Deciding which phone plan to get can be a difficult decision as there are so many choices, and this challenge is exacerbated when you are on a strict budget and looking to find the best balance between not spending too much with getting the services that you require.
That said, what is most important is a very individual distinction as something that is important to you may not be to someone else, and vice versa.
Which Carriers Should You Consider?
Many people get a cellphone plan with one of the three major carriers: AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon. This is primarily because they feature 5G networks as well as thorough cellphone and Wi-Fi plans.
However, those on a budget should also consider lesser-known alternatives, such as Xfinity Mobile, Google Fi, Cricket Wireless and Mint Mobile. These are mobile virtual network operators. Although MVNOs usually use coverage that has been provided by the big three companies, they often offer related services that are cheaper, albeit with fewer features, such as entertainment perks.
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Should You Use a Prepaid or Postpaid Plan?
Those on a budget will most likely want to get a prepaid plan, but do note that these often feature less data and fewer other features, so ensure that you are not missing out on something important to you.
If you are on a budget because you have poor credit, you might need to get a prepaid plan regardless as postpaid plans tend to require that customers submit a positive credit report. However, if that describes you and you have this in your budget, a security deposit is usually a way to get around this credit check requirement. However, that, in essence, turns a postpaid plan into a prepaid one, just not by name.
Which Data Package Do You Need?
In order to save as much money as possible, you should purchase a package that provides the least amount of data that covers your needs.
If you get an “unlimited” plan, note that it may not be unlimited to the degree that you would define that word yourself. For example, the company may slow down your speed if you use a lot of data – i.e. engage in throttling, which is also known as data deprioritization. So, if you must use a lot, ensure that your budget allows for the paying of a higher deprioritization threshold.
If you have a specific amount that you are being provided, whether that is a hard limit or one related to deprioritization, make sure to continuously analyze your usage throughout that time period, keeping an eye on how close you are to that limit as well as how fast or slow you are approaching it. Doing so will help you make smarter data plan purchases in the future.
What about data speed? Those on a tight budget should, in most cases, have the speed of their data be low on their priority list. Of course, you may require some flexibility on this point if you need faster speed for work or other reasons.
Regardless, keep in mind that many unlimited plans feature relatively slow speeds at all times. Most notably, if a package’s speed is around 1 Mbps, that might not be fast enough for you to even engage in basic browsing.
Will You Be Using It as a Hotspot?
Are you planning to use your cellphone as a hotspot? In that case, you may need to go directly with a major carrier as MVNOs often only offer limited hotspot usage. Conversely, if this is something that you plan to never or rarely do, that is another reason to consider an MVNO.
What Type of Coverage Do You Need?
Many people say that it is important to compare the coverage that providers offer when choosing a plan. This can be true, but if you are both on a budget and do not usually leave your city or metropolitan area, this may not ultimately be that important to you. That said, you may want to talk to others who live or work where you spend the most time and see what their coverage experiences have been like with their providers as there can be some differences from neighborhood to neighborhood.
However, if you tend to move around more and are regularly in places where cellphone coverage is spottier, then this is definitely something that you can’t skip over.
Will You Call Internationally?
If you have family or friends abroad, you may want to analyze the cost of calling those international numbers. Some will include these international calls in your plan, or there might be a surcharge.
Consider using a service such as Skype instead as that might end up being friendlier to your budget.
Are You a Traveler?
Perhaps you live in San Diego or Detroit and regularly make trips across the adjacent border, or perhaps you fly to other destinations. Regardless, if you are expecting to travel internationally soon, make sure to take that into account when deciding on a cellphone plan.
Either ensure that it will allow you to access your plan while you are abroad at an affordable rate, or, in many cases, it will be much cheaper to simply get a SIM card once you have arrived as many nations make doing so for foreigners quite easy and affordable.
Ensure That Your Phone Works With This Carrier
As you are considering carriers, ensure that your phone is compatible with them and discard any plans that are not unless your budget allows for the purchase of another device. That said, if your credit report is positive, you will often be eligible for a postpaid plan that includes a phone.
In some cases, particularly with postpaid plans, subscriptions to services such as Netflix or Disney+ are included. If an included service is something that you would be paying for anyway, then take that into account when planning your overall budget.
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