bill shock image from ShutterStock. 

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