Consumer questions: Cell phone surcharges

July 14, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Michael Finney answers your questions on pesky surcharges on your mobile phone bill, IRS audits and FDIC insurance.

Mobile phone contracts

Question: I'd like to know what a consumer of telephone services can do when you think you've signed up for a $50 a month telephone contract with a mobile phone service or something like that and you find there are all these teeny weenie little charges that have been added as fees or surcharges to your bill. Are you expected to pay them?

Answer: It's a big gripe of mine as well. You know how they give you the free headset for re-subscribing or being a new customer? Well they give that to you and then they charge you a new headset fee! Not all of them do it but the ones that do, then charge somewhere between $18 and $30!

But the majority of the fees are much smaller. One is called government recovery fee. That means they give the government some money so they want you to pay them more money. It's not a real tax. Some of them charge you for home lines for not having long distance. The real problem is even when you're talking to one of the representatives they may not know all of the fees or they may be wrong. So you should ask a friend to see their bill. If you're thinking about going with a particular company ask a friend if you can look at their bill to check out that provider's fees.

IRS audits

Question: I'd like to know how to avoid being audited by the IRS.

Answer: You can't totally avoid it because they do a certain amount of random ones, and because we're in so much debt right now, they're doing more random ones.

The other way to avoid an IRS audit is don't do anything out of the ordinary. So when you take a huge charitable tax deduction, that raises a red flag. When you have a home office ? you really have to think twice about a home office ? that raises a red flag. If you're income level is "A" and you're doing "B" that raises a red flag because everything is ripping through a computer and that computer is looking for anything out of the norm.

FDIC insurance

Question: I was wondering how I could tell if my bank accounts are FDIC insured?

Answer: I interviewed three different people about this and I received three different answers. And when you go to the FDIC website, it's very confusing. But the bottom line is that it's more than $100,000. If you have less than $100,000 in a bank, not a branch, you're going to be safe. When you take all of your individual accounts and add them up and it's under $100,000, you're fine. If you have retirement accounts in a bank, you get $250,000 for that account. Then if you have a group account, which would normally be you and your spouse, that's another area, so you could have another $100,000 over there. Now having said that, you really need to check with your own accountants and figure it out for yourself. This is something so easy that they've made so complex and everyone is concerned.

For more of Michael Finney's consumer stories and advice, visit 7 On Your Side.

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