It seems like cell phone ads are everywhere, and those new smartphones look really interesting. Maybe it's time to change carriers and get that new iPhone or Android. Or you may want to bring down your monthly cost or find a carrier with better coverage. No matter the reason, five basic steps to switching providers can help you get the most for your money.
Choose a Phone
Any change of provider usually requires a new phone, so take advantage of the opportunity. Phones are classified as smartphones, feature phones or specialty phones. Smartphones are really pocket computers with apps that match almost any special interest from astronomy to quilting. Some smartphones are the iPhone, various Android phones, BlackBerry or Microsoft's Windows Phone 7. Feature phones include cameras, Web browsers, music players and other add-ins but are primarily designed to make phone calls. For those who are disabled or have other special needs, look at some of the specialty phones packaged specifically for blind or deaf customers.
Do Your Homework
Once you have a general idea of the type of phone you need, get on the Internet and see what the major providers offer. Each carrier customizes and brands its phones so the same phone may appear with different names and may have slightly different features. Compare both the purchase price as well as the minimum plan required for the phone. Most smartphones and many feature phones require a data plan which adds to the total cost. Also, read the customer reviews and check CNET or other technology news sites for independent reviews of phones and carriers.
Make the Rounds
Once you know the phone and carrier options, visit as many area phone stores as you can and check out the phones. Get a feel for the knowledge of the sales staff. Check the stores' wait times and get specific prices for both the phone and the monthly contract. Pick up sales literature including phone features, coverage maps and contract options. There will be pressure to sign, but don't commit on the first visit.
Check Current Contract
Dropping service any time during an existing contract can be expensive. Fees vary from $200 to $400 depending on your existing phone. Charges are supposed to be prorated, so a fee of $200 will cost $100 after half the contract has run its course. If the reason for a change is to get a different phone, talk to your carrier and check for upgrade options. Many carriers are willing to loosen upgrade fees if you volunteer to sign a new contract.
Take the Plunge
Once you've chosen a phone and carrier, get ready to sign the contract. Understand what the monthly charges are, the length of the contract, the early termination fee and have the service provider carry forward your current phone number. Expect an increase in charges, both from fee increases as well as additional services like data plans for the new smartphones. Also check the monthly voice minutes, data time or bits, number of text messages and peak vs. off-peak charges. Verify each of these items on the written contract before signing it.
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