What Is That Fee For? How to Understand the Charges on Your Phone Bill

You can avoid unpleasant surprises by getting to know your bill and all the charges on it

iPhone / What Is That Fee For? How to Understand the Charges on Your Phone Bill
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March 22, 2017

Whether your phone is wireless or connected to a landline, you know that you'll be getting a bill every month. What you may not know is what all the fees and charges listed on the bill actually mean.

Savvy consumers know what they're paying for. If you want to avoid any nasty surprises, get to know your bill and make sure you know what you're being charged for.

Charges on Landline and Wireless Bills

There are some charges common to both wireless and landline phones. Here are some of the common ones:

Access Charges

Local phone companies can bill customers for part of the costs of providing them with access to its local network. These are not government charges or taxes; however, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) does set the maximum allowable amount that companies are allowed to charge per line.

If you have more than one line at the same residence, the access charges for those lines will be higher than the fees for the primary line. You may see these charges listed on your bill as "Federal Access Charge," "Customer or Subscriber Line Charge," "Interstate Access Charge," or something similar.

Access charges for calls made within one state—known as intrastate calls—are regulated by state public service commissions. In some states, customers may see a state subscriber line charge on their bills.


You may see something called a federal excise tax listed. This is a three percent tax that only applies to local service billed apart from long-distance service.

If you see any "gross receipts" taxes, you should know that these are state, local, and municipal government taxes on goods and services.

Universal Service Charges

Every telecommunications service provider is required to contribute to the federal Universal Service Fund. This allows people who live in rural or high-cost areas and those who are income eligible—as well as rural healthcare facilities, schools, and libraries—to access telecommunications services for a reasonable rate through such programs and initiatives as the Connect America Fund, Lifeline, and E-rate.

When your service provider decides to recover its contributions to this fund from you, the customer, you may see a "Universal Service" line item appear on your bill. These charges usually appear as a percentage of your bill.

911, LNP, and TRS Charges

911 charges help local governments pay for emergency services.

Local Number Portability (LNP) fees are charges you receive when you keep your phone number when switching service providers at the same location. These charges are not taxes.

Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS) charges help pay for the relay services that transmit and translate calls for people who have hearing or speech disabilities.

Other Common Charges

Directory assistance charges are fees for making 411 or (area code) 555-1212 directory assistance calls.

Monthly calling plan charges are charges for any monthly calling plan you have, such as unlimited minutes or unlimited long distance.

Operator-assisted calls are charged for calls that are connected by an operator. The rates for these calls are usually higher than those for other calls.

Features charges are charged for services like voicemail, caller ID, call forwarding, three-way calling, and call waiting.

Landline-Only Charges

These charges apply only to landline phones.

Some long-distance companies charge customers a minimum amount every month even if they don't make long-distance calls. These are called minimum monthly charges.

The "single bill" fee is charged for combining local and long-distance charges onto one bill. Some companies waive the fee if you pay your bill online or by credit card. If you want to avoid this charge, have your long-distance phone company bill you separately.

Wireless-Only Charges

Run out of voice minutes? You may see airtime or per-minute charges for voice calls you made after you ran out.

Roaming charges are higher per-minute rates that apply when you make or receive a call outside of your service area or network. You may also see other charges in this situation, such as a daily access fee.

Enhanced 911 allows wireless phones to automatically send the caller's location to emergency responders when the phone is used to call 911. Providers may choose to bill customers for the costs of this service.

If you text, you can be charged either a per-message fee or a flat monthly fee to get unlimited text messaging.

Downloading fees are charged when you download more data—including apps, system upgrades, music files, and ring tones—than your plan allows.

Detailed billing charges are fees for detailing billing information for calls, such as the date, time, duration, number called, or calling party.

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