Be a smart cell phone buyer

Thursday, November 20, 2008

If you're shopping for a cell phone service for the first time, planning to buy a cell phone for a Christmas gift, or considering a new plan for your cell phone, the following information can be of great benefit to you.

*Study up on your choices, especially if you are new to cell phones. For much more information and sources, log on to www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.org (look under "protecting consumers," then "consumer advisories," then "telephone" issues).

*Study which kind of service best fits your calling needs. There are local, regional, or national plans, family plans for two or more phones, and pre-paid plans. Plans may offer free minutes for incoming calls, or for "mobile to mobile" calls from others with the same company. Choose the best plan for your needs. Consider which plan is best for the time of day and number and length of calls you will make.

*Determine which company offers you the best service. Ask friends and neighbors which companies have worked best for them. Check the "home calling area" and where "roaming charges" apply for different cell phone companies. Ask to see a coverage map, especially if you travel often.

*Check for complaints about providers. Call the Attorney General's Office or the Better Business Bureau, and ask you friends and neighbors about their experience.

*Be sure to understand that you are entering a contract with termination fees. Most cell phone plans are for two years, and require you to pay a $150-$200 termination fee per phone, even if you move out of state, move to an area with poor service, or simply change your mind and cancel your service before the end of the contract. And note: changing your calling plan or getting a new phone usually renews your contract and termination fee period for another two years.

*Also note that most cell phone contracts do not provide you with a free cell phone if your initial phone is lost, or damaged, or dies. So, compare phone warranties, and consider hazard or loss insurance, especially for expensive phones.