Standard Vs. Premium Text Message Charges: A Guide to SMS Fees

A Guide to SMS Fees and Charges

Winning quick and easy with text message sweepstakes.
••• Image © Getty Images / Urs Kuester

Entering SMS sweepstakes is a fast and fun way to win. However, while all sweepstakes are free, text message sweepstakes may have charges associated with them that online sweepstakes do not.

There are two types of SMS fees to watch out for before you enter sweepstakes by text: standard and premium text message charges. Here's what you need to know about each type.

What Are Standard Text Message Charges?

If you read the rules of SMS sweepstakes, you'll usually see a line that says something like: "standard text message rates apply." Standard text message rates are the fees you pay your mobile provider to send or receive SMS messages.

How much you'll pay, or if you need to pay anything at all, depends on your individual service plan. Some of the common options that your service plan might have include:

  • Unlimited Text Messaging: For one flat rate, you can send and receive as many text messages as you like.
  • Limited Text Messaging: For a flat rate, you can send a specific number of text messages at no additional charge. This could be a few hundred messages or more than a thousand, depending on your plan.
  • Per-Message Charges: You are charged a fee, usually a few cents, for each text message you send or receive.

If your plan has Unlimited Text Messaging, then you shouldn't have to worry about any fees for entering text sweepstakes. If it has Limited Text Messaging, SMS sweepstakes will be free until you hit your limit. And if you have Per-Message Charges, you'll pay whatever your standard rate is, just as you would with any other text message.

Be aware that many SMS sweepstakes make agreeing to receive mobile marketing messages from the sponsor a condition of entering them. If you are paying for every SMS message, these charges can stack up quickly.

If you are not interested in the messages, be sure to unsubscribe to keep your costs down. You will probably receive a text message giving you a short code and keyword to use to unsubscribe from these messages.

Premium Text Message Charges:

Premium text message charges are fees that the sweepstakes' sponsors charge to contact them by text message. Premium text message fees are charged in addition to the standard messaging fees your mobile provider may apply, and they can be hefty.

Premium text message charges are often used to sell you for things like ringtones or subscriptions. When it comes to sweepstakes, premium fees are usually a one-time charge for entering.

Be careful to always read the rules carefully to find out what the fees will be and carefully decide whether paying them is worthwhile to you. There may be alternate entry methods, such as through a website or by mail, that are free or cost less.

If Sweepstakes Are Free, Why Can Text Sweepstakes Charge Money?

In the United States and many other countries, randomly-drawn sweepstakes can't charge a fee to enter. So how is it legal for text sweepstakes to charge money?

Well, in the case of standard message fees, they aren't. The charge to send and receive texts related to your entry comes from your telephone service provider, not the sweepstakes sponsor. You can think of it like paying for a stamp to send in your mail-in sweepstakes entries.

However, it's debatable whether sweepstakes sponsors are allowed to charge premium text message fees, which could qualify as a consideration.

For example, the television game show "Deal or No Deal" was sued in 2008 for running a giveaway that charged entrants premium fees for entering. The case settled and Deal or No Deal agreed to refund the premium text message fees.

However, the settlement means that there is still no clear ruling on the legality of charging premium fees to enter sweepstakes.

In the meantime, alternate entry methods that give you the same chance of winning without paying premium text fees offer a consideration-free way of entering.

Beware of Premium Text Message Charge Scams:

While some legitimate sweepstakes do charge premium messaging fees to enter, those fees can also be abused by scammers.

Some scammers run legitimate-looking giveaways with the goal of making money through unreasonably high premium message fees. You might think that you are texting a simple trivia question to enter, but in fact, you are paying $4 or more for each text you send or receive. And there might be no way to unsubscribe. 

Scamwatch has a breakdown of how premium text message scams work. Be sure to carefully vet any sweepstakes offers you receive and make sure that any giveaway you enter has a full set of rules. Read the rules carefully to find out how much you'll pay to enter.

Tip: You can contact your mobile service provider to ask them to block premium messaging fees if you don't want to risk accidentally agreeing to the charges.