Choosing a wireless provider can be tough, especially when it involves signing a two-year or longer service agreement. Smart shopping is your best weapon for picking the best cell phone plan, so do your research thoroughly before signing on the dotted line.
Staking Out The Field
The first step is simply to stake out the field for the best cell phone plans. Keep in mind that what constitutes a great plan for you won't necessarily be an optimal plan for your best friend. Simply put, comparing cell phone plans requires first determining your own needs and then figuring out which cell phone providers would best meet them. For instance, do you need an especially small phone that's easy to carry? Is unlimited text messaging important to you? Is worldwide connectivity something you require? Also, don't limit yourself to just the top brands like Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint. There are literally hundreds of mobile service providers out there. Just because a provider's brand isn't nationally recognized doesn't mean its services are necessarily bad.
Once you select a few plans to compare, it's time to roll up your sleeves and get to the real work. You'll need to either call each provider and grill them with pertinent questions regarding their plans or thoroughly scrutinize their websites. Don't worry about annoying the salesperson if you choose the former; you have the right to make an informed decision. The key is to derive as much information as possible so that you end up making an optimal choice.
A few of the important facts that you need to consider include:
- "What are your windows for anytime, peak, off-peak, and night minutes?" This is important to ask because carriers don't necessarily maintain the same definitions for said terms. While one carrier may define night as anytime between p.m. and a.m., another might define it as the hours between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m.
- "Are incoming calls free or are they charged to my minutes?" Some companies won't charge you for incoming international calls, while others charge for every call you receive.
- "How much do you charge per minute for extra minutes?" It never hurts to be prepared in case you, for whatever reason, end up going over your allotted minutes. Things happen.
- "What are your roaming charges?" If you travel frequently, make certain you ask this, lest you end up discovering you have a far more expensive bill than you had expected.
- "Is there a fee for long distance?" There's practically always an applicable long-distance fee, but some providers make exceptions for certain countries and situations.
- "Are unused minutes rolled over?" Rollover minutes can provide an abundance of extra phone time for emergency situations, but you aren't guaranteed them. It depends on the provider.
- "What additional surcharges and fees should I expect?" Save yourself a headache by being aware in advance of all those additional pesky fees the provider plans to charge.
- "What are the up-front costs and how much is the deposit?" Keep in mind that upfront costs are typically lower when you sign up for an extended contract, but don't make assumptions about these fees. Always ask before making a decision.
- "What data package options do you offer?" If you intend to use your phone for business purposes such as emailing and conferencing, then make certain you select a data package with enough monthly data to fulfill your needs.
- "Do you offer prepaid services?" In some instances, prepaid pay-as-you-go services may prove to be cheaper for you than monthly agreements, depending on your particular needs.
- "How's your coverage?" Some carriers offer extended coverage as per roaming agreements they've made with other networks. Ask for statistics about dropped calls and how recently the network infrastructure was upgraded.
- "How long is the initial contract period?" Longer contracts are usually a better option when it comes to selecting a plan if you are looking for the lowest possible cost.
- "Can I make changes to the plan during the contract period?" Be wary of plans that are stuck in stone, because you never know when you might discover you need to make a change of some kind.
- "Is there an early termination fee?" Is the risk of having to cancel something you can afford to make?
- "Is there a processing fee for telephone or online payments?" Some providers score a few extra bucks out of their clients by tagging on redundant fees.
Click the image on the image above to download a printable shopping comparison list you can use as a tool to gather information about each plan option you are considering. If you need help downloading the printable, check out these helpful tips.
Making A Final Decision
Every cell phone provider is different, as is every cell phone plan. There really is no perfect plan in this world. Some people don't mind spending hundreds of dollars each month so that they can text as much as they'd like. Others, however, have different needs and wants. That said, avoid rushing into any particular plan. Take the time beforehand to perform detailed research so that you don't end up having to find someone to take over your contract.