Carrier billing – smart cash flow management or a gateway to overspending?

If a visitor from the 1980s pitched up in a DeLorean today, the second thing they would notice after the price of gas would be the numerous ways people can pay for it. Cash is still king, at least in the USA, but as well as the various payment cards, we also see a growing number of people making everyday purchases using their phone apps or smart watches – maybe even their faces before too long.

Of course, most of these are simply IoT gadgets that are linked to your bank account, so while they look impressive, there is no material difference to swiping your card. Carrier billing, however, is something entirely different and is finding a host of new applications among US consumers. 

Carrier billing – smart cash flow management or a gateway to overspending?

What is carrier billing anyway?

With carrier billing, you make a purchase and charge it to your cellphone bill. Then at the end of the month, or whenever your billing arrangement dictates, you will see the items alongside your call charges and whatever other costs you incurred.

Every network has its own rules, but broadly speaking, most cell providers offer carrier billing to some extent. In 2022, total spend on carrier billing was $ 54,000 and in 2026 it is predicted to exceed $74 million, according to research by Juniper. 

From casino to cinema – a range of leisure options

Carrier billing is, as a general observation, most commonly used for buying products and services that are consumed via your phone. Typically, this means music and movie subscriptions like Spotify and Netflix. However, research shows that it is increasingly used for gaming. Freemium players find it useful as a way to buy upgrades and access to premium levels. But an even more interesting use case is emerging in iGaming.

The number of pay by mobile casino sites is increasing rapidly as US gamblers take to this novel way of adding funds to their casino account. The fact that there is no need to submit personal details like bank account and so on is a bonus in terms of security and privacy. Suddenly, it has gone from a quite small niche in iGaming to something most platforms are offering as a matter of course.

Carrier billing – more pros than cons

Privacy and security are not the only advantages to using carrier billing, whether it is for iGaming or some other purpose. Other advantages include the following: 

  • Convenience – no need to enter card details or account number, with most carriers you just give your phone number and confirm a verification text.
  • Easy credit – this is essentially a form of credit, as the carrier is fronting the payment and you will have to return it when you get your phone bill. 
  • Single charge – all your online purchases are covered in one place and summarized in a single document, which can make life easier.

What about the cons?

The convenience of carrier billing comes with potential downsides. Some of these depend on how you use the facility and others on the specific rules laid down by your carrier.

Overspending is the highest risk. It’s easy to lose track of how much you’re billing to your carrier, and it can lead to a shock when you get your bill at the end of the month. Security can be a double edged sword and is the other primary risk. Your bank account is safe, but if your phone gets into someone else’s hands, there is the risk of them making unauthorized purchases.

Other potential risks include the following:

  • Refund complications – if you need to get a refund, it can be more complicated with carrier billing than it is with regular credit or debit card purchases.
  • Higher costs – some services might charge a premium for carrier billing, and the carrier might add fees, too.
  • Maxing out – some carriers will cap how much you can charge to your bill, potentially leading to services being temporarily withdrawn if you hit your limit.
  • Unexpected recurring charges – subscriptions are not one-off charges. Many auto-renew, leading to unwelcome surprises on your next bill.

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