OBi200 Adapter + Google Voice Installation Review + Current Deals


Updated, new limited-time Black Friday deals for under $30. Want the features of landline phone service at a drastically reduced price? How about under $50 upfront and then $0 a month? Perhaps you want to drop your landline bill, or you already have but also want to cut back on cellular minutes. Obihai boxes are now officially supported by Google Voice to provide unlimited free USA to USA calls and free USA to Canada calls. Low international per-minute rates as well.

As a result, I bought myself a Obi200 in order to try out their free calls, and also compare the voice quality with my Ooma device. Obihai adapters have been around since 2011, but this is the first Obi product I have purchased. I don’t know that the installation procedure was in the past, but I believe the official integration has made the installation even easier than before. Supposedly the authentication method is also more secure and your Google password is no longer stored. I thought about making a video, but it turned out to be unnecessary.

  1. Open the box and plug in the cables. AC adapter, telephone line, and ethernet cable to router. All ports are clearly marked. All the cables are included except the phone cable which you should already have. The image below says it all:


    Here is the back of the box, showing the ports:


  2. Write down your unique Obi number. This is clearly printed on the bottom of the Obi200 box. Mine was 9 digits like “123 456 789”.
  3. Go to your computer and visit Click on the link that says “Register” in the top right corner. Then just follow the directions. Dial a test phone number when it asks. It is easiest to use the “Sign in with Google Account” button since you already have one if you use Google Voice. I didn’t even have to type in my password (as I was already logged in by cookie). They didn’t require name, address, or credit card number. A few confirmation clicks, and that was it.


  4. Use your phone. I turned on my phone, listened to the dial tone, and called my cell phone. Success! Traditional phone service with unlimited calls within the US and Canada for the great price of $0 a month. The voice quality was fine, and continued to be quite good for the few months that I was using it before giving it away. (I already have the grandfathered fully-free version of Ooma. The voice quality between the two was comparable.)

Total set-up time was under 10 minutes. If for some reason my directions don’t work, check out the official Obi200 Starter Guide [pdf] or their extensive set of tutorials. You can also add e911 service for $15 a year.

Which Obi box model should I buy? I think the sweet spot for most people will be the Obi200, which supports T.38 faxing and has a USB port which can be used to connect to your router over WiFi using an OBiWiFi adapter. (It is the #1 selling VoiP adapter on Amazon.)

The Obi202 offers two independent phone ports so you can use two different VoIP providers simultaneously (or you can have two Google Voice phone numbers). But if you can find one on the cheap, the older OBi100 still works too. Here is a handy comparison chart of the OBi100, OBi110, OBi200, and OBi202.


Current deals, updated November 2015. The manufacturer often subsidizes some limited-time deals, and I’ll try to keep this section updated with the most recent offer.

Charlie Munger: The First $100,000 Is The Most Difficult

There used to be a series of ING commercials where people would carry around their “Number”, which was usually over a million dollars. I think such large numbers actually discourage most savers, so what if we had an alternative goal that was both more achievable yet realistic?

I’m currently reading a new book called Charlie Munger: The Complete Investor by Tren Griffin because, well, I like to read anything about Charlie Munger. There is a lot of good stuff related to investing inside, but it didn’t mention one of my favorite personal finance quotes from Mr. Munger. I can’t seem to find an exact reference anymore, so here are two paraphrased sources…

First, here is an excerpt from the 2003 book Damn Right!: Behind the Scenes with Berkshire Hathaway Billionaire Charlie Munger by Janet Lowe (my review):

Munger has said that accumulating the first $100,000 from a standing start, with no seed money, is the most difficult part of building wealth. Making the first million was the next big hurdle. To do that a person must consistently underspend his income. Getting wealthy, he explains, is like rolling a snowball. It helps to start on top of a long hill—start early and try to roll that snowball for a very long time. It helps to live a long life.

Second, here is another version of the quote credit to Munger, per Conservative Income Investor:

“The first $100,000 is a bitch, but you gotta do it. I don’t care what you have to do—if it means walking everywhere and not eating anything that wasn’t purchased with a coupon, find a way to get your hands on $100,000. After that, you can ease off the gas a little bit.”

$100,000 is certainly a nice, round number. But is it a worthy goal? Consider these points:

Most people will never achieve $100k in portfolio assets. Forget a million bucks. Consider this chart from the Quartz article America is full of high-earning poor people. On average, even a person earning close to six figures will struggle to reach $100k in financial assets by age 55.

The figure below plots financial assets held by the upper middle class (household income from $50,000 to $75,000, and $75,000 to $100,000) aged 40 to 55. Financial assets are any assets a household owns that isn’t a house, car, or business, which means it includes all retirement funds.


If you reach $100k quickly, that means you have high earning power. Let’s say you start a successful small business or are in a well-paid professional field. Well, you have the saving potential to reach the millionaire level, you just have to keep it by not increasing your spending accordingly.

If you reach $100k gradually, that means you have built up a strong habit of spending less than you earn. Let’s say it takes you a decade of steady saving to reach $100k. That’s okay, as you’ve shown that have both consistent earning power and spending restraint. You’ll be able to save another $100k over the next decade for sure, meanwhile your first $100k is going to keep on growing.

At the $100,000 level, compound interest become significant. At 5% return, your $100,000 will grow by $5,000 in just one year. That’s $5,000 for doing nothing but waiting around for a year. The year after that, you won’t just have another $5,000. You’ll have $5,250 due to compound interest. At the end of five years, that $100k is already $127,628.

Add in the additional money from your continuing habit of saving, and things start to improve quickly. Your snowball is growing. I no longer automatically reinvest my dividends from my taxable mutual fund and ETF holdings because I love seeing the money show up in my cash account. A few clicks and I’ll reinvest them, but I like the feeling of “cashing my dividend checks” and knowing that one day I’ll be waiting for them to arrive instead of my paycheck.

Now, I still think savings rate is a better measuring stick than portfolio size, because someone who can earn $60k and spend $30k every year is going to be able to retire much sooner than someone who earns $180k and is stuck in a lifestyle spending $150k. But if you are in the phase of your life where you love watching your account balances grow every day, even by a few dollars (been there, done that), $100k is the biggest goal you need.

Related: Munger: Work For Yourself An Hour Each Day and Munger on Parenting and Childhood.

Free Morningstar Analyst Reports Via Public Library Card

mstar_logo2Let’s say you are a DIY investor and doing some research on municipal funds. You decide to learn more about the Vanguard Intermediate-Term Tax-Exempt mutual fund. You pull up the Morningstar quote pages (ticker VWITX and VWIUX) and find some useful numbers, plus an analyst report hidden to the public as a “premium” feature.


You see a 14-day free trial and after some more clicking around, you discover that a premium membership to Morningstar costs $199 a year or $24 a month.


Now, I’d like to read the rest of that analyst report, but I’m not sure if it is worth the fee. Well, you may already have access to those analyst reports through your payment of local and state taxes. Yup, the good ole’ public library!

Many public libraries have a subscription to what is called the Morningstar Investment Research Center database. Most offer instant, online access via your library card number and PIN. You should look under the “Databases” or “Resources” section. Some only have a limited amount of offsite licenses, so you’ll have to either ask for a password or you’ll have to read them in a branch. Here’s a screenshot of my free report accessed from the comfort of my home, with all the good stuff blurred out of course:


You can access their analyst reports for stocks, mutual funds, and ETFs, as well as the premium version of tools like Portfolio X-Ray.

Now, if your local library system doesn’t provide this access, you can also look around for other libraries in the region for which you are eligible. Finally, there are some public libraries that offer library cards to non-residents for an annual fee. For example, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library in North Carolina offers library cards by mail for $45 a year (Seniors 62+, $35 a year).

Non-residents of Mecklenburg County can obtain a Charlotte Mecklenburg Library card for an annual fee of $45.00. This amount is approximately equal to the annual property tax a Mecklenburg County resident pays to support the Library. A non-resident library card entitles you to the full services of the Library at all locations.

They also offer access to the Morningstar database. $45 a year is still significantly less than $199 a year, and you’ll get all the other library benefits like access to Overdrive eBooks. Also check out the Library of Fairfax County, Virginia which offers non-resident library cards for $27 a year.


Consumer Reports Car Brand Reliability Rankings 2015

cr_carcoverConsumer Reports recently released the results from their 2015 Annual Auto Reliability Survey of over 740,000 vehicles owned by its subscribers. Below are the complete rankings from Consumer Reports, including the change from last year. Taken from this CNBC article. Lexus and Toyota remain on top. In terms of big movers, Honda went down 4 spots, while Kia moved up 4 spots.

One of the trends they note is that fancy infotainment systems and complex transmissions (including CVT, 8+ speeds, and dual clutch) are a growing source of complaints. Many brands, including Acura, were significantly hurt in their rankings due to issues in these areas.


Here’s another view that takes into account the range of scores taken from individual models (the brands are ranked by averages). Taken from the public version of the Consumer Reports page.


Jaguar, Land Rover, Mitsubishi, Scion, Smart, and Tesla were excluded due to a lack of data on two or more of their models. However, Tesla’s Model S was individually given a reliability rating of “below average”.

SubscriptMe App Review: Watch Those Recurring Expenses!


“Subscriptions are forgettable by design.”

That is the opening line for the app description of SubscriptMe, a free iPhone/iOS app that help you track your recurring expenses.

How true. All the behavioral psychology-based personal finance tips out there have been used by advertisers forever. Automate your savings? The newspaper and telephone company has been automating the spending of your parents and grandparents for decades. Giving them the ability to automatically charge your credit card is icing on the cake.

Have you added up much your Netflix, Amazon Prime, Spotify, and Dropbox subscriptions are costing you every year? can scan your phone for apps as well as your emails if you let them. They then present you with a pretty list of your subscriptions, letting you set alerts for upcoming bills if you like. The only paid subscription that I have that it found was my $99 annual fee for Amazon Prime. (I have the free versions of Dropbox and Evernote.) Some screenshots:

subme3   subme1

Ideally, if you are constantly reminded of what you’re paying for, you’ll only keep what you really want. Of course, the free app is paid for by showing you other new services that would like your money.

My main concern is that even if you let it rummage through your e-mails (which already makes me uncomfortable), the app still doesn’t do a good job of finding traditional monthly bills like telephone, cellular, cable, DSL, electricity, gas, trash, etc. It found none of mine. More screenshots:

subme4   subme2_fixed

A neat concept, possible useful for those with a lot of these hip new monthly services like Dollar Shave Club, Blue Apron, or Birchbox. However, since I don’t have many subscriptions, it feels a little niche.

RingPlus: Basic, Free Cellular Phone Service – 1000/1000/1000 Talk/Text/Data

rplus_logoUpdated with new limited-time generous plans. RingPlus is a Sprint MVNO that offers cheap cellular phone plans, starting at… $0. You can bring over an off-contract Sprint phone (check eligibility) or you can buy one from them (slightly more expensive that on secondary market). They make money partially from ads – ads play whenever you call someone instead of the normal ringing. When your friend picks up, the ad stops immediately. You also pay for any overages past your free allotment. There are no contracts and no activation fees.

Recently, Ringplus has been aggressively courting new customers with limited-time plans. RingPlus free plans are usually only open a for a limited window, and then it closes for a while. But recently, their plans have been getting more generous, with special super-generous plans available for a few hours only. These have very little notice, but it’s worth checking their site daily if you are very interested. For example, I was able to jump on a plan with 1000 min, 1000 text, and 1000 mb every month for free. The fine print states that I must keep a non-zero balance, otherwise I will be charged a $10 top-up that will apply to any future overages.

The most recent offer is here and I can write about since it actually lasts more a few hours! Here is the best link for current offers. You can again get 1000 minutes, 1000 text, 1000 mb data until Monday 10/5/15 at 10 pm Pacific. Eligibility includes new Member and existing member sign ups with any eligible Sprint Bring Your Own Device which has not been previously activated on RingPlus for at least 30 days. They also require you to share on social media. If you miss this one, be on the lookout for future phases.

You may also find a “Jasmine” Plan with 500 minutes, 500 texts, and 500 MB of data for $0 a month with fewer restrictions.

The most important thing is to find an eligible phone and activate it during the window. It can be an ancient flip phone from Virgin Mobile (Sprint MVNO). Later, you can swap the phone out for 99 cents and keep the free plan.

You will need a credit card on file, although some of their plans don’t even require a credit card (but come with much fewer free minutes). No additional activation fee. Not even additional taxes are due on the zero plans (taxes are due on top-ups). Here’s a screenshot of their current plans, but again they change daily.


Here’s a screenshot of my dashboard that tracks your usage:


Are there any catches?

  • You have to sign up for their free plans during certain availability windows. That means you’ll need the ESN of an eligible off-contract Sprint phone waiting around, ready to go. If you’re like me, you have to resort to asking all your friends if they have any old Sprint phones you can have.
  • In the past, RingPlus has discontinued their free plans without much notice if they can’t line up enough advertisers in your calling area. That would be annoying, especially if you invested good money into a Sprint phone. Have a backup plan.
  • Honestly, I don’t know if giving away this much free talk and data is a viable business model. They are definitely trying to grow customer base and sacrifice short-term profitability. Again, know that they may cease operations with little or no notice. Plan ahead as to how you would quickly port your number to another cheap service.
  • If your phone is not eligible, then they may de-activate your plan in the future, even if you manage to activate it initially.
  • You must maintain activity on your plan. If you don’t make a call every 60 days (may differ by plan), they will de-activate your account and you’ll have to pay a fee to re-activate.
  • If you do sign up and decide to link your credit card, know that overages cost 2 cents per text, minute, or MB. MMS picture messages are at an additional cost (4 cents each). Roaming is available, but those overages are much more expensive. I would disable roaming completely on your phone to avoid such surcharges.

In case you were wondering, this is not a VoIP-only service like FreedomPop as normal calls use the Sprint voice network. However, free WiFi calling is an option so you can save your minutes. I know there are some RingPlus users out there as readers, so please share and discuss in the comments!

Manage Your Cell Data? Disable Wi-Fi Assist in iOS 9

wifiassistoffI usually don’t upgrade my iPhone to the latest OS right away, as you know there is going to be 9.0.1 and 9.0.2 and so on in the upcoming weeks. But since the Discover Apple Pay promo required it, I upgraded immediately this time.

One of the new features of iOS 9 is something called WiFi Assist. Previously, your iPhone would try to cling onto that WiFi signal as long as it could before finally giving up and switching to cellular data. Sometimes it would interrupt your Netflix or Spotify streaming. If you found that annoying, the good news is that WiFi Assist will now seamlessly transfer you earlier onto cellular 3G or 4G data.

However, I liked the old way. If I have weak WiFi and my ESPN3 video won’t stream, I don’t want it to seamlessly switch to my cell data. I want it to cut off and let me know. Video streaming at high-definition can use up 1-2 gigabytes per hour. That’s $15 to $30 an hour at my overage rates. Some folks argue an early handoff won’t cause a “massive” overage, but I want the choice of either moving to improve the WiFi signal or turning it off. (With WiFi Assist on, your only indicator will be a greyed-out WiFi icon, if it is even visible)

WiFi Assist is turned on by default in iOS 9. You might like this feature, or you might not. If you also manage your cell data somewhat carefully, you may decide to turn off this feature off. Here’s how:

  • Open Settings.
  • Tap on Cellular.
  • Scroll down to the bottom.
  • Turn Wi-Fi Assist off.

More: Ting Blog, Houston Chronicle

Save Money on Pet Costs: Splitting Larger Doses of Frontline Flea Medication


Updated details for 2015, but it still works! Now that we have two dogs (three for a while), we’ve had to keep a closer eye on pet costs. One regular expense is flea medication, for which we have found Frontline Plus to work acceptably. If you buy it straight from the vet or in a retail pet store it can be around $15 per monthly dose. Here, I’ll show you how we get it down to between $1.50 and $3 per dog per month. That’s nearly $300 a year in savings for us! We have dogs so that is what I’m using for my numbers, but it would work the same way for cats.

Online shopping savings. In the past, we’ve found that the cheapest price has been on eBay, getting costs down to about $8 per dose for the exact same 6-pack product packaging. Here’s an example of the cost comparison for their “Orange box” meant for small dogs (22 lbs and under).

Store Cost (w/ shipping) Cost per 0.67 ml dose (“retail”) $75 for 6-pack Orange $12.50 $66 for 6-pack Orange $11
eBay (sample listing) $50 for 6-pack Orange $8.33


Online shopping + DIY savings. For a while, eBay sellers were selling the biggest size (Red box) made for 89+ lb. dogs along with with glass vials and syringes. The idea is that the consumer could split the medication fluid into smaller doses themselves. I’m not sure what happened, but I believe that the manufacturer Merial pressured eBay and/or their authorized sellers to stop the sale of such kits. I don’t see any such kits available for sale any longer.

I still believe the DIY method can be efffective and safe if done properly. I can understand why the manufacturer can’t officially condone such actions. But I’ve seen articles from licensed vets and also multiple reader comments saying their own vet approves this practice. Pet shelters and rescues also commonly do this.

You can also achieve more accurate dosing for your pet. By default, Merial categorizes dogs into four broad categories: 0-22 lbs, 23-44 lbs, 45-88 lbs, and 89-132 lbs. This corresponds to vial sizes of 0.67 ml, 1.34 ml, 2.68 ml, and 4.02 ml. I don’t know about you, but I see a pretty big gap between 45 and 88 pounds.

They have to make sure even the biggest dogs in the range are adequately dosed, so if you divide the vial size by the largest size for each category in pounds, you get 0.0305 ml per pound every time. So if you have a 25 lb. dog why give them double the dose of a 22 lb. dog? Just give them a bit more (0.76 ml) and you should be fine – and save even more money!

Here’s an estimate of your savings for smaller dogs. For math simplicity, I’ll assume you have exactly a 22 lb. dog. Remember, if you go by the boxes and have a 25 lb. dog, you’d need to get the bigger and often more expensive size of a 44 lb dog. I’ll assume you buy the biggest size (Red box) made for 89+ lb. dogs and split it into the exact same 0.67 ml doses as the 22b size (Orange box) using a glass vial and plastic syringes.

Store Cost (w/ shipping) Cost per 0.67 ml dose (“retail”) $75 for 6-pack Red
(6 x 4.02 ml = 36 x 0.67 ml doses)
$2.08 $66 for 6-pack Red
(6 x 4.02 ml = 36 x 0.67 ml doses)
eBay (sample listing) $54 for 6-pack Red
(6 x 4.02 ml = 36 x 0.67 ml doses)


Online shopping + DIY savings + Generic brand savings. In 2011, the patent for the main active ingredient in Frontline (fipronil) expired. Generic options now include Sentry FiproGuard Plus and PetArmor Plus. If you bought Pet Armor Plus for 4-22 lb dogs (Orange equivalent), that would cost $57 per 6-pack on Amazon, a savings of 7%.

For some odd reason, you can also find PetArmor Plus for 89+ lb dogs on Amazon for roughly $38 including shipping for a 6-pack of their 89+ lb (Red equivalent). That’s less money for a bigger size!? If you split this package for 22 lb dog, that would work out to $1.06 per 0.67 ml dose.

Proper precautions. Here are some tips to make sure you split your doses safely and effectively.

  • Use protective gloves. You’d ideally want to do this with the official product anyway, but you’ll be handling it more when splitting doses so a box of latex or similar gloves is a good investment.
  • Keep medication away from light and air. You can either use a dark, glass vial or keep it an airtight syringe in airtight bag in a dark, cool space. When using a plastic syringe as the applicator, remove any needle! You’re just drizzling the stuff on your dog’s skin surface. You can buy kits of glass vials and plastic syringes on eBay for around 5 bucks.
  • Do not mix and match dog and cat Frontline. The ingredients may be the same, but sometimes they aren’t. Also, even if the ingredients are the same, the ratios are not and that is also important.
  • Don’t overdose! As with all these flea medications, you can do some trial and error to see what brand and dosage level works for your dog. You might need more or less than indicated, but I would avoid going over the max manufacturer recommendation.

As you can see, you get most of the savings from simply doing the splitting. You can get some additional savings by buying online and/or going generic. eBay is often cheapest online source, but I know some folks may be wary of authenticity so Amazon or your local warehouse store may be another option.

Bill Fixers: Let Someone Else Haggle Your Cable and Phone Bills For You

billfixers0I’ve written about haggling your cable or satellite TV bill for years, with hundreds of comments sharing both success and failures. I’ve certainly negotiated with a healthy share of customer service reps myself. But I don’t like doing it. I do it because unlike say the electrical company, who tells me “you pay based on how much power you use”, the cable company tells me “if you bother us, we’ll give you a discount, but if you are nice and quiet, you’ll pay double”. Big Data is tracking whether you compare prices or not, so it is in my best interest to announce that YES I COMPARE PRICES!

But what if you could just pay someone else to haggle for you? Deal with the long hold times, the “accidental” hang-ups, and the multiple transfers between supervisors? Enter brothers Julian and Ben Kurland of, who will do just that. I came across them in this Businessweek article:

Despite all the various life-hacking sites that will teach you how to reduce your cable bill, a recent Consumer Reports survey found that fewer than half of people who attempted to do so were effective. Services such as BillCutterz have been offering some relief, but the Kurlands say their success rate—94 percent—is higher. It usually works out because they’re annoyingly persistent. Calls can last several hours as the brothers are passed among operators, managers, and various departments. The Kurlands often call companies multiple times, looking for different representatives who will cut a deal. “You’ll talk to three people who won’t offer anything, and the fourth one will magically have a discount that no one mentioned,” Ben says.

Which companies will they negotiate with? According to their website, they’ll take a shot at any recurring monthly bill you have. They don’t do things like credit cards and medical bills.

  • Television (Cable, Satellite, IP TV)
  • Internet (Cable, DSL, Other)
  • Landline
  • Cellular (AT&T cellular bills are one of the “easiest”. T-Mobile is one of the hardest.)
  • Satellite Radio

How much does BillFixers cost? They work on a contingency basis. If they don’t save you money, you pay nothing. If they do, they charge you 50% of the first year’s savings. You can pay via lump sum or in monthly payments (which in theory would match up with your monthly savings). Some stats from USA Today:

– Of the 650 clients, 94% receive savings
– The average reduction in bills is greater than $300 per customer
– About $155,000 has been saved for customers since 2014

I don’t doubt that someone with the right skills and motivation can be a good hired negotiator. I suppose the only concern would be giving out personal information like Social Security Number. However, if you give them the right information like account numbers, they shouldn’t need that kind of sensitive information.

If you’ve been thinking about haggling but have been putting it off due to either dislike or procrastination, why not give them a shot?

I’m going to add BillFixers to the growing list of services that will help find you money for free (but if they find it, they may take a cut).

  • CoPatient: Negotiate your medical bills. They take a cut of any successful savings.
  • AutoSlash: Helps you track price drops on rental cards. They make money when you rebook at a lower price with them.
  • Paribus: Helps you automatically request price adjustments on all your online retail purchases. They take a cut of the price drop savings.
  • AirHelp, Refund.Me, AirTaxBack: Get fees refunded for certain cancelled or missed flights to/from Europe. They take a cut of the refund.

Ting GSM SIM Cards: Bring Your Own Phone + Referral Credit

Updated September 2015. New Ting customers now get a $50 credit with a referral link (normally $25). GSM SIM cards for bring-your-own-device are also on sale for $5 with free shipping sitewide (I paid $9 + $4 for shipping). Both offers end September 30 at 11:59 ET. More details below.

tinglogTing provides mobile phone service with a “pay-only-for-what-you-use” structure. Think “a la carte” instead of Golden Corral buffet. :) For the last few months, I’ve been beta-testing the new Ting GSM program in my out-of-contract iPhone 5. Just popped in their SIM card and off I went. Supposedly 80% of smartphones now work with GSM service and have SIM card slots. Their GSM SIM card service uses the T-Mobile GSM MVNO network, while their original service is a Sprint CDMA MVNO.

For the month of September 2015, Ting has upped their refer-a-friend bonus to $50 off a device or $50 in Ting credit if you buy used or bring your own phone to Ting. This applies to both GSM and CDMA service. The standard referral offer is $25 off. Here are the highlights:

  • Ting interactive rate calculator to see how much they would charge you. If you are not a power user or have a lot of variability in your usage, Ting can often save money over time. (Tip: You can set alerts or even hard usage caps, so you’ll never exceed a certain level.)
  • Ting phone compatibility checker tool. Bringing over a used GSM or Sprint phone is the best deal in my opinion. You can find a lot of good, cheap GSM phones on the secondary market now, like the Galaxy S series or iPhone 5 or 5S.

Here’s a screenshot of their rate breakdown:


Here is my referral link. Thanks in advance if you use it! You’ll be saving my parents some money on their bill, as I set them up with Ting service and an old iPhone.

Verizon Wireless New Plans August 2015: Existing Customers Should Compare Prices

In August 2015, Verizon Wireless announced that it was ending 2-year contracts for new customers. Before, you got a ~$450 discount on a new phone but also got locked into a 2-year contract with an inflated monthly plan price. Now, you have to buy your own phone, but the monthly plan is cheaper. The basic monthly breakdown is that you pick a shared data size below and add $20 per phone line. Unlimited talk and text. Data overages are $15 per GB.


It was supposed to be simple, but there was still a bit of confusion. Here are some clarifications. Verizon customers with grandfathered or legacy plans can keep their plans if they want to. But if they switch to a new plan, they can’t switch back. Verizon customers currently in a 2-year contract can even keep and renew their existing plan with another 2-year contract if they want to (and get a subsidy).

With the previous structure, folks who finished their 2-year contracts and frugally kept their old phone were still stuck paying the inflated monthly plan price. Reader CJ tipped me off that such post-contract customers should try switching to the new plans with lower monthly prices:

Not sure if you saw it, but Verizon finally got rid of 2-year contracts, which means anyone not currently under contract should switch to the new “Verizon Plan” and save a bunch of $$ instantly. I just did, and for 3GB of data my plan went from around $140 for 2 phones down to $80.

If you are currently still under a Verizon contract, you can also switch over to the new plans. If you are currently under a 2-year contract you will have a $40 per phone access fee instead of the new $20 per phone access fee. (That $20 a month is the baked-in subsidy payback. Notice that $20 x 24 months is $480 and the upfront phone discount was ~$450.) Depending on your data plan size, most people will probably see not net change in price, but some may discover a semi-hidden discount.

Bottom line: Verizon has new plans. All customers (on or off contract) should check to see if switching over will save you money. You may or may not discover any savings, but Verizon won’t automatically check for you.

CoPatient: Helping You Answer “Is This a Reasonable Medical Bill?”

copatient0High-deductible health plans are still growing in popularity. While these can be a great way to save on your monthly premiums, it also means that when you do have to visit the emergency room, you get to tackle nearly the entire bill instead of a small co-pay. The problem is that most medical bills cannot be understood by mere mortals. Likely, the doctors and nurses themselves have no clue how that $6,344 bill for a broken arm got generated.

Right now there are honest people that just got their bill, but they are frantically doing internet research because they have no idea if their huge bill is correct or what is “reasonable”. It would be nice for this problem not to exist, but until then I wanted to point out a service called CoPatient. They are made of health insurance company veterans and hire their own medical billers and coders.

You send them your unpaid medical bills, and they review it for free to determine if there are any errors or overcharges. They will send you a free estimate of what they think they can do for you. If you allow them to negotiate on your behalf, they work on a contingency basis and keep 35% of the actual savings. If they don’t save you money, you pay nothing.


Here’s an example patient flowchart (click to enlarge):


The legwork that the consumer needs to do is request a detailed, itemized bill from the hospital providers. Some tips from ABC News:

Ask what services are covered under your room and facility charges
Ask what treatments were provided
Identify the date and time of when you were admitted
Clarify medical terminology that is confusing
Specifically look for erroneous double charges, for mischarges, and for situations where a charge defies common sense (e.g., a $22 Q tip).

Here are some quick stats, taken from their website and marketing materials:

More than 80 percent of the medical bills that CoPatient analyzes provide opportunities for meaningful savings. On average, CoPatient saves its customers 40 percent on their medical bills. Since its launch in 2014, CoPatient has saved consumers more than $1 million.

According their iPhone app page, CoPatient finds errors on 80% of all bills it reviews and saves folks an average of $3,000. Their FAQ states that it usually takes ~5 days for the review (more for complicated cases), and 3-6 weeks for the appeals and negotiation process. There is no minimum bill size, they will investigate that $500 unpaid bill.

I’ve never used CoPatient myself, but I would definitely consider it if I was faced with a $5,000+ bill that I didn’t understand. I mean, what would I have to lose?

On a related note, this is yet another consumer service that offers to save money on a contingency basis. That is, they only make money if they save you money. A few others:

  • AutoSlash: Helps you track price drops on rental cards. They make money when you rebook at a lower price with them.
  • Paribus: Helps you automatically request price adjustments on all your online retail purchases. They take a cut of the price drop savings.
  • AirHelp, Refund.Me, AirTaxBack: Get fees refunded for certain cancelled or missed flights to/from Europe. They take a cut of the refund.