How To Choose Your First Phone Plan

Alright, so you’re probably not thrilled at the idea of adding another monthly expense. Unfortunately, there’s no way to worm out of owning a cell phone these days. If you’re going to pay for your own phone service, you deserve the best bargain possible. Keep these points in mind while you’re shopping for your first phone plan.

Know your network needs.

You want to find a plan that will fit your budget, but you don’t want to end up contractually bound to a phone that won’t pick up a signal. Sprint and T-Mobile offer more affordable plans in comparison to their competitors; however, their networks are extremely limited in comparison to Verizon and AT&T. If you live in one of America’s major metropolitan areas, then expansive voice and data coverage may not be your highest priority--you'll have a signal with any network. If you’re a frequent traveler or reside in a smaller town, a reliable network should be at the forefront of your search. For consideration, Verizon and AT&T boast relatively broad high-speed networks across the country.

It’s all about the data.

Gone are the days of truly unlimited data packages, and if you’re buying a new smartphone, you’re going to want enough data to play with. Most service carriers (such as AT&T and Verizon) have switched over to shared-data plans. These plans typically start between 300 and 500 megabytes as the minimum amount of data available, and you’re able to add as much as 30 gigabytes. With these new plans, there would be two rates that make up your monthly bill: one for unlimited minutes and messages and another for your data package. If you wanted to add others to your shared data plan, there would be an additional charge for their line and you would have one pool of data to share between the two of you.

Sprint and T-Mobile offer individual “unlimited” data plans but be aware of the fine print! Not only are you limited by a smaller network, but for some carriers, you are only given a gigabyte or two of high-speed (4G or 4G LTE) internet. After that’s been spent, you have unlimited 2G or 3G data, leaving you to surf the net at a frustratingly sluggish speed.

Not interested in a contract?

Good! Neither is your service provider. Within the last year, carriers have introduced non-contract finance options as an alternative to their traditional two-year service agreements. Some of these finance plans offer advantages over a two-year contract, be it in the form of a line discount or waiving of activation fees. Some finance plans even let you upgrade as early as one year into your agreement!

Here’s how it works: Instead of paying hundreds of dollars for a new device on a two-year contract, you only pay the sales tax of the phone. Starting with your first bill, you’ll be responsible for making no-interest monthly payments that add up to the full retail value of the phone. As soon as you pay off the phone (which you can do as soon as you’d like) you are considered free from your contract with the carrier and you can upgrade or keep the phone.

Do you still want your own phone plan? If the idea of signing a contract or leasing agreement isn’t appealing, then you can always bring your own device to a prepaid carrier—or stay on your family’s plan as long as possible!