When it comes to choosing the right wireless phone plan, consumers have never had so many options. Once, it used to be that you signed a two-year contract and paid a monthly amount for a fixed or unlimited number of minutes. Consumers now pay for a wider variety of features, including SMS, data, and old-fashioned calls.
So what can you do to make sure you’re choosing the best cell phone plan for your needs and budget? This overview of the types of cell phone plans available can help you to understand what’s most important.
Plans for Individuals: Every major carrier offers a variety of individual plans—plans that vary extensively in their features and price. When it comes to data, individual plan offerings range from no data to unlimited data. Truly unlimited, high-speed data plans cost upwards of $70 per month.
Individual plans are available in two formats:
- Two-year contracts. The traditional contract plan has disappeared in recent years, with carriers such as T-Mobile leading the charge to abolish contracts and other carriers following suit. If you really want a contract, you can still get one by talking to a customer service representative at a local dealership or calling the company’s customer service, though some carriers, such as Verizon, no longer offer contracts to new customers.
- Fast-upgrade plans. These days, most carriers offer “fast-upgrade plans.” These plans allow customers to pay off their phones in monthly installments in exchange for a reduced rate. Most offer incentives such as a free upgrade when you return your old phone to the carrier. Since the cost of the device is built into the monthly amount that you pay, you can save a significant amount of money over the course of a two-year agreement.
- Prepaid “virtual” carriers. Individual plans are also offered by small carriers, such as Cricket Wireless, Consumer Wireless, Straight Talk, and Boost Mobile. These companies may not offer a lot in the way of device selection. They don’t offer their own network, essentially “renting” from the networks of major carriers, which means that they can offer substantial discounts.
Group and Family Plans: Family and group cell phone plans have become more popular in recent years, with carriers moving towards shared “bulk” data. The savings are usually worth it here, and it’s a more economic way to ensure that you don’t run out of data. Carriers such as Sprint, AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile offer various contract arrangements. With most carriers, the price per gigabyte of data decreases the more you purchase. In addition, you’ll have to pay an unchanging access charge for each device on the plan. You should always compare the cost of the data with individual plans first to make sure it’s worth joining or starting a group plan.