It’s likely most of us have faced the prospect of choosing a new cell service provider. If you’re like me, you’ve found it a daunting task.
So many advertising claims! So many unlimited data plans! So many awesome new phones!
How do you choose among all the options?
To be an informed consumer you have to dive in and compare the various carriers and their offers.
Unfortunately there is no easier way.
But that said, here are five questions you can answer before or during the new carrier choosing process that will help you be a more informed and savvy cell phone service consumer.
1. Are you free to leave your current provider?
Can you simply walk away, or will you have to pay out of pocket to secure your release?
If your current carrier charges an Early Termination Fee (ETF) or you are still paying monthly for your phone, then it’s going to cost you to exit.
The ETF is rapidly dying out, but some cell phone users are still bound under the last of the old two-year service contracts that included ETFs.
And if you’re still making payments on your phone, you’ll have to pay it off in full before you can be free of your current service provider.
If you don’t know if you’re free to leave, contact your current carrier’s customer service department.
2. If you have exit costs, will a new carrier pay some or all of them?
Usually the new carrier will reimburse you at least some of the costs to leave your previous provider. Just be sure you understand from the potential new provider:
• how much they will reimburse you;
• what you have to do to qualify (provide receipts, etc?);
• when you will receive the reimbursement (will you wait for months?);
• what form the reimbursement will take (a debit card, for example? Or a credit on your new account?)
3. Can you bring your current phone to the potential new provider?
Switching to a new carrier will cost less if you can keep your current phone instead of buying a new one.
But there are three big reasons why keeping your current phone is not an option.
• Your current phone may not be compatible with the new carrier’s network. If keeping your phone is a big deal, be sure to check compatibility. Is your phone unlocked? Make sure it is before switching.
• Many of the “deals” heavily advertised by the various carriers require new customers to buy a phone. Be sure you understand the potential catch in any attractive-sounding carrier promotional offer.
• You may simply want a new phone. In fact, that may be the very reason you’re switching providers! If so, you obviously don’t care about keeping your current phone.
4. Can you get the plan you need?
As Verizon kept telling us for years – right up until two weeks ago in fact – relatively few cell phone users actually need an unlimited data plan.
Most individual accounts consume less than 5GB of data monthly. If you’re aware of your typical monthly data usage, you may be able to sign up for a less expensive plan.
If you decide NOT to go with an unlimited data plan, be sure you understand what happens if you exceed your monthly data limit. Will it cost you extra money on your next bill? Or does it mean throttled data speeds that will have you counting the hours until your billing cycle ends?
Things to Help You Choose
Be aware there are some pretty good interactive tools and online calculators out there to help you pick a carrier and a service plan. If you use one of these tools, be sure it takes into account your monthly data usage pattern.
But there is one key factor those online tools can’t figure into their calculations – network coverage. And so our last question is . . .
5. How good is the potential new carrier’s network coverage where you live and work?
This is the payoff question. Truth is, answers to the above four queries – no matter how favorable they may be – can’t compensate for poor network coverage where you need to use your phone the most, at home and at work.
If you don’t know how good the potential new carrier’s network coverage is, find out BEFORE you switch. I’ll say it again – it doesn’t matter how much you love that new device or what a fabulous deal you got, if you can’t use your phone in the places where you need it most.
Like I mentioned at the top of this post, there’s no easy way to make an informed choice on a new cell carrier. But hopefully these questions will help you choose when that time comes.
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