Mobile Phone Contracts, American Style

By: Ian Ball

Two-Year Contracts
Almost every American contract comes with two years of service. If, for some reason, you chose to leave your contract before the two years are up, there is a very hefty cancellation fee. Most are close to $200 (About 100 GBP.) The bottom line in the US, at least, is to choose wisely - you're going be committed.

Available Minutes
Almost all plans come with a preset number of minutes, usually a combination of "anytime" minutes and "night and weekend" minutes. The number of minutes is hugely disproportionate, however, for most standard plans. You might find a plan with 450 Anytime minutes, but unlimited Nights and Weekends. So long as you do most of your calling after 7 or 9 PM, depending on the company, you should be set.

Extra Features
Almost all cell phone plans are basic. You get a certain number of minutes during the day and, most likely, unlimited minutes in the evenings. The mobile phone contract will come with a few standard features such as voice mail, call waiting and caller ID. Some companies offer a few extra services in the standard contract such as walkie-talkie minutes and call forwarding, but most only offer these for an additional fee.

The basics are pretty standard, but the extra features and additions to a mobile phone contract are what really separate companies. For example, both Sprint and Verizon offer customers 450 Anytime minutes with unlimited Nights and Weekends for $39.99 per month. Both plans come with caller ID, call waiting, and voice mail.

With Sprint an extra $15 a month will buy you unlimited text messages. The same $15 will only get you 1,000 text messages with Verizon. 1,000 may seem unlimited, but anyone with a teenager will know otherwise. Sprint offers unlimited wireless Internet for $39.99 additionally each month, and Verizon doesn't offer the service at all.

Essentially, after the basics, mobile phone contracts are a cafeteria style plan. Some plans have features rolled in, but rest assured the cost is rolled into the contract one way or another. Fortunately, most consumers are able to find what they need for a price they are willing to pay.

Get What You Want
There are ways to get exactly what you want in a mobile phone contract, however. Mobile phone companies often seem to make things complicated on purpose. The more users who sign two year contracts with all the bells and whistles, the simpler it is for the company. That's not to mention, the more money the company makes. It's no wonder they make everything seem rock solid and binding.

However, like almost everything in the consumer world, mobile phone contracts are negotiable. The mobile phone industry is highly competitive. Shop around and compare plans. Then, find a knowledgeable associate who is willing to work with you and discuss what is important to you in a contract. So long as your terms are realistic and the company wants your business, it's almost certain that you will be able to reach an agreement.

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