Get the Best Cellphone Plan: 3 Simple Tips

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Choosing the right cellphone plan for you and your family doesn’t have to be stressful. For one thing, there are a lot of plans that don’t lock you into a contract (like they used to), so even if you’re not happy with your plan or carrier, you can switch pretty easily.

If you do happen to sign up for a plan that locks you into a contract, or you’re on a monthly payment plan to pay off your actual cellphone, you probably don’t want to switch carriers so soon that you’ll need to pay a high early termination fee or pay the remaining balance on your phone in one go. For this reason, you’ll want to be smart when you’re picking a new cellphone plan.

Here are three simple tips and tricks to follow when you’re on the hunt for a new plan.

Tip #1: Pay attention to coverage maps, not numbers

When I say “numbers” I mean the percentage coverage that the carriers use in their marketing materials and commercials. As impressive as it may seem that Verizon has coverage in 98 percent of the U.S., that doesn’t help you if you live in the 2 percent that isn’t covered. For example, if you live in the small town of Brooksmith, Texas, then you’re probably going to be quickly frustrated by Verizon’s reception — AT&T and T-Mobile will have you covered, though.

On the other hand, if you’re in West Virginia’s capital, Charleston, Verizon will do just fine, but T-Mobile’s lack of coverage in this area will make you want to throw your cellphone into the Elk River.

So: Don’t focus on the percentage of coverage each carrier boasts; look at an interactive coverage map instead. Zoom in on where you spend most of your time, and make sure you choose a carrier that offers good coverage there.

Tip #2: Know how much data you need

Most cellphone plans these days come with unlimited talk and text — data allowance is what you need to understand when choosing a plan. There are two main reasons you want to have a general idea of how much data you need:

  1. You don’t want to run out of full-speed data each month.
  2. You don’t want to pay for data you don’t need.

The good thing is that there are plenty of affordable unlimited-data cellphone plans available. Almost all carriers, including the smaller providers, offer unlimited plans, and they start from as low as around $40 a month. So if unlimited data plans are so cheap, you may be wondering why you need to know how much data you’ll use each month. Because even though your mobile data may be unlimited, that doesn’t mean your “full-speed data” is unlimited. Cellphone carriers will actually de-prioritize and slow down your internet speeds during peak times if you’ve used up your monthly limit of full-speed data, giving the 4G speeds to customers who have yet to reach their data cap. And I don’t mean just slowing it down a little — I think there are very few people who will have the patience for how slow 2G speeds feel to us now.

Most unlimited cellphone plans give you around 22GB of data before they de-prioritize you, but there are some plans that give you more than 50GB and others that only give you around 12GB. It’s important to know how much full-speed data you’ll actually be getting on your cellphone plan, or you’ll be waiting all night for that YouTube video to buffer.

Tip #3: Look for special deals and promotions

With so many cellphone carriers in the U.S., the market is highly competitive, much to our benefit. To get the edge over other providers, carriers often have special deals and promotions running that can save you hundreds of dollars.

The big four carriers — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon — will often have buy-one-get-one-free phone deals, 50 percent off handset deals, discounted rates for multiple lines — you name it! Be sure to check the fine print on these deals to make sure you’re eligible. You may have to:

  • Sign up for monthly handset payments (or Flex Lease with Sprint)
  • Switch from another carrier and port in your existing cellphone number
  • Trade in an eligible smartphone
  • Bring your own phone

Right now, Sprint has a great deal on its Unlimited Plan when you bring your own phone and switch from another carrier. The plan is free for a year! That’s right, Sprint is giving you 12 months of free service on a plan that usually costs $60 a month.

Keep these three tips in mind when you’re searching for your next cellphone plan, and find a plan that you love!

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