Tips for shopping for cell phones and service plans (part 2)

In a previous article, we discussed how to choose among the many cell phones available today, helping you search for the right device to fit into your daily needs as well as your budget. Now comes the slightly more complicated part: picking a contract that works with the phone you want and delivers the services you need. To really find the best deal here, according to Wirecutter, you need to juggle a few different factors:

The best coverage for your location

If you live in or around a major city, this isn't as big of a consideration, since most of the major cell networks will offer services of similar quality. For more rural residents or those who travel frequently, options might be limited and coverage may be sparse. Carriers provide coverage maps online that allow you to zero in on your location and see how their service performs there. Wirecutter also offered suggestions for independently sourced performance metrics.

How (and how much) do you use your phone?

After narrowing down carrier options, think about the specific services you want to pay for. Do you mostly use your phone for basic calls and texts, or do you want to frequently utilize data services like GPS navigation and internet access? If you picked the former and don't even use your phone that often, it's possible to save quite a bit using a prepaid plan - just pay for the voice minutes or texts you need as you need them. However, if you plan to use your phone on a daily basis, you will probably prefer a "postpaid" contract.

PhoneDon't forget to research which carriers perform best in your area.

If you want to save as much as possible

The Big Four carriers are not the only companies selling cell phone contracts - there are also a variety of other carriers that might be more affordable options for certain situations. These providers like MetroPCS, Cricket Wireless or Boost Mobile actually lease cell towers owned by the Big Four carriers, but package and sell their own plans for different markets.

These budget carriers are often the cheapest option for cell service contracts, and are particularly ideal for seniors, families, people who make frequent international calls or just anyone in search of the absolute best value. The biggest downside to most of these budget carriers is that service quality and customer support can be lacking compared to the Big Four. Since they lease their infrastructure, budget carriers might not have service priority over the owners, which can result in more spotty signal reception, dropped calls and slower data speeds for users.

Is your head spinning yet? Don't be alarmed at the many options available for cell phones and plans. With a little research, you should be prepared to sign onto a plan that works exactly how you want, without spending more than you can afford.

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