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If you've opted out of paying for a business phone line because you're just starting out and want to avoid the expense, be careful. "Telephone companies are obligated by state rules to charge business customers business rates no matter where they're located," says Chrin Tarola, GTE area manager in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.

How do phone companies know you are operating a business from home? If you answer the phone with your business name, advertise your phone number, or in any way publicly display the number, you could be discovered and designated a business customer.

"If we find out someone is running a homebased business and is not being charged business rates, a service representative will call to explain the new rates," says Tarola. The business owner is then required to make the switch.

Before making a decision about purchasing business phone service, be sure to check with your local phone providers. While established companies such as GTE, US West and Bell Atlantic must abide by state utility commission rules, newer companies unleashed with deregulation do not necessarily have the same requirements.

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