In this age of technology, it's hard to get by without digital services. But, it's also hard to keep up with the high monthly bills that come with these services, whether it's cable, satellite, Internet, or phone.
However, thanks to "bundling" services, which refer to buying all of your digital services from one provider, you might be able to stay within a reasonable budget.
"Bundled service packages frequently offer excellent deals, and can save consumers a lot of money," says Andrew Schrage, editor of the consumer-savings website, MoneyCrashers.com.
"It's convenient due to the fact that you only have to pay one bill per month instead of several bills for separate services," adds Schrage, who has bundled his digital services for years.
Depending on the provider you choose, your bundle options could include services such as home telephone, cable, internet, and cell phone. But is bundling really worth it?
That depends on your specific situation. If you're considering bundling your digital services, read on to learn what questions to ask before you buy.
Question #1: Do I Need the Services?
High-definition channels, high-speed internet, and free nationwide calling might sound too good to pass up, but do you really need them?
"Don't sign up for a bundle if it includes a service you don't currently use or will not need in the future," says Schrage. Before you sign up, he says, be sure to fully investigate the offerings to make sure you won't spend more money by paying for services you don't actually need.
For example, Schrage says that many bundles include home telephone service with unlimited nationwide calling as part of their triple-play bundle.
However, "If you're doing fine by just using your cell phone, don't be lured in," cautions Schrage.
Instead, consider opting for a double-play bundle with just TV and Internet.
Question #2: How Long Does the Introductory Rate Last?
You've probably seen ads and fliers offering low rates for digital service packages. But will they last the duration of your contract?
"Find out if the package includes an introductory rate, and if so, ask when the rates increase, and by how much," says Schrage.
Advertised rates can typically last for six to 12 months, depending on the provider. However, some bundles require that you sign a one- to two-year contract, which means you could then find yourself locked into a higher rate once the special rate ends.
If that's the case, the initial low-rate offer may not make up for the higher rate down the road.
Question #3: Are There Any Additional Fees that Aren't Advertised?
The offer of lower monthly rates and added perks in a bundled package can appear enticing, but are there other costs that could derail your bundling savings?
"Bundled packages often come with fees for equipment, set up, and installation that are not included in the advertised price," says Schrage. These fees vary between providers, however they could make a big difference to your overall cost. Be sure to ask what's included...and what's not.
Examples of fees to inquire about:
- Cable Modem Rental Fee
- Change of Service Fee
- DVR Rental Fee
- HD Technology Fee
The good news is that competition between providers can be stiff and companies may be willing to waive these fees.
Question #4: What Happens if I Cancel?
What if you get a great job offer out of state and have to move? Or let's say a rival service provider starts offering new technology that you simply must have. Is your contract cast in stone?
According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), an early termination fee (ETF) is often incorporated in a variety of service contracts for sectors that include wireless telephone service, cable, and satellite TV.
"Most bundles require that you sign a contract," says Schrage. If you need to break the contract, he suggests consumers "know what those costs could be first."
And while cancellation fees will vary depending on your service plan and provider, the FCC says an early termination fee for wireless telephone service may be over $300, for example.
For this reason, Schrage recommends calling the service provider and asking to receive a bundle rate without having to sign a contract. If you do sign a contract, make sure to ask about any cancellation fees.
Question #5: Is this the Best Rate You Can Offer?
Recognize the expression, "You won't know if you don't ask"? This can apply to bundle discounts, too.
"Even promotional rates are negotiable," says Schrage. In fact, he says he has requested and received discounts from his carrier several times.
Bargaining for a lower bundling rate also worked for many Consumer Reports readers.
In fact, according to a 2013 telecom survey conducted by the Consumer Reports Research Center and reported by Consumer Reports Magazine, "Only one in three survey respondents with a triple or quad play negotiated with their carrier, and many of them got a reduction in their monthly bill, fees waived, or an upgrade in service. About 44 percent of bargainers reported savings up to $50 a month, and 7 percent chopped more than $50 off their monthly bill."
If asking for a lower rate doesn't work, consider shopping around and checking rates with competitors.