Yackety-yak. All those calls, texts and hunting for the nearest latte from your cell phone do add up.

Who wouldn’t like to shave a few dollars off their cell phone bill?

Cell phones are one of consumers’ biggest complaints, surveys show. And there are plenty of companies offering to dissect your bill to cut costs. Sites like Billshrink.com, ReviewMyBill.com and myValidas.com promise significant cell phone savings.

To check them out, we plugged in our family cell phone plan to see whether we were bleeding bucks or right on the money.

But first, a word of caution. At each of these sites, you’ll be asked for your wireless account number and password in order to easily and accurately analyze your cell phone service and billing. If you’re not comfortable disclosing that information, some sites let you upload your cell phone bill or manually type in the data.

Not surprisingly, carriers such as AT&T or Sprint don’t encourage customers to give out password information.

Privacy issues aside, here’s what we found analyzing a family plan with four phones used by two baby boomer parents and two young adults:

 

BILLSHRINK

http://www.billshrink.com

It’s completely free and the easiest to use, but the least detailed. It compares your cell phone plan with those offered by four carriers — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon — but you can be a customer of any cell phone company to get the free analysis.

If you don’t want to enter your account number and password, you can type in details from your monthly bill. Among the questions: How many “anytime” minutes do you use, how many texts/e-mails do you send, what numbers do you call most frequently?

BillShrink, which also analyzes credit cards and finds the cheapest gas station near your home or work, has been around the longest — since 2008 — and says cell phone comparisons are its most popular offering. It claims to save users an average of $300 per year.

“There is a lot of consumer frustration with the whole wireless industry. Users feel very confused at the time of making a wireless purchase. We help people make good, informed decisions,” said Samir Kothari, co-founder of the Redwood City, Calif.-based firm.

Billshrink typically gets paid a referral fee by a carrier when a BillShrink user switches plans.

When computing your best option, BillShrink factors in early termination and new activation fees if you switch companies. It also looks at signal strength based on your driving patterns to avoid dropped calls.

Using our current cell phone bill, we answered Billshrink’s online questions. Within seconds, we got a recommendation that kept us with our existing carrier (a given because of our iPhone) but identified a cheaper plan.

Annual savings: $250.

REVIEWMYBILL

http://www.reviewmybill.com

This one was a bust for us.

The San Jose, Calif.-based company, which launched last October, offers a free “90-second analysis” of customer bills from AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile. It identifies savings with your existing provider only, not from switching carriers. And it’ll handle the call to your carrier to downsize you into a lower-priced plan. In return, ReviewMyBill takes 33 percent of your annual savings as a one-time consulting fee. (If it finds $1,200 in savings, for instance, the fee is $400, once the savings show up on your bill.)

But we were put off by the Web site’s prominent ads offering “up to $300” for customer referrals. It also was difficult to read the service agreement’s small type.

And there’s no way to get an analysis unless you provide your account number and password. “Unfortunately, I cannot do a bill review if we don’t have access to their account,” said CEO Nick Lindwedel, who said the site nevertheless has thousands of customers.

Annual savings: Unknown

VALIDAS

http://www.myvalidas.com

Launched by two former Verizon executives, Validas was the most sophisticated and detailed site. It compares your cell phone plan with six wireless companies: AT&T, Sprint, Nextel, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and Verizon.

“There’s a lot of waste on consumer phone bills,” said Validas President Andy Adams, who said the company’s patented software finds consumers an average of $425 a year in savings. Adams said the company does not take fees from carriers for consumer referrals but makes money as a wireless consultant, including a contract with California to analyze state agency cell phone billings.

Instead of handing over our account/password, we had the option of uploading our bill from our carrier’s Web site. Within seconds, Validas produced a one-page chart showing projected savings. For more detail, we paid $5 for the full report, with colorful, easy-to-digest visuals, savings tips and data on our calling patterns. It even listed our family’s 10 most-called numbers and showed who was the family’s “Power User.” It recommended a very low-volume call plan with our same carrier.

Annual savings: $480

DO YOUR OWN

Of course, consumers can comparison shop among competing carriers themselves or contact their carrier directly.

“Customers can call us anytime to ask for help, not only to understand their bill but to help determine if they’re on the best plan,” said AT&T spokesman John Britton. And when changing within an existing plan, there’s “no penalty at all.”

We put that strategy to the test, too, calling our family’s cell phone carrier. The friendly customer service rep called up our bill online and within seconds noted the large accumulation of unused minutes on our 2,100-minutes-a-month plan, which covers four of us with unlimited texting and free night/weekend calls after 9 p.m.

“You have quite a few rollover minutes … one of the largest balances I’ve ever seen,” he said. “You should go to a 1,400-minute plan. You’d be saving $20 a month. It’s definitely worth it.”

He also suggested activating a feature we had never used, which lets you choose 10 frequently called numbers that are not counted against your monthly allotment.

In less than 30 minutes, it was a done deal.

Annual savings: $240.

Other carriers like Sprint offer consumers do-it-yourself calculators on their Web sites to find cheaper calling plans.

But all these Web sites have one serious shortcoming, said Joe Ridout of San Francisco-based Consumer Action.

“They aren’t truly presenting all the best options. They all fail to include prepaid (phone) plans, which are the greatest savings of all. That’s a very significant absence,” Ridout said.

He noted that consumers who don’t need Internet access and texting can reap big savings by buying an inexpensive cell phone and a prepaid amount of minutes, which can be purchased as needed. And there’s no contract or cancellation fees.