What Your Cell Service Provider Won’t Tell You

Living & Spending, Shopping Savings
on March 28, 2014

What Your Cell Phone Provider Won't Tell You


The best cell phone plans are the ones that are catered perfectly to your individual needs. Never heard of such an animal? Fair enough, but with a bit of due diligence, arming yourself with information that protects you against strategically vague sales pitches and promises, you can at least save yourself some serious cash along the way. Start by breaking down what you want and need from your cell service provider—and which parts you can handle all by your lonesome.

Breaking up is hard to do.

So you’re totally disgusted with your current wireless provider, but you have a standing contract and a looming early termination fee? You’re not alone. Providers like T-Mobile are helping customers “break up” with their current carrier and offering to purchase the early termination fee for up to five different lines. If your relationship with Sprint, AT&T, or Verizon has reached truly dismal proportions, this option might be for you. T-Mobile’s buy-out promises will make some consumers jump at the opportunity to stick it to the wireless man, but check out the coverage map before taking the plunge. T-Mobile promises 4G speed, but its relatively small cell tower infrastructure means that only having access to 2G might be a more frequent occurrence than you’d like.

Bypass the mid-plan upgrade.

Only a few months into a new contract, glossy mailers begin to appear in the mailbox touting the latest smart phone available for a seemingly minor upgrade cost. But proper care, a sturdy phone case—and avoiding any accidental aquatic encounters—should keep your smart phone working like a dream for the next two years.

Be wary of upgrade pushers. Many consumers are unaware that the bargain amount of $100 you paid for an Iphone 5 is actually a down payment, and the rest of the cost is built into your monthly bill. The problem with early- to mid-contract upgrades is that they have a way of forcing you to pay retail price—twice over. An upgrade usually isn’t offered until the full price of your initial phone purchase is paid. If your circumstances absolutely call for a new phone, consider purchasing a refurbished phone or purchasing through Amazon, Target or any other retailer that’s not peddling a plan with the device. 

Activation, sync contacts and other things you’re perfectly capable of doing yourself.

A visit to the brick-and-mortar wireless store to shop for a plan and test various phones can be a valuable experience. However, consider taking what you learn in the store and actually purchasing your plan and devices in the comfort of your home on your own computer. Many retailers will offer to activate your new phone for you, sync your contacts and other tasks that come with a blank slate of a wireless device—an offer that usually comes with an average price tag of $20.

Activating a new phone can be as simple as calling a main line, plugging in your social security number and letting your phone power down. Don’t let a sales representative convince you that you are incapable of activating or syncing contacts. It’s just another fee that can be easily avoided.

Your data usage is different than your kids’ data usage.

The typical working professional can expect to fire off e-mails, check out the latest Wall Street Journal headlines and maybe give Facebook a cursory glance—all in a day’s browsing. Your kids? Not so much. Streaming music, sending SnapChats, running multiple applications and producing a never-ending barrage of text messages are a more likely use of your child’s smart phone data.

Each of the Big 4 carriers provides data usage calculators to assess cellular workload. Video streaming and music streaming quickly deplete a month’s data usage by using 60-350 MB an hour. Generally, 2 GB of data usages costs around $30 per month, but a month of streaming Spotify playlists or checking out the latest YouTube videos can quickly rack up $10-$30 for each additional GB used.

When selecting a wireless plan, ask your carrier if they offer bridge data, or the ability to constantly roll over unused data month after month. Verizon offers this function with pre-paid plans, and it is the perfect way to add a little leeway to your monthly bill. And the best data saving habit? Keeping your Wi-Fi function turned on at all times.

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