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Friday, January 24, 2014

Getting the best value from your mobile plan

Free data charges and no long-term contract are an advantage
Sim-only cell phone contracts don't have long-term obligations
Mobile phones have become so ubiquitous that many things we used to take for granted, like pay phones, have almost been pushed out of existence. Many people have even opted out of maintaining a home phone any longer, simply to save money.

So now the question is, which mobile plan is right for you? There are several options available to fit a wide range of usage options and any budget. There are also a slew of mobile types, brands and models from which to choose. Not to mention all of the separate networks.

It is these options that you should examine first. Consider how you use your phone now, and what you plan to do with it in the future. If you are mainly concerned with communication, that is simple texting and conversation, there is no need to go beyond a simple mobile phone with those capabilities. If this fits your needs, you could find a phone for as little as £6.

If, on the other hand, you want to enter into the tech revolution and join the smartphone craze, there are literally hundreds of options to choose from these days. The number increases when you include the feature phones that don’t have all of the flash, but can still provide extra functionality, like a camera, if you wish. Then of course are the plethora of manufacturers and models from which to choose.

Choosing your phone is another subject entirely, but it pertains in that you must make sure your plan provider also carries the phone you desire. More importantly, you must find a network provider that delivers sufficient service in both your home are, and any other areas you plan to frequent over the life of your plan. Having a cell phone of any kind is of no value what so ever, if you can’t use it.

Once you’ve decided on a provider, you need to choose which type of plan you would like. You could choose the type of phone you would like first, but this might dictate the type of plan you can get, and vice versa.

There are three basic plan options from which to choose:

1. Pay as you go (PAYG) monthly plans. If you don’t plan on using your mobile frequently, or want a second (or third) phone, this could be the plan for you. PAYG accounts are the most flexible, as they require no contract, fixed monthly fee or direct debit agreement.

Instead, you sign up for a credit account with the carrier of your choice. You need to “top-off” this account to activate it. How the fee structure work, depends on the plan you purchase. For many plans, you will pay a set amount for a certain amount of minutes, say £20 for 200 minutes.

When the 200 minutes are gone, you’ll be charged a set rate per minute – as long as there is money in your account. If there’s no money in the account, the phone simply won’t work until the account is topped-off again. There’s no need to worry about surprise charges.

Although optimal for the minimal caller, this plan is offered with all types of phones, and can include data plans.

2. Pay-monthly contract deals. This is a good option for the majority of users interested in top-of-the-line phones, and plan on using their phone frequently. It is convenient, but you will be stuck in a contract from anywhere from one to two years.

You also have to make sure you’re happy with your phone and have the right plan for you. If you go over your contracted minutes, you’ll be able to use your phone, but will be charged extra, and it will still be directly debited from your account which can cause problems.

Though you may be allowed to move to a higher –tier contract, you likely won’t be reimbursed for lost minutes without a roll over plan, and downgrading isn’t usually an option.

3. Sim-only contract deals. If you are a high-end user, or own multiple phones of your own, a Sim-only contract may offer you the best of both worlds. You still have an allowance for minutes, text and data at a contracted value, but the bargain will be better, because there is no subsidy for the phone.

In addition, many Sim-only contracts don’t require more than a 30 day commitment, which allows you the freedom of a PAYG account.

Image license: Mack Male; CC BY-SA 2.0

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