BBB: Cellphone service selection requires some research

06/13/2014 11:05 AM

06/13/2014 11:06 AM

If you go strictly by their advertisements, you might think every single cellphone service provider was the best thing since sliced bread. Depending on what your own needs are, some may be.

Still, there are a lot of things to consider when selecting a company. One size does not fit all.

Here is some advice for those looking to find the right service provider.

Know what to ask

If your lawn is tiny you don’t buy a riding mower. If your family is huge you don’t buy a subcompact car.

Similarly, be aware of what you require of your cellphone service. It will be up to you to ask the right questions of the salespeople as you shop around.

Decide what factors matter the most to you before you deal with them. They are trained to tout the bells and whistles of their plans. You have to be your own advocate as you discuss what you are looking for in a cellphone plan.

Here are some factors you may want to take into consideration:

•  Service area – Find out which areas the company provides service in without charging roaming fees and whether that suits your own cellphone usage. Request that the salesperson note on a map exactly where you will have enough signal strength to make and receive calls.
•  Trial period – Ask about free trial periods. Most cellphone companies offer them. If the service is not satisfactory you can discontinue it without paying a penalty fee. You will, however, be responsible for activation fees and minutes used.
•  Length of contract – Most are between one and two years. Inquire about any Early Termination Fess, which average between $175 and $200.
•  Contract extension by the company – In some cases if you modify or change your pricing plan, add features or upgrade to a new phone, the provider can extend the terms of your contract or obligate you to a new one. Ask whether changes to your account could result from your actions.
•  Minute restrictions – Ask how many are included in the calling plan and when they can be used. There are different types of minutes with different prices. These include “peak” or daytime, “off-peak” or night and weekend, “shared,” and “rollover” minutes. Shared minutes are those that are shared by all members on a family or multi-line plan. Rollover minutes are unused minutes that will be rolled over into the next month.
•  Additional fees – Commonly cellphone bills can have an additional $10 to $20 of fees and surcharges. Among them may be city, county, state or federal taxes and 911 recovery fees.

Remember to read up on the different companies that offer cellphone plans. Consumer Reports is always a reliable source of information, and it rates the large providers based on survey results from its readers. Of course, a good source of information is always your own friends’ and relatives’ experiences with different providers.

Consider whether a prepaid option is better for your needs. With those you purchase the phone and the service separately. Prepaid carriers have been rated higher than the big major cell-phone carriers for service and value, so they are worth checking out.

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