Ready to switch wireless carriers? Answer these 5 important questions first

Changing your wireless carrier is an important decision. It’s also probably a lot easier than you think. Before you make the switch, answer these simple questions to make sure you’re all set to change carriers, upgrade your wireless service, and potentially save a lot of money.

Are you free to go?

While carrier contracts in the U.S. are quickly becoming things of the past, you still have to make sure you’re free and clear of any obligations to start up somewhere new without getting hit with penalty fees. If you’ve bought a phone from another carrier, double-check to make sure you’ve paid it off in full, or else you may need to pay the rest of what you owe before you can cancel your service.

Will you need to buy a new phone, or do you have one already?

Unless you’re bringing your own existing cellphone to your new network, you’ll need to buy one. You can either pay for the whole thing up front, or via monthly installments. These are payments you’ll need to factor in as you calculate how much you want to pay your new carrier each month.

If you plan to bring your own phone, make sure it’s unlocked and works on your new carrier’s network. When in doubt, give their customer service departments a call, or check for BYOD (“Bring Your Own Device”) information on the carrier’s website. Nowadays, transferring your phone (and number) to a new carrier can be as simple as swapping out the phone’s SIM card.

Individual or family plan?

Are you looking for yourself or for a group? A shared plan or family plan, which splits the minutes, texts and data on your monthly plan among multiple phone lines, usually wind up being cheaper per month than going solo. The downsides? You get a smaller amount of data for yourself, and you can’t predict how much everyone else on your plan will use. Carriers can also vary widely on how much they charge for adding extra lines to your account, so be sure to compare to find the best price.

Is low price something or everything?

How important is price to you? If you simply need the lowest rate, look for seasonal sales or promotional offers. Some carriers will cut you a better deal if you bring your number over from a previous carrier or trade in your old phone. Occasionally, you’ll find a deal that pairs a specific phone model with a particular rate plan. And sometimes you’ll flat out find a great overall deal: Consumer Cellular, for instance, regularly receives top recognition in independent consumer surveys for its low-priced, no-contract service as well as its top customer support.

How good is carrier coverage in your area?

The fanciest phone on the market won’t get you anywhere if you can’t get data or voice service. Ask your friends, colleagues and neighbors which carriers they use, and how good their reception and signal strength are where you work and live.

There’s no shortage of competition for your cellphone dollars these days. By finding the right answer to these questions, switching won’t be hard: you’re sure to find a carrier that fits your needs, and at a price you’re satisfied with.

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