With anything in life, it's always easy to jump at the first offer thrown your way. But if you want to ensure you're getting the best deal - whether it's on a car, mortgage rate, or in this case, your cable - it's worth it to do some digging and ask tough questions.
In fact, taking your time to ask the right questions can potentially save you money and time in the future. So, before you sign your next cable contract, make sure you have all the answers you need regarding services and fees.
Below are some questions to help get you started…
Question #1: What is the Actual Full Monthly Price for Service?
While a provider may advertise cable deals at $79.99, there are often taxes and other fees that haven't been added on yet.
For example, when Max Cole, 25, moved to a new house in Maine, he wanted to get his cable up and running quickly, so he signed with the first cable provider he talked to for what he thought was going to be an $80 monthly fee.
When Cole opened up his first cable bill, he assumed the nearly $100 charge was some sort of mistake.
When he called the cable company to try to sort out the issue, he found out it was no mistake at all. The following fees were charged to Cole's monthly bill:
- DVR: $10
- HD Technology Fee: $9
- Leased Internet Modem Fee: $7
That's an additional $26 that Cole wasn't expecting to pay.
"It was definitely more than I wanted to pay for cable, and I felt like I had been tricked in a way," Cole says. "It has taught me to ask about this next time, so I can compare the true costs of different cable companies and try to get the best deal out there instead of going with a deal that sounded good to me and not asking any questions."
Question #2: What Happens After the Promotional Period?
Problems with telecommunications are some of the most common complaints and often involve people paying more than they expect, according to the Oregon Department of Justice's Consumer Protection website.
The department receives many complaints from consumers who have had their cable bills increase unexpectedly after signing up for a special offer. This includes things like a low introductory price for new subscribers or discounts for bundling.
For example, Comcast is currently offering the Xfinity Triple Play package - TV, phone, and Internet - for $99 a month. But that requires a two-year contract and the $99 goes up to $119.99 after the first 12 months, according to its website. The Xfinity Double Play, which includes only TV and Internet, is advertised at $59.99 a month, but after the first year, it increases to a monthly fee of $89.99.
It's easy to forget that your offer is just temporary, so the Oregon Department of Justice stresses the need to pay close attention to the terms of the offer, asking when the promotional period will end, and what options are available when it does.
Question #3: Is there a Cancellation Fee?
Things always come up in life to disrupt the natural flow of things.
Whether it's relocating for a new job or moving across country for graduate school, you may come to a point where life takes you in another direction and as a result, you need to cancel your service before the contract ends.
So, to make sure you aren't surprised with a big bill if you need to cancel service for a move or other reason, ask up front about the length of the contract and any early cancellation fees.
This is a lesson Sara Ghabranious, 35, of the DC-Metro area, learned the hard way.
"I had to cancel my cable service after unexpectedly getting a great new job opportunity that meant I had to move," Ghabranious said. "It may sound dumb, but I had no idea I was under a yearly contract with my cable provider. I ended up having to pay about $200 just to cancel the service and it was unneeded stress when I was trying to move. I think that's something cable companies don't tell you about upfront, so customers should really protect themselves from it."
Question #4: What's Your Customer Service Like?
While you may not be able to get an unbiased answer to this question from the cable companies themselves, try asking friends, neighbors, or co-workers who are using the provider you're considering.
This method potentially saved Lauren Nichols, 28, a lot of time and stress. When Nichols moved to Michigan for a graduate program, she had to decide between two companies for her cable services. She was going to choose the cheaper option, but after hearing from numerous people in her area that the cheaper option had horrible customer service, she went with the slightly more expensive provider who had a great customer service reputation.
Looking back on the decision, she said she absolutely made the right choice.
"Paying a little extra a month is completely worth it when I know I can call and speak to a helpful employee if something is wrong with my service," Nichols said. "I've heard stories from other people who went the cheaper route and it ended up costing them more in the end with all the difficulties they had in the customer service department."
You can also evaluate a company's customer service by reading online reviews from other consumers or through organizations such as the Better Business Bureau.