How Do I Pick the Right Cellphone Plan for Me and My Family?

Each family has to decide for themselves what is important to them when choosing a cell phone plan for the household. Considerations include price, prepaid or postpaid, device selection, quality of customer service as well as service coverage. Other considerations include perks and promotions, as well as whether a company offers options for households that include children or teens.

Selecting a cellphone plan for you and your family is a big decision: You need reliable connectivity, quality devices, and good customer service. . . all at an affordable price. Since cellphone plans can cost hundreds of dollars each month, it pays to do some research.

The considerations listed below are not in any particular order: You know your own priorities best and can weigh each consideration on its own.

Prepaid or Standard Plans

Depending on your financial situation, you may opt to purchase a prepaid cell phone plan. Many people opt for prepaid plans because they cannot afford or do not have the credit score necessary to qualify for a standard cell phone plan. Another reason to choose a prepaid plan is that you don't want to get locked into a contract.

Many major cell phone companies, such as AT&T and Verizon, offer prepaid in addition to their standard plans, however, it is important to note that the prepaid division is often treated as a different company, with its own website, customer service staff and device selection.

Other companies, such as Cricket or Tracfone specialize in prepaid plans. These companies also work with the federal Lifeline phone program, which offers low-income individuals and households discounts on mobile devices and phone services.

Tip: Mobile phone companies each have their own policies regarding qualifying for a phone plan as well as a device. Even if you believe you have poor credit, it may be worth it to apply for a standard phone plan. Many companies are more accommodating than you realize: you may have to make an additional down payment for a new device, but in many cases, you can get yourself a new phone and a standard phone plan for well under $100, even if you have some challenges when it comes to credit.

What Kind of Coverage do You Need?

For many cell phone users, coverage is important. This is particularly true if you do a lot of traveling. Check the coverage of any cell phone company that you are considering. If you can't get the coverage that you need, look elsewhere.

Tip: This can be an issue when choosing a cell phone plan for an entire household. It may well be that a person who travels a lot may need to choose a different cell phone company from the rest of the family simply because he or she needs coverage that is not available through the most affordable local option.

Speed and Data Plans

Not everybody needs robust data plans and speed. If you primarily work from home and don't rely much on mobile apps, you may not need the amount of data that many standard plans provide. If you already have a smartphone, take a look at your data usage over the past few months. It may be that you are already overpaying for data that you're not using.

On the other hand, you may need high-speed data and a lot of it. This is particularly true if you travel frequently, if you are out and about each day, if you use your device for work, or rely on your cell phone as a hotspot. Beware of claims suggesting that a company offers "on "unlimited" data. Cell phone companies regularly throttle data speeds once you have exceeded a certain level of usage during a single billing period. You may be able to add additional data to your plan at an additional charge, however.

Device Availability

Each cell phone company offers a range of devices, including phones, tablets, smartwatches, portable hotspots, and accessories. If you are fond of a particular brand, or want to ensure that you have access to the latest device models, you want to make sure that the provider of your choice offers and supports these devices.

You may also want to consider the companies device upgrade policies, including trade-in value for all devices, as well as how often you are eligible for an upgrade. Other things to consider include device protection plans, something that could be important if you regularly engage in activities that could cause damage to your device.

Customer Service

Customer service quality is another important consideration. If something goes wrong with your account or access to your mobile service you want to be able to get answers and support quickly. Check to see if the company offers 24/7 support, and how that support is offered.

For example, some companies may significantly limit the hours during which live, phone-based support is available, although you may be able to connect via live chat or texting. Some budget companies, particularly those that offer prepaid service, may provide limited hours of live support. This can be a real problem if your job or other responsibilities makes it difficult for you to call during standard business hours.

The quality of customer service also makes a difference. Do some research on review sites to learn about how other consumers experience customer service from individual mobile phone providers. If you begin to notice patterns of dissatisfaction, take note and check out the competition. If someone in your household is hard of hearing, you may also want to consider the availability of TTD-based customer service as well.

Check to see if the phone company has retail stores near where you live. In many cases, you can quickly get help with your devices at a retail store, and if you have a customer service issue that is not easily resolved by phone, chat or text, you may find that the store manager is in a better position to provide a resolution.

Suitability for Kids

Some cell phone providers are more child-friendly than others. Those that can accommodate even young family members may offer and support devices that are suitable for children, such as flip phones. They may also provide services that allow parents to monitor activities as well as control screen time.

Price, Perks and Packages

Pricing is a significant issue and not always straightforward. Here are some considerations when it comes to figuring out whether a cell phone plan is a good value for you and your family:

Dollar amounts don't tell the whole story. You have to consider what you are getting for that dollar amount. Look at things like speeds, data, phone upgradeability and what level of protection is provided to your device. If you constantly find yourself paying for extra data each month, for example, you may not be getting the best price.

Consider the number of devices you and your family use, and get a quote that includes each family member and the devices that he or she uses. This will help you break down your actual monthly costs

Does the cell phone company offer additional services such as broadband Internet for your household, cable television, smart appliance support or security systems? Check to see if you save any money by bundling your services with one company. Another advantage to bundling is that you only have to deal with one bill each month.

Some mobile phone companies offer perks, such as loyalty programs, as well as free subscriptions to streaming services. Depending on your household needs, these can be "nice-to-have" as well as real money savers.

Employers and membership organizations sometimes negotiate lower rates on cell phone services for employees and members. If you are unsure whether you have access to such discounts, contact your benefits office at work, or review your membership literature.

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