If you're unhappy with your cell phone service - and really, who isn't? - now might be a unique time to either renegotiate your contract or move to a new carrier.Your window of opportunity may be short, however, as carriers have reached a crescendo in an escalating battle over prices and plans.The best plan for you depends on how much data you want, whether you already own a phone and the number of users tied to your contract.Here's how to evaluate the offers:
What if you merely think you're getting a bad deal? To know for sure, take the last six to 12 bills from your current service and see what you really use, says Jon Colgan, who runs a service called Cellbreaker.com that helps consumers break their contracts.Ask yourself: How many minutes a month do you use the phone? How much do you text? How much data do you consume?
Pay attention to the fine print. A $100 plan doesn't necessarily mean your bill will be $100. To know what your charges will actually be, you can go to a website like MyRatePlan.com or Whistleout.com to sort out what options you have within the parameters you've set.
Changing plans isn't always necessary, says Jeff Kagan, an Atlanta-based industry analyst. The first place to start is with your own carrier. Make a simple, friendly phone call asking for a better deal."Don’t go in as an adversary. Go in as a partner," he says.
The typical customer can expect to see their rate drop by 20-30 percent, Kagan says. If you have a particularly poor deal for your usage pattern, like paying per text when you're a serial texter, you should be able to save far more.Make the requests annually, Kagan says, rather than waiting for the end of a contract.
Your business could be worth something to a competitor, and without penalties, moving could be in your best interest."The ideal person to take advantage of this is someone whose commitment has ended," says Northeastern University finance professor Harlan Platt.
One warning for consumers is that even though some carriers have limited-time offers to offset costs you incur for changing plans, there may be other hidden charges. Platt warns that carriers now try to lock in consumers by selling them phones on a payment plan.
Instead, consumers can go to a retail website that sells prepaid phones, like Amazon.com, and purchase one that will work on the company's network that you'll be using. That will ensure you're a free agent and can move to another carrier of there's a more tempting deal.
"There's nothing special about AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile or Verizon," Platt says. "They provide a commodity. What consumers need to do is make those phone calls and get the bills down."