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Dealing with the Shock of Talk

With the advent of cell phones, Internet phoning and new technologies such as Skype, you can save a lot of money on long-distance (and local) calls. But it can also be confusing to navigate the myriad options and still get the best service for your buck. Consumer Reports offers some suggestions on how to save:

Try Internet phoning. To get started, you need something called Voice over Internet Protocol, which relays phone calls via a high-speed Internet connection. Service costs about $20 a month or more and offers unlimited local and long distance calls. You'll also pay less in taxes. Check with your cable company to see if it offers a package with your cable or DSL, or try a company such as Vonage, which specializes in VoIP. Just remember, you must have an Internet connection and electricity for it to work -- so have a basic landline as a backup.

Go totally mobile. You could get rid of the landline altogether and save. Just get a cell phone plan that offers you enough national anytime minutes. Cell phone connections are still less reliable than landlines, however, so be sure that your phone works in all areas of your home. And if you live in a rural area, be sure that your local emergency operator has an enhanced technology called E911, which allows operators to get locations for cell phones.

Shop. The plans that are promoted by the cell phone companies may not be right for you, and you could find a better one just by doing a little digging. Call your cell phone carrier or look at its Web site for more options. Read your bill carefully -- are you paying for services that you don't use?

Bundle your local and long-distance calls. Some companies allow you to buy unlimited long-distance and local service in a package. Determine your calling habits -- do you make a lot of long-distance calls? If so, it might be worth it.

Phone cards still work. These prepaid cards can save you a lot, especially when you're staying in a hotel. If you don't make a ton of long-distance calls, the phone card might be a good option. Shop for them at warehouse clubs to get really good deals. You could get rates as low as 3.5 cents a minute.





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