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5 Things to Know Before Choosing Your Next Phone Plan

Satisfy your budget without compromising your communication needs.

CompareCellPlans Editorial Team

October 5, 2023

Choosing the right phone plan can be tough, and knowing where to start is tricky when there's so much to choose from. Whether it's your first time comparing carriers or you simply want to switch up your current selection, always begin by understanding your unique communication needs and preferences.

Use this 5-step list to determine exactly what you need out of your phone plan and maximize your budget. It will prepare you to ask the right questions and confidently compare carriers on your own.

Step 1: Determine Your Coverage Needs

This is a great place to start. Filtering carriers by their coverage should help you narrow down your list by assessing local range and network quality. This is an important first step because coverage and network quality will affect the reliability, speed, and performance of your call, text, and data services.

Take a look at carrier maps in your area and familiarize yourself with signal strength in the places where you live and work. If you're a frequent traveler, you might want to consider additional roaming and international coverage add-ons to avoid unexpected fees.

Step 2: Calculate Your Budget

Estimating and modifying your phone plan budget can be difficult when you don't know exactly what to expect. Luckily, you should be able to calculate every cent that goes into your bill with just a few simple tricks.

The upfront fees associated with committing to a new phone plan—including sign-up fees, installment plan breakdowns, new device payments, and data overages—will be your largest initial expenses. Determine whether monthly payments or a one-time, yearly sum suits your lifestyle best. You can typically cut down costs by enrolling in an automatic payment plan or bundling with friends and family.

On top of your required carrier payments, additional fees may apply including regulatory fees, state and local taxes, and surcharges. Reviewing these expenses ahead of time will ensure you're not surprised by a higher-than-expected charge at the end of your billing cycle.

Step 3: Understand Your Data Usage

Unlimited data—everybody talks about it, but what does it mean? And do you really need it?

Think of cellular data like this: it's the invisible force that carries information from your device to wherever the information needs to go. These activities might include web browsing, accessing social media apps or sites, checking emails, video and music streaming, online gaming, and messaging. Monitoring all of this cellular activity for some time may give you a better understanding of the data features you'll need. The amount of cellular activity and quality you prefer will determine specific features you'll want to include such as high-speed, premium, limited, or unlimited data.

When you're connected to Wi-Fi, you don't need cellular data because your Wi-Fi connection does the information carrying. But without it, many of your necessary day-to-day activities simply wouldn't be possible.

Always review your individual data needs before comparing different plans. A cheaper data plan may seem like the most cost effective option, but these competitive rates are sometimes packaged with overage fees. This is why browsing plans with data limits that reflect your regular daily usage is the best way to go.

Step 4: Compare Carrier Compatibility

4G and 5G are two more terms that, like unlimited data, you've probably heard before but aren't quite sure what they really mean. To put it simply, the higher the number before the G, the better the service. The better the service, the faster your data can be carried from point A to point B.

These different networks and technologies carriers utilize for their services—e.g. 4G vs 5G—are not always universally accepted across devices. You'll want to check that your current device or any new devices you plan to get are compatible with your carrier's network of choice.

Additionally, if you do decide to switch to a new carrier you should inquire about keeping your same phone number. Oftentimes the carrier will honor your existing number to save you the inconvenience of updating all your contacts.

Step 5: Review Plan Flexibility and Additional Features

Similar to how you'd choose data limits, your plan's contract length should be selected to follow your lifestyle. Whether you're consumed by wanderlust, a frequent traveler for work, or are just more of a homebody, identifying a contract length that best suits your lifestyle can save you from termination fees. Carefully read through carriers' plan information to determine if they have a length that best suits your needs.

For your final step, be sure to browse bonus features and add-ons. These extras might include free streaming, prepaid phones, family discounts, hotspot capabilities, and more. Compare these offerings with your current lifestyle to determine if you can maximize your plan's value and save on other expenses.

Everything You Need From Your Phone Plan

Satisfying your communication needs and your budget is possible with just a little bit of planning. Remember: coverage, budget, data usage, compatibility, and bonus features. With these steps, you'll be able to identify the features you need, compare carrier offerings, and communicate your preferences so that you get the best deal on your phone plan.

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