Smartphone Owners Wasting Hundreds of Dollars on Unused Data Plans

Survey shows many consumers pay for more data than they ever use
A teen on a smartphone

Just because your cell phone service provider offers a great deal on data doesn’t mean it always makes sense for you to take it. In fact, a new survey suggests that many smartphone owners are spending money month after month on data they don’t use.

Cell phone and electronics trading platform wanted to see if smartphone users were buying the appropriate data plans for their phone usage. It surveyed 1,000 consumers to find out which plans they had and how much data they used in a typical month. The data was self-reported, meaning its accuracy relied on respondents’ memory and perceptions.

The survey found that 42% of respondents had capped plans that give customers a data limit, followed by 41% who had unlimited plans offering as much data as customers need on any given month. Another 10% had family plans, 4% had prepaid plans, and 3% were unsure of the type of plan they had.

Researchers noted that unlimited plans vary in their specific offerings, and data caps vary widely as well. Among survey respondents’ capped plans, 5 gigabytes of data per month was the average.

While 12% of capped users reported typically going over their data limit each month, the average person with a capped data plan only used about 74% of the data they were allotted. Since the average monthly bill for a capped data plan was $61.45, researchers calculated that the average person wasted 26.5% of their data, or approximately $16.56 per month. Over the course of the year that adds up to nearly $200.

Among unlimited plan customers, 44% used more than 10 gigabytes of data each month, making their plan a good deal, researchers found. However, 56% used 10 gigabytes or less of data each month — and among them, the average usage was 5.1 gigabytes a month, close to the typical 5 gigabytes used by capped users. It stands to reason that some of those users could save money by switching to a capped plan.

According to the study’s researchers, the average monthly capped plan costs $61.45, while the average unlimited plan costs $83.82, working out to a typical difference of $268.44 per year between the two types.

Interestingly, the likelihood of paying for unused data varied according to the type of phone the consumer had, with iPhone users wasting an average $51 more per year than Android users.

An effective budget not only takes into effect how much you spend, but it also looks at whether you’re using the products and services you’re spending your money on. It’s a good idea to examine your cell phone plan each year — as well as other services such as cable and entertainment packages — to make sure you’re getting the best deal for your usage.

Be sure to compare costs with other options as well. For example, you may want to expand your search for cell phone service to include multinetwork mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) plans, which can potentially be much cheaper.

Tamara E. Holmes

Tamara E. Holmes is a Washington, DC-based writer who covers personal finance, entrepreneurship and careers.

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