LIZ WESTON

(AP)—The word “bills” used to be synonymous with “fixed expenses.” But there’s nothing fixed about many of the bills a typical household pays today.

Some bills have introductory rates that expire, shooting monthly costs skyward. Others offer secret discounts or upgrades to those in the know. Providers constantly tweak their plans and pricing, which means long-term customers can overpay by hundreds of dollars a year.

“It’s like airline seating pricing,” says Steven McKean, founder and CEO of BillShark, a bill negotiating service based in Boston. “I wouldn’t say (people) are overcharged, but I would just say that the pricing is very opaque.”

BillShark calculates Americans could save $50 billion a year by haggling over their bills for cell phone service, home security, internet and pay television. The company, like its competitors BillFixers of Nashville, Tennessee, and BillCutterz of Corpus Christi, Texas, offers to negotiate for consumers in exchange for 40 percent to 50 percent of the savings.

The savings can total hundreds or even thousands of dollars. McKean said his negotiators cut bills by an average of $320 each, with annual savings ranging from $250 for home security to $300 for TV, phone and Internet bundles to $360 for cell phone bills.

Some of the biggest savings right now can be found in cell phone plans as a price war roils the industry, says BillFixers founder Ben Kurland. “A lot of the cell phone providers have introduced multiple plans just this year,” he says. “If you have a cell plan that’s more than 6 months old, you may not be on the most efficient plan for you anymore.”

In addition to cell phone plans, bill negotiators say the following services often have plenty of room for negotiation:

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