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DSS's cell phone bill was over $900

post #1 of 78
Thread Starter 
I opened our Verizon bill yesterday and almost had kittens when I saw the amount due was over $1000.

DSS (age 16) has a line on our family plan, and last month he and his mom went to Mexico. While there, he was able to still use his cell phone and the resultant fees are over $900.

My husband thinks that we shouldn't say anything to DSS because "it would make him feel bad". I say that when you impact the entire household to the tune of almost $1000, you should feel a little bad.

I know that DSS didn't do it on purpose, and we (DH and I) did not think to specifically say to him "Do not use your cell phone in Mexico". But I still feel like he should take some responsiblity.

The money to pay this bill has to come out of our family vacation fund (because that is our most readily available fund to draw from), which means that none of us will be going on vacation this summer. So I don't know how DH plans to explain to DSS why we aren't going on vacation.

I don't know what to do. I know that we can't ask him to pay any of the bill because he has no job, and no opportunity to get a job (he lives at his mom's during the week, and they live so far out in the boonies that he can't even bike to a job safely - even if he could find something out there.) I suggested to my DH that DSS do chores around the house as a form of payment, and my husband didn't think that was a good idea - for whatever reason. I was so annoyed by this point that I let it go.

Any advice or ideas from you mommas (or dads)?

UPDATE:

Thanks for all of your input.

I want to be really clear that when I said "he should feel bad", what I meant was not that his dad and I should lay all the blame on him and tell him he is responsible for the family vacation not taking place. What I meant - and should have said - was more along the line of I know that I feel bad for not specifically telling him not to use the phone while in Mexico. I made a bad assumption that since we do not have international calling on our cell plans that his phone wouldn't even work there, so for me it was a non issue. I feel bad now, and I've learned a lesson. That feeling of regret is not a terrible thing for a young person to experience and I think it leaves a lasting impression. I know now that in the future I have to remind him of things like this. Could I quietly pay this bill and then put our vacation expenses on a credit card so that DSS never knows? Sure. But that is not how we handle our finances. If we have the cash to pay for something necessary (and paying bills in full, on time is a priority to us), then sacrifices have to be made to do that. I don't intend to say "we aren't going on vacation BECAUSE OF YOU, YOU BAD, BAD CHILD!!!", but he will wonder why we aren't taking our trip now (we've been talking about it, it wasn't a surprise), and I think it's just as important for him to understand that there are consequences to all our actions: even unintended, accidental, innocent mistakes.

I also made a bad judgement call because I assumed that he would know not to use the phone in a foreign country. His mom and dad both travel internationally and he knows that he should not call them on their cell phones when they are out of the country. And last year when he was on vacation in the Bahamas with his mom, she took his cell phone away from him (he was still on her plan at that time) and told him he couldn't use it because it would cost more money. I know this because he complained about it at the time.

My DH and I did not call him or text him in Mexico. First, because that is special time for him and his mom and we don't usually talk with him when they are on vacation. Also, because we didn't think the phone would work. And he did not call or text us, because if he did, we would have told him to STOP using the phone immediately.

Finally, out of $900 in fees, $11.99 was voice charges and the rest were text messages/roaming. Every text message sent and rec'd cost $.50, and he sent and rec'd almost 2000 (according to Verizon, I didn't count all of them).

I did call Verizon - you can bet that was the first call I made!! I've called them a couple times and I get the same anwer each time: those are charges that Mexico bills to Verizon, and then Verizon passes on to consumers, and therefore, they won't/can't reduce them. I can't get a straight answer about whether or not they send out a text message when you enter another country.
post #2 of 78
Absolutely he should be told the amount. Does he understand how much that is? You don't need to make him feel bad (but I would!) but he needs to be made aware of it. At 16 he needs to start understanding how the world works - roaming charges, trade-offs, money is limited, whatever.
post #3 of 78
I guess my thought is to call the phone company and explain the situation and ask if you can either pay a reduced rate (because your son honestly didn't know what he was doing and you didn't have custody of him or the phone at the time) or make payments over time (maybe you could pay $100/month). I would also have DH talk to DSS's mother - she was the adult in charge and should not have let him accumulate so much air time in a foreign country! IMO she is a responsible party in all of this.

As for DSS, he needs to know, but IDK if I would hold him responsible because I can't imagine a 16 yr old understands that the foreign rate on cell phones air time is so astronomical. I'm guessing he had no clue and when he saw that his phone had service, he assumed he was good to go.

ETA: when my family drove through Canada a couple of years ago I had NO CLUE using my cell would cost extra - the service looked and sounded the same to me! DH pointed it out to me.
post #4 of 78
I'd personally feel responsible, if I did not investigate what any roaming costs would be and if I didn't tell him not to use the phone and why. I really can't expect a 16 year old that is provided a cell phone and hasn't read the contract to know the minutae details about rate charges. It's my job as the parent that contracted and provided the phone to do that. I know if it happened at my house, I would tell tell the child, but take full responsiblity for not having informed them that using the phone out of the US would result in significant charges.

My daughter went over our plan minutes once, and that is the way I handeled it. She is a very responsible person and felt bad but didn't understand the nights and weekend times verses daytime minutes, once she was informed it never happened again.
post #5 of 78
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Artichokie View Post
I guess my thought is to call the phone company and explain the situation and ask if you can either pay a reduced rate (because your son honestly didn't know what he was doing and you didn't have custody of him or the phone at the time) or make payments over time (maybe you could pay $100/month). I would also have DH talk to DSS's mother - she was the adult in charge and should not have let him accumulate so much air time in a foreign country! IMO she is a responsible party in all of this.

As for DSS, he needs to know, but IDK if I would hold him responsible because I can't imagine a 16 yr old understands that the foreign rate on cell phones air time is so astronomical. I'm guessing he had no clue and when he saw that his phone had service, he assumed he was good to go.

ETA: when my family drove through Canada a couple of years ago I had NO CLUE using my cell would cost extra - the service looked and sounded the same to me! DH pointed it out to me.
I did call Verizon - that was the first thing I did! I spoke to an operator and 2 supervisors and they all said that because he was in Mexico, that Verizon is billed by Mexico for the airtime, and that then Verizon passes the charges along to their customers. For that reason, they won't reduce the charges.
post #6 of 78
Yeah, I would tell him, too. Every time I go to another country I get a text from my cell phone company telling me the rates in that country, and I would be somewhat surprised if he didn't get something similar.

Did you have guidelines set up with him about the phone already? I do think both parties are partially at fault here - it would have been wise for you and your husband to remind him before he left that his cell phone plan didn't cover calls in Mexico and that the fees would be quite high, so he should only use it for emergencies... but he also should have had some inkling that things might be different in another country.

I would do some problem-solving with him and try to find a way for him to pay a portion of the fees, anyway... working them off if getting a job really isn't feasible.
post #7 of 78
Quote:
Originally Posted by emelsea View Post
[W]e (DH and I) did not think to specifically say to him "Do not use your cell phone in Mexico".
That seems like the key thing here. You may feel a little stupid for not thinking of this earlier, but don't take it out on the kid. I think it's fine to tell him, but I would not in ANY way put the weight of "no summer vacay" on his shoulders. The phone is on your plan, your SS is only 16, and to 16 year olds who have not had it spelled out, cell phones just exist--bars means you're good to go.
post #8 of 78
FWIW, regarding being notified about changes in rates when you're travelling... I'm in Canada and when I went down to Washington and Oregon and used my cell phone I wasn't notified AT ALL that the charges were different when I made my calls. I knew beforehand though so I only used my phone very sparingly but still if I were ignorant of that fact, I would have had no clue at the time I made my calls. So I guess each company is different in how they handle things.

In the OP's situation, I would let DSS know what happened for sure. I think the parents and son should share the responsibility on the charges.
post #9 of 78
I can't see getting mad at him if he truly didn't know and wasn't told, but I can't imagine it does any good to not tell him about the bill, either. How will he learn? I'd probably tell him, "We (your parents) goofed. We didn't realize you'd use your phone there, and we didn't warn you what would happen." Unless there is some reason he ought to have known. Depending on the relationship, you could discuss it with DSS's mom, see if she knew he was using it so much, if she warned him, etc.
post #10 of 78
Quote:
Originally Posted by violet_ View Post
I can't see getting mad at him if he truly didn't know and wasn't told, but I can't imagine it does any good to not tell him about the bill, either. How will he learn? I'd probably tell him, "We (your parents) goofed. We didn't realize you'd use your phone there, and we didn't warn you what would happen." Unless there is some reason he ought to have known. Depending on the relationship, you could discuss it with DSS's mom, see if she knew he was using it so much, if she warned him, etc.
I agree with this exactly. I just can't picture a 16 yo having any clue that cell rates are different in a foreign country.
post #11 of 78
Quote:
Originally Posted by Artichokie View Post
I guess my thought is to call the phone company and explain the situation and ask if you can either pay a reduced rate (because your son honestly didn't know what he was doing and you didn't have custody of him or the phone at the time) or make payments over time (maybe you could pay $100/month). I would also have DH talk to DSS's mother - she was the adult in charge and should not have let him accumulate so much air time in a foreign country! IMO she is a responsible party in all of this.

As for DSS, he needs to know, but IDK if I would hold him responsible because I can't imagine a 16 yr old understands that the foreign rate on cell phones air time is so astronomical. I'm guessing he had no clue and when he saw that his phone had service, he assumed he was good to go.

ETA: when my family drove through Canada a couple of years ago I had NO CLUE using my cell would cost extra - the service looked and sounded the same to me! DH pointed it out to me.
I knew this at 15. When I got my phone I understood everything about it, and knew about roaming charges too. I think at 16 he probably had an idea he wasn't supposed to talk that much and did anyway.

I would tell him, and ask him to help pay it back - either by helping around the house more than usual, or with money. If you don't want to hold him accountable for the full amount, hold him accountable for half.

Thats just me though.
post #12 of 78
Quote:
Originally Posted by thyra View Post
I knew this at 15. When I got my phone I understood everything about it, and knew about roaming charges too. I think at 16 he probably had an idea he wasn't supposed to talk that much and did anyway.
How many years ago was that? When I had my first cell phone at 18, I knew these things, too, but roaming charges were more common. At this point in time, most people are on pretty big networks and pay no roaming/long distance. Ten years ago? Different story.

Kids today also use their phones more during daily life - it is more integrated. When I was that young, having a cell phone was a big deal, each minute was expensive and we were very conscious of making quick calls. Nowadays, the culture is different. The concept of using your phone too much is probably a little foreign.

Also, I paid the bill, so I knew all of the charges involved. If my parents had been paying the bill and did not take the time to explain to me how everything worked, I would not have had a clue.
post #13 of 78
I saw this on the main page and had to comment.

I would at least tell him how much the bill was. Even if he had no idea that the roaming would be so expensive (which I doubt), he has to know now. Otherwise, he'll just do it again! Does he understand how much his phone bill is normally? What does he do when his charges for texting, downloads, etc are high?

About putting the guilt for the family vacation onto him, I don't know if I would do that. But he should at least have an opportunity to do chores to make up for *some* of the astronomical cost.
post #14 of 78
Quote:
Originally Posted by pinksprklybarefoot View Post
How many years ago was that? When I had my first cell phone at 18, I knew these things, too, but roaming charges were more common. At this point in time, most people are on pretty big networks and pay no roaming/long distance. Ten years ago? Different story.

Kids today also use their phones more during daily life - it is more integrated. When I was that young, having a cell phone was a big deal, each minute was expensive and we were very conscious of making quick calls. Nowadays, the culture is different. The concept of using your phone too much is probably a little foreign.

Also, I paid the bill, so I knew all of the charges involved. If my parents had been paying the bill and did not take the time to explain to me how everything worked, I would not have had a clue.
Ok, yes it was 10 years ago (exactly almost). But, roaming in country and roaming in a foreign country are totally different things. And just b/c cell phones are big part of our culture doesn't absolve the teen of being a responsible cell user - and at 16 I would bet alot that he could have read the policy, or asked a question.
post #15 of 78
I'd at least ask him about it. Are these charges from phone calls or texts? Is it possible the EX was using the phone & some of this is from her?
post #16 of 78
Quote:
Originally Posted by thyra View Post
at 16 I would bet alot that he could have read the policy, or asked a question.
Is it typical for parents to hand over copies of the contracts they sign to their teenagers? I can tell you I never handed over my cell phone contract or any other one to my daughter, even though I gave her a phone to use on my account. She doesn't have my log in for my account either, so she can't just look up my fees and charges online.
post #17 of 78
I don't understand the value of not informing him what happened so that this doesn't happen again. How is he supposed to learn? It's perfectly possible to give him the information without making him feel bad. Wanting to keep him in the dark entirely seems like a strange parental instinct.
post #18 of 78
i agree with the others.

the onus is on you. your family slipped up. not dss.

if he wants to contribute to helping with the phone bill then more power to him. but he should not be required to. but he should know. absolutely.

did you guys call him on the phone too? that would collect roaming too wouldnt it?

i would watch and see. i am sure your dss didnt intentionally do it. see if he repeats this ever again.

if you cant go on vacation let your dss know why - without blame. just observation.

this is a huge lesson for all of you.
post #19 of 78
Quote:
Originally Posted by pinksprklybarefoot View Post
I agree with this exactly. I just can't picture a 16 yo having any clue that cell rates are different in a foreign country.
I guess it depends on the kid - mine certainly did (she's 17 now).

I just asked her - she said she would think most 16 year olds would know that cell phone usage costs more in another country. She thinks most everyone knows about roaming - it's in commercials, on tv and in movies, etc.

I think his mom should have said something too, since she was with him. And I definitely don't see the point in keeping it a secret.
post #20 of 78
dar i am sorry but your dd and her friends dont count. just like thyra.

she is far too precocious.

do you know even most adults dont understand roaming - what exactly roaming is (we had this huge conversation with a verizon friend). yes they are aware if they go out of the range it costs more. but all the other pieces many adults have no clue.

i do wonder what amount of knowledge the stepson has about phone charges. i mean if he wasnt paying for it would he even be aware of roaming or how much that really costs.
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