So many questions....What coverage do I want? What kind of phone is best? Am I going to text? How many minutes will I use? What time will I use my phone the most? With so many factors that go into choosing a cell phone carrier and so many options to choose from, it's easy to feel like you might be getting cheated. But as long as you have done your research and have a basic understanding of what your signing up for (usually for the next two years), you may be able to sleep a little better at night. In general, most cell phone companies, whether national or local, charge around the same rate for their plans. If you want a nationwide plan with, say 800 minutes a month, the monthly price of that plan will be about the same across the board, give or take a couple dollars. Its the add-on's, the coverage, the phones, and the customer service that a consumer should really be looking at.
Before going into the store, decide what features you (and your family) will be using on your phone. Will you be texting? Do you send or receive more than 30 texts per month? If you don't feel that you will be texting often, be sure to ask the sales person how much it costs per text and if you will be charged for incoming texts. This can change considerably from company to company. If you would like a texting plan, compare how much the unlimited text plans are and if there is anything in between. Also, be aware that just because you have a texting plan, that does not necessarily include picture messaging so be sure to check with the sales rep.
Do you want to access the Internet on your phone? For most companies, even if you don't have an Internet plan that you pay for, you are usually still able to access the Internet. You will just be charged per usage, and that can add up pretty quickly. If you would like to access e-mail or check the weather from your phone on a regular basis, you might want to consider an Internet package. These are sometimes bundled with text messaging plans and the price can change considerably from company to company.
If you have considered all the ways you will use your cell phone, you can start looking at what kind of phone you want. Most companies carry anything from the most basic phone for free up to a smart phone for around $200. If you want just a phone and are not going to use any of the features, any cell phone company will have these kinds of phones. If the phone is important to you and you're wanting a high-end phone with all the latest bells and whistles, you might have to look into a large, national cell phone carrier. When a cell phone brand like Motorola or LG want to sell their latest and greatest phones, they usually don't sell them to the small companies. They sell them to the big retailers like Verizon and those big companies will also have a much larger selection of phones than a smaller company. But remember, no matter what phone you choose, you are usually stuck with it for the next two years, so choose wisely.
If you travel a lot or live in a rural area where the service is limited, this might be the most important aspect to consider when choosing your cell phone carrier. If you choose a large, nationwide company like Verizon, you will most likely be covered anywhere you travel in the U.S. However, if you live on a farm 10 miles from the nearest town, a large company may not benefit you. Large companies put their towers where the most people will use them. So if you live in western Kansas or northern Arizona, you might look into a local company that is putting towers where people who live in that area need them the most. Also, many small, local companies are affiliated with larger companies like Sprint, so the two carriers will share their towers across the country with no roaming fees.
There are other add-on's here and there that change from company to company. For instance, one company may start their nights and weekends at 6 p.m. and another will start at 8 p.m. If you are worried about going over minutes, that would be an extra two hours that you could talk for free. Some companies also offer referral programs, if you refer a friend or relative, you could get a discount.
Consider the customer service and the reputation of the company. If you had a problem with your bill, how easy would it be to talk to someone about it and fix it? Many local companies pride themselves on their customer service and in most cases there is a store nearby that you can talk with someone face to face. If you needed to speak to a supervisor, there would probably be someone at the store who could make an immediate decision for you. Many local companies also offer special monthly discounts. For instance, if you are a government employee, a teacher, or work at a particular store in the area you may get 10% off your bill each month. They also may donate money to the community. One such program that is offered by several local cell phone carriers is a School Rebate Program where they will donate a percentage of your monthly bill to a local school.
With all that to consider, the main thing to keep in mind is, unfortunately, the things that people usually dislike the most about their cell phone companies are usually things that are an industry standard. Just about every company out there uses a two year contract (there are ways around that, but most promotions and discounts won't apply). Also, the policies for replacing a phone whether it has insurance on it or not are, for the most part, the same from carrier to carrier. As stated above, the flat monthly fee for service is generally the same. The place where you will save money is on the prices of the add-ons and whether the company offers any type of promotion or discount. However, what is usually the most variable from company to company is the coverage and the phones offered. Most companies have some sort of return policy if you feel that you are unhappy with the service. This most likely does not include returning a phone you don't like, just the service - which means that you would cancel your service, return the phone and switch to a different carrier.