You can save hundreds of dollars per year by making smart choices about your cellphone, according to Consumer Reports. Here’s how:
• Consider prepaid service. Pay-as-you-go plans used to come with limited service and bare-bones phones. Not anymore.
Prepaid providers now have more smartphones, and some offer fast 4G connections. Consumer Reports’ subscribers gave those services some of its highest scores for satisfaction.
If you’re not a marathon talker, texter or Web surfer, you’ll usually come out ahead by paying only for what you use. You’ll probably pay more upfront for a phone if you don’t sign a two-year contract, but the savings on service can more than make up for that over time.
• Be strategic when you surf. To keep from burning through your monthly allowance, beware of data hogs such as streaming video and music and playing games online. You can usually monitor data usage in real time using your carrier’s app, such as My Verizon Mobile. Use Wi-Fi as much as possible – at home, in the office or at places such as Starbucks or the library.
• Check for discounts. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and Verizon offer discounts to employees of companies that use their service. To see whether yours does, do a Web search for the carrier’s name and “employee discount.” You’ll be directed to a page on the carrier’s website at which you can enter your work email address.
• Consider a family plan. It often pays to buy in bulk, and family plans (sometimes called share plans) usually provide a discount for buying service on multiple lines.
For example, for the usage needs of an average consumer, Verizon would charge $90 per month for one line and $210 for four – a per-line cost of only about $53, or a 41 percent savings vs. buying four separate lines. Sprint would charge the same customer $70 per month for one line and $50 per line for four, a 29 percent discount.
• Wait to buy that hot phone. Resist buying the latest must-have phone until a newer model comes out, and you may be able to get it at a much lower price. For example, if you bought the Samsung Galaxy SIII from Sprint when it first came out, it would have set you back more than $200 upfront. When the S4 arrived, the SIII price dropped to $100, and it’s now $0 with most service contracts.
• Go beyond the carrier store. Your local cellphone store may be the first place you think of going to buy a phone, but you might get a better deal elsewhere.
When Consumer Reports surveyed almost 9,800 subscribers in 2012, the Apple Store, Apple.com and VerizonWireless.com got below-average scores for price. ATT.com, Best Buy, RadioShack and U.S. Cellular stores were average for price. Costco and Walmart were the only cellphone retailers in the survey that received above-average scores for price. Costco is among the best venues for bargain hunters, provided you can find what you want in its limited selection.
• Think twice about add-ons. Like other service providers, cellular carriers try to lard on extras, including navigation, insurance and GPS tracking of your children. Assess those offers carefully. You might be better off paying $1 per day for maps and directions only when you need them, rather than paying a $5 navigation fee every month.
And take a pass on phone insurance, which runs about $7 to $11 a month, or up to $264 over two years. Only 1 in 5 survey respondents had to replace a lost, broken or stolen phone, so you probably won’t collect. If you do, you’ll face a deductible of up to $200, and the replacement may be a refurbished model. Better to hang on to an old phone in case you need a replacement until you qualify for the next upgrade.