How Many Characters in Text Messages? + FAQ [2024]

December 21, 2023 | By Sam Pelton
Cartoon representation of a smartphone displaying a text message with a long character count and a warning message that the message will be split into multiple segments

There was a time when you had to be careful about how long your text messages were - and you had to be mindful about where the text message would split if it was longer than a certain number of characters.

With smartphones being more sophisticated nowadays, character limits don’t matter as much, especially with most Americans (88% by one estimate) having unlimited texting on their phones.

But in some cases character limits do matter—especially when you’re sending text messages for your business from an SMS platform.

So what is the character limit for texts? Why does it even have a limit? What happens if you go beyond the limit? And how can you keep within the limits?

We’ll go over all of that for you—and you may find that being mindful of the answers will actually save you money.

(Side note, here's a fun observation: According to one study, the average total number of characters in text messages is between 97–280 characters.)

How Many Characters in Text Messages?

Using English characters, the typical character limit for a text message (SMS) is 160.

This is a fixed limit inherent in the nature of SMS, according to how texting was built from the beginning. 160 is the full limit that a standard SMS can handle.

Technically, once a text message goes beyond 160 characters, it gets split up into multiple messages.

You may recall from years past (or if you’re someone who still has a flip-phone) that long messages would sometimes come through in different segments—and that’s because of the 160-character limit of SMS.

So why don’t long messages come through all split up like that on smartphones nowadays?

It’s because with modern-day texting, most phone carriers employ message concatenation.

What message concatenation means is that the phone carriers are able to detect if a split-up message was intended to be sent as a single unit. So when the message is delivered to the end device, the split-up message is merged into a single block of text, and it appears as a single message to the recipient.

However, behind the scenes it really was sent as more than one message.

Character Limits (Mobile Text Alerts) with 3 subheadings: Regular SMS – 160, SMS with Emojis – 70, MMS – 1,550; under each is a smartphone with an example

What Is a “Character”?

Sometimes it’s unclear what exactly constitutes a “character” in a text message, primarily when it comes to spaces. So do spaces count as a character against your messaging limits?

Yes—a “character” includes everything from letters to numbers to punctuation marks to spaces. Essentially, any element you would need to type into a keyboard in order to input. So spaces are counted as characters when considering the total number of characters in a message.

Why Are There Character Limits?

As mentioned above, character limits are inherent in the nature of SMS. There simply isn’t a way around them.

In your personal texting, you may not notice the character limits due to the concept of concatenation (discussed above). But if you’re sending texts for your business through an SMS platform, the SMS platform provider (such as Mobile Text Alerts) needs to pay on the back end for every message segment sent, so the provider usually does charge the user for each separate segment as its own message.

Therefore, the character limit is something that you’ll need to be aware of if sending messages for your business, so that you can make sure you’re keeping your costs reasonable.

What Happens If I Exceed Character Limits?

When sending text messages via a texting platform, if you exceed the character limit for SMS, your message will be sent normally - just as if you sent a longer text message from your own personal phone.

There is a possibility that some people in your audience may receive a split-up message, but this is rare in modern messaging due to the "concatenation" process mentioned above.

However, your message will count at least double the messaging credits in your SMS platform account. Plus, SMS in general is intended to be a brief and concise form of communication, so it’s often best to be able to keep your messages under 160 characters whenever possible (although this is admittedly not feasible sometimes).

If you have an unusually long text message of 480 characters or more, it’s recommended that you send the message as an MMS instead. (An “MMS” is a text message with media attached.)

MMS follow different guidelines and standards than traditional SMS. For example, with Mobile Text Alerts, MMS always count as 3 messaging credits regardless of the number of characters in the message, but they allow you to include up to 1,550 characters. They also allow you to attach a media file (typically an image) and send a multimedia message.

So if you have a long SMS that’s going to cost you 3 messaging credits or more, you may be better off sending the message as an MMS. That way, you won’t have to be concerned about being charged more than 3 messaging credits, and you’ll also be able to include an image in your message.

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Attractive social media-like graphic saying “Pro tip: Save money by using MMS for longer messages with money icons or smiley face icons

How Many Characters in Text Messages with Emojis?

If your text message contains emojis, this changes how the message needs to be processed. It can’t always be processed in the same way that an SMS platform would typically process an SMS.

This change in how the message is processed means the messaging limits change as well. Therefore, for many platforms, such as Mobile Text Alerts, including emojis means you have a reduced character limit for each message (in our case the character limit is 70 characters per message).

How Many Characters in Text Messages with Images?

As mentioned above, text messages that contain images are called MMS (which technically stands for “multimedia messaging service”). MMS cost more to send per message but can contain significantly more characters (and without splitting).

With Mobile Text Alerts, MMS can contain up to 1,550 characters, and they always cost the same amount of credits to send, regardless of how long they are.

How to Save Money in Regards to Characters in Text Messages?

So how can you save money by being mindful of character limits for SMS?

Here are some ideas.

Use AI

AI tools can help you make your messages more concise. Mobile Text Alerts has a built-in SmartSMS Shorten AI tool that will automatically give you a suggested shorter message. Otherwise you can use common tools such as ChatGPT or Bard to help give you suggestions for shortening.

Use MMS for Longer Messages

We mentioned this suggestion above, but since MMS always costs the same amount of credits (3 in the Mobile Text Alerts platform), you can sometimes save money by sending long messages as MMS rather than SMS. A very long SMS (particularly one 480 characters or more) can use up a lot of messages, so using MMS can help mitigate that.

Avoid Emojis in SMS

Emojis can significantly reduce the character limit per message, so using emojis in a lot of your messages can add up quickly in regards to the amount of messages used. If you want to use more emojis, consider sending your message as an MMS (which always costs 3 messaging credits, see “Use MMS for Longer Messages” above), rather than as an SMS.

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