WASHINGTON – Turning down the thermostat. Pilfering dinner rolls. Skipping Starbucks – these are some frugal moves for money-tight times.
But switching to a prepaid cell phone plan is just unfathomable. After all,aren't prepaid phones clunky and geared toward people who don't like to make calls?
Several myths surround prepaid cell phones,a survey released Thursday found. And this is too bad,survey sponsors say,because a lot of people could stand to switch plans.
Four out of five Americans – 79 percent of the total population – own a cell phone. The New Millennium Research Council,a telecommunications think tank,found that 44 percent of cell phone owners use fewer than 200 minutes a month,meaning they would benefit from switching to a prepaid phone plan.
More people would switch to prepaid,researchers say,if they knew when their contract's cancellation penalty kicks in.
“The result would appear that millions of American consumers are sticking with their current cell phone plan because they don't know whether early cancellation penalties are still hanging over their heads,” said Graham Hueber,a senior researcher with the Opinion Research Center,which carried out the survey.
Of the 1,007 people surveyed in November,43 percent did not know about their cancellation penalty. Half incorrectly believed that switching to prepaid is expensive because cell phone customers must pay fees whenever they switch carriers.
The survey also found that outdated beliefs about prepaid cell phones persist,especially among younger adults. For example,59 percent – including 70 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds – said prepaid phones are good only for people who rarely make calls. Survey participants were split 40-39 percent on whether prepaid cell phones are available only in very basic models.
Sixteen percent of cell phone users,about 29 million people,have prepaid plans. This is a significantly lower percentage than in other developed countries,where a third or more of consumers opt for prepaid phones.
Researchers hope the study encourages people to consider prepaid phone options when they buy cell phones.
“As people go out this Christmas season,some may go out and buy cell phones with wanton abandon about what they're paying for,” said Allan Hepner,an NMRC scholar. “The NMRC would like people to know that they have choices that can save them money.”
NMRC is a nonprofit think tank associated with Amplify Public Affairs,a public relations company that represents many technology companies,including major cell phone providers. NMRC paid for the study.
The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.