How to Choose a Plan

Whether you’re someone whose mobile phone never leaves their hand or someone who wants a “just in case” plan, wireless providers offer a variety of options that will meet your mobile needs and budget.

To help consumers make informed choices about their wireless service, America’s mobile providers created a “Consumer Code for Wireless Service.” The Code is a checklist of 13 principles and practices for wireless service, and signatory companies cover 97 percent of all U.S. wireless customers. For instance, the Code provides that carriers offer free notifications when you’re approaching data limits that might carry additional charges.

Here are some other factors and tips to help you when considering a wireless plan:

Postpaid or Prepaid, Usage and Billing
Postpaid offers a monthly contract for a certain period of time to cover a specified amount of minutes, data and text messages as well as the option to upgrade or add services at any time.

Tip: Review the service provider’s various plan offerings before you sign up so you know the length of time covered as well as how much data, text and call minutes each plan offers. Compare the plans with your estimated needs so you have enough to cover the usage. If you’re purchasing a plan for a family member, it may be worth asking about family plan options so your allotment can be pooled.

Tip: Before you sign a contract (or make any changes), make sure you know the cost and any potential fees associated with your plan, such as early termination fees or usage overage fees.

Tip: Take a look at this sample bill so you understand the various taxes, fees and charges that can appear on a monthly wireless bill.

Meanwhile, if you want to spend a certain amount of money each month or pay as you go, a prepaid plan that offers a specified amount of voice minutes, text messages and/or data usage may be best. There’s no contract and no chance for overage charges unless you proactively add more. At the same time, prepaid may cost more per minute/data/message than postpaid, and you may not have all the same choices for devices or other services.

Coverage and Roaming
No matter if you stay local or travel across America or even internationally, take a look at the wireless provider’s coverage map so you know that wherever you are, you know where you’ll have access (or if you will be roaming on other carrier’s network). 

Tip: If you’re traveling out of your usual area, some wireless providers may offer a rental device and plan so you can use it only when you’re in the new area. Check with various providers to see what kind of plans (and devices) are available before you travel.

Tip: Wireless providers offer usage alerts, as well as a variety of service plans, account management tools, tips and customer service support to help consumers connect and manage their bills when they travel abroad. 

Device Insurance and Extra Protection
Your new phone may costs hundreds of dollars and you may want to consider insuring your phone as an important part of your wireless service: insurance for your device against loss or damage and special protection against cyber theft or attack. 

Tip: Cybersecurity protection and loss or damage insurance can be worth the added peace of mind, especially if you use your personal wireless device for business or have young family members on your plan.

Special Service Needs
If you are a senior or have disabilities, there are a variety of devices, apps and other services available from CTIA member companies to help you make your wireless device fit your needs.

Tip: AccessWireless.org is a great resource help identify your device and service options so you can find the best that fits your needs.

Last Updated October 2016