Ease budget burdens by switching cellphone carriers — here's how

(BPT) - Access to cellular service during the COVID-19 pandemic has become more essential than ever, whether for staying connected to family and friends as you remain socially distant, getting the latest news, or reaching medical providers.

But with the economic impact of the crisis, millions have also been looking for ways to save on this valuable necessity. Are you ready to switch? If your wireless bill has simply gotten to be too much, ask yourself these questions to help find the best fit, and the best deal, for you.

Are you free to go?

While wireless contracts in the U.S. have pretty much become a thing of the past, you still have to make sure you're free and clear of any financial obligations to your carrier before you can move on. Make sure you've paid off your phone in full. You’ll need to pay what you owe before you can cancel your service.

How much do you really need?

Review the usage on your current bill to find out how many minutes and texts, and how much data, you actually use each month. You may be paying for far more than you actually use, and could save by switching to a smaller plan.

It’s also a good idea to find out if a new carrier offers a grace period, just in case things don’t work out. Many provide a 14- to 30-day trial, so if it turns out the service doesn’t meet your needs, you can cancel without penalties.

Need a new phone?

Oftentimes, you can switch carriers while keeping your current phone. Your new provider simply issues you a SIM card — a small network ID card — which you place in your phone to access the wireless network. You’ll need to verify that your phone is compatible with the new service — there can be some nuance to this — but if it is, it makes switching even more affordable, plus you keep a phone you’re already comfortable with.

If you do want a new phone, be sure to factor it into your budget. Cellphones — especially smartphones — come with a wide range of options, and costs range from under $100 for a basic model to around $1,000 for top-of-the-line “flagship” smartphones like the latest Samsung Galaxy or iPhone releases.

Bringing the family?

Are you looking for yourself or for a group? A shared or family plan, which splits a monthly allotment of data among multiple phone lines, usually winds up being cheaper per month than going solo. Carriers can vary widely on how much they charge for adding extra lines to your account, so be sure to compare to find the best price.

How’s the coverage?

The fanciest phone on the market won't get you anywhere if you can't get reliable data or voice service. Ask your friends, colleagues and neighbors how good their reception and signal strength are where you work and live — and who their carrier is.

What about extras?

Consider value-added extras a carrier may offer. Do they charge for activation on their service? What about added fees if you need to change your plan? And don’t overlook customer service: if you have questions about your bill, or need to troubleshoot an issue with your phone or service, do they have a reputation for providing good support? The little things can add up to a terrific value. For example, Consumer Cellular has been ranked #1 for customer service 9 times in a row by J.D. Power, and also offers free activation in addition to very affordable monthly plans.

You want to save, and there’s no shortage of competition for your cellphone dollars even during these uncertain times. By finding the right answer to these questions, you’re sure to find a carrier that fits your needs, and at a price that’s right for you.