Moving? One Simple Change Could Save You Money on Your Cell Phone Bill in a New State

Cell Phones, Utilities
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When you’re moving to a new state, the last thing on your mind may be getting a new cell phone plan. But no matter what plan you were on in your previous state, changing your billing address or opening a new cell phone plan could mean significant savings on wireless taxes and fees.

Lawmakers love to dip into the pockets of consumers via their cell phones — in some states much more than others. In nine states, wireless service taxes and fees are more than 20% of a consumer’s monthly bill, according to a 2015 report from the Tax Foundation, an independent tax-policy research organization. Washington state is tops in the nation, with federal, state and local taxes and fees making up 25.15% of the monthly bill.

If you were moving from Washington to neighboring Oregon, the lowest-tax state, you could cut your annual wireless bill by as much as $170 a year, based on the average estimated individual cost of $84 a month for Americans who own a smartphone or mobile phone, according to a survey commissioned by NerdWallet and conducted online by Harris Poll in May 2016.

And with the average family plan for the major wireless carriers close to $250 a month, the savings for a family with multiple lines could be more than triple that of a single line. Keep in mind, too, that wireless customers tend to be loyal to their carriers, so these savings would be compounded over each of the years you stay with your service provider.

If you just moved or you’ll be moving soon, these could be the easiest savings you get all year. Depending on your carrier, you may not have to open a new plan to get the benefits of your new home state’s wireless taxes — you could keep your old plan and phone number and simply change your billing address.

NerdWallet analyzed findings from the foundation’s report and 2014 Census Bureau data on migration patterns within the U.S. to determine the state-to-state moves that could save you the most on wireless taxes and fees. Our analysis focused on the states where the most people are migrating. Note that in seven of the top 20 state-to-state migrations, consumers would increase their monthly bills when they change their address or open a new plan in their new home state.

Here’s what we found:


Where you can save

We looked at the top 20 state-to-state moves and narrowed those down to the ones that could save a consumer a significant amount of money per year on cell phone taxes and fees. According to the NerdWallet survey, the average monthly amount that Americans who own a smartphone or mobile phone pay for just their phone is about $84. We assume the average cost of a four-line family plan to be $250, according to carrier data.

Of the top 20 migration patterns in the nation, here are the five state-to-state moves that could save cell phone users the most money.

  1. Illinois to Wisconsin: $103.72 per year

In 2014, 30,423 Illinois residents made a new home in Wisconsin, moving from the state with the fourth-highest taxes and fees, at 23.92%, to a state ranking in the bottom 10. It’s notable that even though Wisconsin’s rate is 13.63% — compared with 8.26% in Oregon, the lowest in the country — consumers moving from Illinois to Wisconsin could still save $103.72 annually. If you have a family plan of around $250 per month, your savings could be nearly $309 per year.

2. California to Oregon: $98.78 per year

3. California to Nevada: $97.27 per year

California’s wireless taxes and fees fall about in the middle compared with those in other states, but consumers can still save when they move to the two states with the lowest rates, which also happen to share California’s northern and eastern borders. A combined 84,288 people moved to Nevada or Oregon from California in 2014. Cell phone users moving to those states could save almost $100 on their wireless taxes and fees every year — $98.78 in Oregon and $97.27 in Nevada. If you have a $250 family plan, you could save $293.99 per year by moving from California to Oregon, and $289.50 per year by moving from California to Nevada.

4. New York to New Jersey: $90.42 per year

New Jersey welcomed 44,690 New Yorkers in 2014. Wireless taxes and fees in New York state are 24.36%, the third-highest in the country, while its neighbor ranks 33rd at 15.39%. This means that by moving to the next state over, a cell phone user from New York could save $90.42 per year — or around $269 if you’re on a $250-per-month family plan.

5. Washington to California: $71.47 per year

In 2014, 32,837 Washington state residents moved to California. In addition to much sunnier weather, the new Californians could look forward to $71.47 in savings on wireless taxes and fees every year, thanks to the state’s 18.06% rate. If you have a $250 family plan, this move could save you $212 per year.

Methodology

To determine where the biggest savings were, we used data on state-to-state migration flows from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2014 American Community Survey and data on cell phone taxes and fees from the Tax Foundation’s 2015 Wireless Taxes and Fees survey. We used the average monthly cost of an individual cell phone plan and a four-line family plan from a NerdWallet study that used data from the big four carriers: Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint. Then we compared costs across the top 20 migration flows to find where consumers could save the most money per year.

The NerdWallet survey on cell phone pricing was conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll from May 19 to 23, 2016, among 3,010 U.S. adults ages 18 and older, among whom 2,787 own a smartphone or mobile phone. The survey was not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

Veronica Ramirez is a staff writer at NerdWallet. Email: vramirez@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @veraudrey