If You're Looking For a Cell Phone Plan, Here's What You Should Know

When buying a cell phone, you are also buying a cell phone plan from a cell phone carrier to provide you with wireless service. It's important to know what your calling needs are, and how they will fit with the wireless carrier's service plans. This article will deal with choosing a wireless carrier and plan to fit your calling needs. These should be considered before buying your cell phone. You'll need to consider other things, such as peak and off peak hours with your wireless plan, any extra charges and fees, length of contract, and more. Selecting the wireless cell phone will be dealt with in a separate article.

Read on as we tell you about the cell phone carriers and the various plans, and how to choose the one right for you.

Choosing a Plan

The first thing to consider is, how you will use your cell phone. Try to estimate your usage each month. It's best to overestimate what you think you'll use, since going over your allotted monthly minutes will result in hefty extra charges--as much as $.40 a minute. If you're outfitting your whole family with cell phones, most carriers offer Family Plans, so you'll want to look into that possibility. Some carriers will give you free air time for calls to your family. Most plans are based on shared air time, so your minutes will be shared with your family members. There are plans which allow text messaging, so if you don't plan to use that, don't sign up for it. If you only plan to use your cell phone for emergency purposes, don't sign up for unlimited minutes. While this is the best value per minute, it makes no sense to pay $40 a month if you're only going to use your cell phone for a few minutes each month. Look for a plan with fewer minutes (and less money), or consider a prepaid cell phone if you know you won't use it very often. Of course, as you become accostumed to cell phone usage, you may want to change or upgrade your service. Be sure this is easily done with no penalties through your service carrier.

Cell Phone Carriers and What They Offer

The top-rated cell phone carriers are Cingular Wireless; Sprint Nextel; T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless. Feel free to look into other less well-known carriers as well. You may find some good buys that aren't offered by the major players. What we offer here is geneneral information, be sure to dig further into the carriers you are interested in, to see if what they offer will fit your needs. Most of the carriers will also sell you a cell phone. Sign up for one of their plans and your phone could be free, after rebates and other offers.

  • T-Mobile offers a variety of rates and plans to fit your needs, whether it be individual or for your whole family. Rates start as low as $30 for their "Basic Plus" plan. This includes 300 anytime minutes & unlimited weekend minutes. Their most popular plan runs about $40 a month; includes 600 anytime minutes and unlimited night and weekend minutes. You can also sign up for "MyFaves plans, which allow you to call up to five selected numbers with no limits. T-Mobile also offers a variety of family plans, starting as low as $50 a month for two lines, and up to three additional lines at $10 each.
  • Nextel-Sprint also offers a variety of rates and plans, starting at $30 a month for the basic individual plan (200 anytime minutes, unlimited night & weekend minutes) and on up, depending on features, time limits, etc.
  • Cingular Wireless partners with AT&T in most areas. Their individual plans start at $40 per month and go up, depending on the plan; family plans start at $60 a month for 2 lines and 550 nationwide minutes to share.
  • Individual plans with Verizon Wireless also start at $40 per month for 450 anytime minutes, unlimited night and weekend minutes. Similara to the other carriers, Family Plans start at $70 per month for two lines, with each additional line at $10 per line. This gives you 700 anytime minutes to share, unlimited night and weekend minutes.

Added features for many plans include text messaging, free long distance, free night and weekend minutes, and more. You can often receive a free cell phone when you sign up with one of the major carriers.

There are peak (anytime) and off peak (night or weekend) minutes, and most cell phone carriers will limit your minutes during peak times of the day, usually from 7 or 8 a.m. till 7 to 9 p.m., depending on the carrier. Most carriers will give you unlimited night & weekend minutes without dipping into your peak minutes.

The Bottom Line

Do your homework first, before selecting and signing up for a cell phone plan. Talk to your friends and see what they like and don't like about their carrier and plan. Check some online sites, as mentioned before, and do some comparison shopping. If you can be well-informed before signing on the dotted line, your phone dollars will be more wisely spent and you should get what you need in the way of cell phones, plans, and your service provider.

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