5 Tactics for Getting a Better Cell Phone Deal

This article first appeared on U.S. News and World Report Money.

Cell phone companies want you to sign up for expensive two-year contracts. Why wouldn’t they? It’s money directly in their pocket. They’ll use every sales technique they can to get you to sign on the dotted line for a new contract.

Sometimes, that contract winds up being a good deal, but there are several things you can do to make sure that you’re getting the best deal for the services that you need. Here are five tactics you can use to make sure that you’re getting the best deal.

Use multiple methods when shopping around. If you’re at the end of your cell phone contract, the ball’s in your court. You not only have the ability to choose the specifics of a new contract, you can also jump to a new carrier.

Cellular providers offer phones and contracts in a variety of different ways – online, in retail locations, and via flyers as well. When shopping around, don’t just visit their websites to compare deals. Check out the shops of the reputable carriers in your area.

A valuable tip: before you even start comparing carriers, use OpenSignal to figure out which providers have good coverage in areas where you’re commonly going to be using your phone. There’s no point in getting a cheap cell phone if it doesn’t even work in your area.

Include prepaid phones in your comparison. Many people overlook prepaid cell phones when they shop around and compare packages and prices. For many users, prepaid phones are very competitive in their price structures and many of the prepaid providers are tied directly to larger providers (meaning that they use the network of the large providers).

Check out the prepaid offers available on sites like Amazon.com, then research the providers so that you know what kind of network they have. You may just find that a prepaid phone matches what you need at a much lower price – and without a contract.

Negotiate. If you do settle on a particular offer, nothing’s keeping you from negotiating. You can simply tell the provider that you’re considering switching to them – or that you’re currently shopping around with other providers – and simply ask for some perks.

It’s often useful to come armed with comparable deals from other providers. Simply state that another provider has this particular deal and ask if they can adjust the price on one of their packages to match it.

Remember, the worst thing that can happen is that they say “no.”

Check for a professional discount. Many employers have arrangements with major cellular providers for a discount on their plans for all of their employees. For example, Verizon’s employee plan provides discounts for the employees of thousands of businesses – and it’s easy to see if you qualify.

Check with your employer to see if they have such an arrangement and, if they do, use that as a part of your price comparison.

Ask to compare the plan you’re considering with a no-contract version. If you’re considering signing a contract in order to get a cheap phone, ask the provider what the cost of a non-contract version of the same plan costs. Generally, non-contract plans are significantly less expensive per month, but do not provide a discounted phone.

This gives you the freedom to find an unlocked phone and use it (provided it’s compatible with your provider) or use an older phone that you already have. In either case, it can drastically reduce your monthly cost if you’re willing to spend more at the start of the contract, adding up to a net savings.

These tactics, when used in concert, can significantly reduce the amount that you have to pay each month for your cell phone.

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.