Communication: How Buying A Cell Phone Works

Buying a cell phone doesn't have to be confusing. Just a little knowledge of what to expect and what to ask can make purchasing a cell phone a simple transaction.

Buying a cell phone doesn't have to be difficult, even with the different companies and different types of phones available. There are a few things you need to think about before purchasing and activating a cell phone. First, you need to think about what area you need the phone to cover. Do you really need a nationwide plan if you mostly stay within 100 miles of your home? Next, decide how much you are you willing to spend on a rate plan, and how long of a contract you are willing to accept. Next, decide what type of a phone you want and why. Do you want a flip phone with the newest service and gadgets or just a standard phone without cameras, games and other extras?

Once you know what you are looking for in a phone and a service plan visit your local cellular company. Look at the rate plans and phones they offer. Remember to think about your needs. If you don't need a nationwide plan ask if they offer a local plan. If you travel out of the city and into rural areas often ask how much of the area is actual coverage or if your service even works in rural areas. Remember that actual coverage is "line of sight" and is usually not available at low points such as rivers or the bases of mountains.

Ask the cost of the phones. Usually if you take a longer contract the phones are less expensive. Ask about warranties, insurance and repair options if your phone were to get broken, lost or stolen. Usually there is a one-year manufacturer's warranty. After that first year you will usually be charged for any repairs unless you have insurance. If you are able to choose an insurance option find out the cost of the deductible. Ask if loaner phones are available if a phone needs to be sent to repair. Water damage and major structural damage is usually not covered by insurance plans or warranties. If your phone is lost or damaged and cannot be repaired you normally will have to purchase a replacement phone at full price or pay the fee to break your contract.

When you look at the phones, think of your needs. Do you need a cell phone for emergencies or to be in contact for business? Then find the models that are low on the extras, such as camera attachments, games and internet access. If you do choose to purchase a phone with these extras ask how much using the extra items may cost. For example, in order to use a camera phone to send photos you may have to pay an extra fee for data usage in addition to the regular service fee.

Ask about the roaming fees if you are planning to use the phone while on vacation or business travel and you will be out of the service area. Some carriers have a "preferred" rate available with other carriers and roaming charges are less if you are in the "preferred" areas.

Once you choose your rate plan and your phone then you will continue with the activation process. The next step in activating a cell phone is a credit check. All companies usually make a copy of your driver's license as proof of identity. Once your credit check is approved the customer service representative will continue the activation usually by typing the phone's information into an online form. Once the form is complete the representative will print out the forms for you to sign. The representative should go over items such as what to expect on your first bill, the rate plan you have chosen, what home area that rate plan covers, how to use your voicemail, how and where to pay your bill, and the basics on using your phone.

Your first cell phone bill will probably be the most confusing. All services are billed one month ahead. If you activate service in the middle of a billing cycle on your first bill will be billed a pro-rated amount for the current month's service plus the next month's service fee. Remember as well that not only is your amount pro-rated but also the minutes you receive. For example, if your plan has 500 free minutes per month you will not receive all 500 minutes until the first full month you have service. The minutes will be pro-rated over the remaining time in the bill cycle for that service. If the representative doesn't mention this ask for an explanation and possibly an estimated amount of minutes you will have until the billing cycle starts over.

After you have purchased your phone take some time to become familiar with its features. Use the phone to check the signal at different locations where you travel often. Most carriers now have a return and refund policy in case you change your mind or the phone doesn't work in places you need contact. Most policies are 15 days or 30 minutes talk time on the phone, so if you think you may need to return your phone keep your talk time to a minimum. Ask your carrier's representative if they have a return policy and what limits it includes.

Buying a cell phone doesn't have to be confusing. Simply keep in mind what service area you need the phone to cover, how you plan to use the phone, the price you are willing to pay for the phone and the service plan, and the contract length you are willing to take. Just a little knowledge of what to expect and what to ask can make purchasing a cell phone a simple transaction.

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