Do I buy online or go to a store? Do I really need smart phone "surfing" capability or just talk? How do all those cards work that are displayed at the Grocery Store, Sears, Kmart, Sams, Walmart, Best Buy, and nearly on ever street corner? When one goes into a store and sees the vast racks of companies and the monthly fees they are bartering, boasting unlimited this and that, it can lead to a mental overload. It all seemed like a big fat hassle to me.
It may not be straight forward but financially it might be worth shopping around, especially if you have not done so in the last 5 years. If my 80 year old mother and father-in law can figure out the monthly flip phone reload, how difficult can it be? Well, let's just say they are much smarter than I. During my quest to convert, I decided sharing a few tips might help guide others through the landmines.
|My series of phones over the years|
For 3 months I had been unsuccessful at wandering around Walmart's and Best Buy's to get the lowdown. I also had been researching online for which carriers to choose in order to get good coverage in my area. Very few of my questions were answered until I got lucky last week and spoke to a very competent employee at the Cville Walmart. It absolutely does matter who you speak to. Terry (a female) explained the cell phone quagmire effortlessly and was so helpful. She explained that you initially buy a card but that you can set up auto-pay with the wireless carrier so you never have to buy another card from a store (YAY). My biggest barrier was conquered.
After researching online I decided that Straight Talk, Verizon, US Cellular, and Boost were 4 carriers that would work well in Charlottesville. I can vouch for US Cellular as that was my carrier for 11 years while living in Southwest and Central Virginia. You can set up different levels of minutes based on the monthly prepaid card options (you will see them listed in big letters over top of phones and cards beside each wireless carrier's logo).
The next step is to choose a phone. If you choose to go directly to a wireless carrier and set up through them, you will most likely be charged all sorts of hidden fees. When US Cellular advertised 6G for $40.00 I was giddy until I talked to them (4 separate times) about upgrading my account from 2 dumb phones to 1 smart phone and 1 dumb phone (talk / text only). This actually is what sent me over the edge. I do no appreciate false advertising and US Cellular is not the only carrier guilty of adding fees into their advertised plans. The advertised $40.00 a month plan zoomed up to $85.00! There was a $18.00 phone purchase fee even though it was advertised as costing a penny. There was another monthly something or another fee and there are always taxes. In order to avoid any hidden fees you generally have to choose a prepaid card at the store (NOTE: you will be charged a .50 911 fee in addition to the amount on the store card but nothing more, no taxes, no hidden fees).
If you want to pay for what is advertised, you will have to go into a store and buy it off the shelf. Prior to purchase I recommend that you look online at the store cell phone options and reviews. I didn't want to break the bank for a cell phone so I ended up getting a smart phone for $40.00 that had good online reviews. There were some slightly cheaper monthly plans through other wireless carriers but I could not get an inexpensive good phone. I ended up paying a little more a month on the prepaid card for the smart phone and a little less on the dumb phone to make it all balance out.
Steps to success:
- Research websites of local stores that sell phones and prepaid cards and write down the online cost of the phones of interest (my flip phone was $3.00 cheaper online than in the store and the store matched this price).
- Look for switching coupons. Many carriers will pay you to switch from say US Cellular to Verizon, even if you go from a direct wireless carrier plan to a prepaid card. I was paid $75.00 to make this switch. I was credited this by calling the wireless carrier after I purchased my phones and prepaid card at the store. This covered my cost of purchasing the phones!
- Go into the store and decided what plan works for you. Do you only need a phone for emergencies and very light calling? You may only need the $15.00 a month / 300 minute plan and an inexpensive flip phone. Are you planning on searching the Internet with your phone? You may want to go with a 3 GB - 6 GB plan just to be sure you will not use up all your minutes quickly. If you are going to play games and watch movies - be sure you get a unlimited card, the higher the GB the better. Most plans offer 2 GB - 5 GB and some unlimited. Apparently there is a limit to the response time of 1 GB, 2 GB, etc but you still can get unlimited searching, it will just be slower after the specified GB is used up. If you have a wireless provider at your house (like Comcast) then you can save your GB's by setting up your phone to use that service when in the house. That will save a ton of GB each month.
- Write down all the costs, the cost of the phone, the monthly prepaid card rate and the details of what your card provides.
- Before you take the plunge, call you current carrier and tell them that you want to close your account and go with another carrier. Often they will quote you a better rate to try and keep you. I probably would have stayed with my carrier if I would have been offered a good plan early on. After I had switched everything, I spoke to the department that intervenes when you are getting ready to pull the plug. My carrier reduced their rate from $108.00 down to $68.00. They still could not beat what I was paying via a prepaid card so I did not accept their offer.
- Also ask your current carrier if you are locked into a contract. My contract expired many years ago since I did not take them up on their offers to get a new phone every 2 years which renews you into a contract. To get out of a 2-year contract, it will cost you money so wait until it has expired and then cut the tie.
- If you decide to transfer to a different wireless carrier and want to keep you current phone number, do NOT close your current (old) account until your new carrier makes the switch and your new phone is up and running. You do not have to contact your old carrier, the new carrier will take care of this for you - but you need to talk to a representative with your new prepaid plan to keep your existing phone number. Do not activate your new phone or load prepaid minutes until you talk to a live person. After your new phones are up and running, you can call your old carrier and make sure all ends are tied just to ensure you won't be billed any longer.