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There are perks to both arrangements. Contracts limit your ability to switch carriers, restrict unlocking your phone for travel and often cost a little more in the big picture. However, you can typically score a nice phone for little to no upfront cost or enjoy a substantial discount on the latest flagship devices.
SIM-only will require more money upfront if you don’t already own a phone. However, you are often free to switch providers or devices as you wish without worrying about termination fees. Be sure to check that your handset is compatible with the carrier you intend to use. This is particularly important in regards to 3G and 4G networks.
Not sure about the different options? Try our handy comparison tool to help you find the best plan.
While the specific amount of data you need will depend on how you use your phone, research indicates that the average user goes through anywhere from 800-megabytes to 1.3-gigabytes of data a month.
Anything requiring video uses more data. A couple YouTube videos might use as much data as a week of emails. In most cases, you’ll want to start with AT LEAST 500-megabytes. Then just monitor your usage and adjust to suit your needs.
We offer a comprehensive guide to determining how much data you need as well as tips for reducing your data usage if you’re already locked into a plan but want to make the most of your data allowance.
In nearly every case, upgrading your data package through your carrier is cheaper than paying even one overage fee. Be sure to keep an eye on usage to maximize savings.
If you’re looking for basic communications in the event of an emergency, a prepaid standard mobile phone is often your best bet. By getting rid of the bells and whistles of a smartphone, you can count on exceptional battery life. You also can pick up a prepaid plan that doesn’t include data to make topping up your phone affordable.
Most prepaid carriers require you to add minutes at regular intervals to maintain service. Check with your prepaid carrier to see if they offer any long-term minute options. While these minutes often cost a little more upfront, they will remain active for as long as one year (specifics vary by carrier) resulting in a lower cost overall.
If you have the money to pay for your device upfront, there is an argument to be made that you shouldn’t sign a contract at all. However, for many, subsidized phones are the only option for picking up a new device.
In this case, consider how long you plan to live in your current location. If you’re intending to relocate, consider coverage at your intended destination as well. Most contracts do not make exceptions for relocation unless it is for military deployment.
Also consider the impact on your subsidized phone payments. Longer contracts might offer a lower monthly payment on your subsidized phone, but the additional fees for your device could end up costing more than buying the phone outright. Find a balance that fits your budget with as few payments as possible to minimize extra expenses.
This will depend on your intended usage. However, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Once you’ve used your phone for a month or two, be sure to check out our guide on cutting your monthly bill for more tips and tricks for optimizing your costs and usage.
We take the confusion out of picking a mobile plan. Our tool compares plans from all the major carriers, allowing you to find the best options easily and quickly. With our unbiased, objective summaries, you’ll know exactly what to expect with your new service. Best of all, this costs you absolutely nothing. All of our tools, guides and summaries are free!