7 Easy Ways to Lower Your Cable Bill

Watching your favorite shows is the fun part — handing over your money each month to do so, not so much. These 7 ways can help cut down on that expense.

Cable television can be an expensive line item on your monthly budget, especially if you’re looking at giving your finances a fresh start. You may be paying for a long list of channels when you only watch a handful, or maybe your promotional offer just expired and your rates flew up. But you don’t have to be stuck with such a monumental bill. Here are seven ways you can lower your cable TV bill.

1. Renegotiate Your Bill

Cable providers know you have many other TV options. As a result, they may be willing to negotiate a lower rate for services. You can call and ask about any current promotions or specials your cable provider is running. You can even hunt around for deals other providers are offering and ask them to match.

When you call your cable provider to renegotiate, you can suggest that you’re considering alternatives, which may result in a conversation with a customer retention specialist, who will do anything they can to keep you as a customer.

“Cable companies spend a lot of time and money making sure their valued customers stay with their service,” said Zoe Meeken, Technology and Money-Saving Specialist for Reviews.org. “They have special sales representatives who have valid offers that can be shared with customers on the verge of ‘cutting the cord’ for online streaming sites or switching over to another provider.”

2. Cut Premium Channels

Premium channels can add to your bill in a big way. You can cut costs by chopping those channels from your cable package. Of course, this is ideal for channels you don’t watch, but if you’re intent on cutting costs, you may have to make friends with another Game of Thrones lover who doesn’t mind company on Sunday nights.

3. Do Without the DVR

Many cable and network channels offer on-demand programming that lets you watch your favorite shows the day after they air. Switching your DVR cable box for a standard box with on-demand service might help shave a few bucks off your monthly bill.

4. Use Bundle Promotions

Many cable providers also offer internet and phone services and will give you a discount if you sign up for a bundle package.

“If you’re paying separately for your phone, internet and cable, it may be more cost-effective for you to bundle,” said Meeken. “Take some time to shop around for a complete package. There’s a decent chance you’ll end up with more for less.”

If you go this route, make sure you crunch the numbers before signing up for a bundle deal to make sure it really saves you money.

5. Find a Different Provider

You can always search around for a better deal with another cable provider. In many regions, there are more options than ever, from satellite service to more localized providers. Find out what’s available in your area and start comparing prices.

6. Switch to Streaming

Streaming services host a wide selection of original programming, popular TV shows and movies, often at a fraction of what you’ll pay for cable. Signing up for several of these services could result in a comparable cost, but sticking to one or two could dramatically lower your monthly TV bill.

7. Use a Digital Antenna

If all you really need is network television, you can get your local channels free using a digital antenna, which these days can provide HD quality programming. If you still need more options, you could supplement this with a streaming service or two.

Looking for other ideas on way to add funds to your bank account? Consider these nine ways to lower your monthly mortgage payment or even these ideas on how to earn extra income from your car without playing chauffeur.

Image: stocknroll

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Comcast’s Newest Product: Cable Without a Credit Check

It’s no secret many utility and cable companies check your credit when you sign up for services, but that may not always be the case. In fact, Comcast is releasing a new TV package — Xfinity Prepaid Service — which doesn’t require a credit check.

Xfinity Prepaid Service is a no contract, pay-as-you-go plan for TV and Internet services that allows customers to renew their subscription every 7 or 30 days. There is a one-time fee for the starter kits, which includes the first 30 days of TV and/or Internet, and then you can decide when to “refill” your services.

“We want to create an easy, pay-as-you-go option for people who want more flexibility and predictability when buying our services,” Marcien Jenckes, Comcast’s executive vice president of consumer services, said in a press release.

The TV package offers two tiers — more than 45 or 140 channels — while the Internet package has one option with download speeds of up to 10 Mbps. You can choose to order these services individually or bundle them at a discount.

Service Availability

Both the TV and Internet services will be available later this year in select states — Illinois, Michigan, Georgia, Florida and Indiana — and are expected to be everywhere Comcast serves by the end of 2017. Comcast has also signed a deal with Boost Mobile to offer Xfinity Prepaid Services in some Boost Mobile locations later this year and all 4,400 locations Comcast serves by the end of 2017.

Changing Service Providers

Remember, it’s important to read the terms and conditions of any Internet or cable plan you are considering in order to determine which one might be best for you. It’s also a good idea to comparison-shop before entering into any contracts or formally subscribing to new plans.

And, if you do opt to ever change service providers, it’s a good idea to keep track of your payments throughout the transition to avoid getting hit with late fees or missing a payment. The latter could eventually wind up in collections and may be reported to credit bureaus, which can lower your credit score. (You can see where your credit currently stands by viewing your free credit report summary, updated each month, on Credit.com.)

Image: Lise Gagne

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6 Ways to Save on Your Cable Bill

Ivanko_Brnjakovic

It’s a great time to be a pay TV (aka cable) consumer. Really. After decades of helplessly paying skyrocketing TV bills (helpless because many consumers were stuck within monopoly situations) the worm is finally turning. New entrants like Verizon’s FiOS and SlingTV have created genuine competition, while the “cord cutting” phenomenon has helped many consumers ditch traditional pay TV altogether.

The pay TV industry is losing hundreds of thousands of customers every quarter, but roughly 100 million people still pay for TV in the U.S., so reports of the $100 cable bill’s demise are premature (the average cable bill really is $99). In fact, a recent survey by Consumer Reports found that 68% of Americans still pay for cable or a similar service, leading the magazine to conclude that only a “trickle” of people are really leaving pay TV.

In other words, pay TV bills are probably here to stay for a long time. So you might as well avoid the minefield of gotchas that pay TV creates, and save yourself a bundle. If your monthly bill reaches into the triple digits, you might be doing TV wrong. Here are six things to consider.

1. Skinny TV

If you aren’t part of the trickle of cord cutters, perhaps there’s a middle ground you should consider— cutting back, but not completely cutting the cord. This group has been dubbed “cord shavers.”

About 11% of TV fans in the Consumer Reports survey said they had trimmed subscriptions as a way of saving money. Many took advantage of the latest trend in pay TV offerings — so-called “Skinny TV.” Pay TV firms have finally heard the message that consumers don’t watch 150 channels, and don’t want to pay for them. So providers, led by Verizon and Comcast, have come up with new bare-bones bundles that cost around $50. If you have an average cable bill and switch to a skinny package, you’ll save $600 annually. That could pay for a nice new TV … or a subscription to streaming services like Hulu or SlingTV, and still leave you with money left over.

2. ‘Promotion Pricing’

By now, the game is well-known — threaten to cancel, and get a special deal from the cable or satellite “customer retention department.” Everyone seems to know about this, but consumers still get distracted or can’t be bothered and overpay. Paying full price for TV is like paying MSRP for a new car. It’s only for suckers. Make sure to call periodically and ask about your rate. Notice when competitors like FioS arrive in your neighborhood, because competition always makes providers more amendable to cutting deals.

Again, I know you know this. That’s why the real game isn’t about getting promotion pricing, but keeping it.

3. Have a Calendar

We’ve all been there, happily paying our discounted $55 cable bill, when one day, we notice the bill is now $132. Yikes! What happened? The promotion period ended, that’s what happened. If you are lucky, you notice it during the first month and negotiate a new deal— and perhaps even score a refund of that month’s overpay. But many consumers are busy, and don’t notice the increase, and pay for months until they realize just how much the bill has soared.

Whenever you score a special deal from pay TV, it always ends. And it ends rudely. One of the most critical tips to avoiding the dreaded bill doubling is to mark a calendar every time you negotiate such a deal with a reminder to call again before your deal expires.

Sounds simple, right? Not so fast. Here’s a fresh tip I learned recently. Reminiscent of the old days of cellphone contracts, it can be very hard to learn exactly when your discount period ends. It’s often not on a monthly bill, or even on your website profile anywhere. You’ll probably have to call and beg to find out. That’s why it’s so important to write it down when you strike the deal.

But there’s still something else about promotion pricing that might trip you up.

4. Make a Well-Timed Call

When I called my pay TV provider recently to bargain for a continuation of my promotion pricing, I was hit by a new wrinkle: There was nothing the agent could do for me. I called too early!

I had to call within seven days of my promotional price ending, I was told. Until then, the rep couldn’t sign me up for a new “save the customer” deal.

This is starting to feel like the old rebate game, now. The more rules, the more likely consumers trip up. So make sure your calendar note is very precise. And please remind me in about two weeks that I have to call the cable company again.

5. Cut Down on Box Rentals

The old advice to save money on cable was to buy your equipment, rather than rent it. A cable box might cost $50 to buy, but $4 per month to rent, meaning the purchase paid for itself within a year. Recently, that equation has become far more complex, as cable boxes have become more complex. They now support HD, DVR, high-speed Internet, and even wireless networks. So it’s not as easy to buy your box, and in some cases, it’s not realistic.

However, a big mistake consumers make now is paying for boxes they don’t really need. Now that it’s relatively easy to stream channels to smartphones and tablets, it’s quite possible your family only needs one box. Maybe you can add a Roku device or Chromecast to your bedroom TV and skip the box rental for that unit. Maybe you can watch movies on your tablet and skip the box/TV altogether.

Even more promising: The Federal Communications Commission is trying to open up the “box” market to even more competition, which should bring prices down for everyone and spur creativity. To some extent, that’s already happening. Comcast, for example, recently announced it would experiment with boxless delivery of its channels, and let consumers use an Xfinity app instead. Progress!

6. Do You Really Watch That?

All these changes really add up to one big question every consumers should ask themselves: Do you really watch that? Do you really need the all-in 300-channel package from your TV? Is it possible that a $50 skinny TV package would be good enough? Would Sling TV’s 20 or so channels at $20 a month, plus a decent antenna for free over-the-air TV, do it for you? Or is Netflix binge watching, which can cost even less than $20 a month, enough to satisfy your screen needs?

Do a TV-watching audit during the next month or two. I’ll bet you’ll find that you can replace about 95% of your TV/screen habit with less than 50% of the cost. That’s an equation you can’t resist, and could really help you cut your monthly bills. Live, local sports is still the holdout, but with all the money you’ll save, you can probably afford to eat out at your local sports bar with the savings. And you might make some friends, too.

And remember, if you’re applying for new cable service, chances are the company is going to run a credit check. It’s a good idea to do your own credit check before applying for cable so you can be sure there aren’t any surprises on your credit report. You can start by checking your two free credit scores, updated every month, on Credit.com.

More on Credit Reports and Credit Scores:

Image: Ivanko_Brnjakovic

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