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If You Haven't Shopped for a Cheaper Cell Phone Plan Lately, You Should

These days, there's plenty of competition, and low-cost and contract-free offers make it easy to lower your phone bill

I remember the day I got my first cell phone and the excitement of making and receiving calls. I thought how cool it was to be almost anywhere and connect with family, friends, and business colleagues. I also remember the not-so-exciting part; getting the bills. 

As with anything that is new, when it first hits the market, you will pay the price. But as time goes on and competitors jump in, rates go down. This is when consumers have some power.

These days, finding a deal with cellular carriers is actually quite simple. There’s ads and offers everywhere. Some carriers offer short-term specials and other carriers offer a long-term, low-rate plan. Make sure you know if the deal is for a limited time or it is actually going to be your permanent plan. Some carriers make the offers almost too good to turn away from. For example, Mint Mobile, a wireless brand running on the T-Mobile  (TMUS) - Get Report network, offers unlimited talk and text for as low as $15 a month. It’s appealing to many consumers that Mint Mobile requires no contract. For many years the only option was to lock yourself into a two-year contract and face penalties if you canceled.

Several carriers offer discounts and plans to people ages 55 and up. AARP members can get additional discounts when they go with a plan through Consumer Cellular. They also offer a 30-day risk-free guarantee. No matter what plan you choose, make sure to always ask how many minutes you get and at what rate—and be sure to find out what the cost will be for each additional minute.

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One of the main reasons people switch carriers is to save money. So, make sure there are no hidden costs or fees. Get a final monthly total in writing. Know the length of the contract you’re signing. Many carriers give away a phone for “free” but in reality, you’re locking yourself into a long-term commitment.

Make sure you’re not compromising good service for a less expensive monthly bill. You don’t want to constantly be saying, “Can you hear me?” See if it’s an option to test the service to make sure it works in your coverage area before you make a commitment. Mint Mobile offers a free trial you can test right from your current phone with a new number that doesn’t impact your current service.

Look at how much data you use on average per month. Most consumers have been led to believe they need far more data than they actually use. Most people don’t use large enough quantities of data to need unlimited given we spend so much time connected to wi-fi.

If you travel internationally, find out what plans are offered while overseas. You might be better off paying a flat rate for unlimited calls as opposed to paying per minute. This is a question that is often overlooked when researching a new carrier. Don’t wait until your next trip to find out what the plan is because by then you may be locked into an expensive international travel plan.

Jeanette Pavini is an Emmy Award winning journalist specializing in consumer news and protection. She is the author of “The Joy of $aving: Money Lessons I Learned From My Italian-American Father & 20 Years as a Consumer Reporter.” Jeanette is a regular contributor to TheStreet. Her work includes reporting for CBS, MarketWatch, WSJ Sunday, and USA Today. Jeanette has contributed to “The Today Show” and a variety of other media outlets. You can follow her moneysaving tips and ways to give back on Facebook: Jeanette Pavini: The Joy of $aving Community. Find links to her social media and her book at JeanettePavini.com.