Personal Finance 

Lifespan of a Cell Phone Relationship

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After a weeklong hiatus, Bargaineering is back on track and ready to bring you some hearty information on cell phones. Everyone has a cell phone now and the thought of instant contact at anytime is too powerful to dismiss. On the flip side, cell phones are like a life preserver, safety is a mere phone call away in most situations. That being the case, cell phone companies are fighting each other like crazy to steal customers and keep the customers they have. We will explain how to get the best for your buck before, during, and after you sign the contract.

Lifespan of a Cell Phone Relationship: Understanding where you are in the lifespan will dictate what you can demand and successfully receive.

  • Phase 1:Pre-purchase – This is for when you’ve decided to get yourself a new cell phone and are shopping around for the best deal. You hold probably the second most amount of power of the three phases here.
  • Phase 2: In Contract – This is after you’ve decided with a contract and have begun using service. You hold very little power here because the company knows if you cancel you will get socked with a $150 – $200 “early termination fee.”
  • Phase 3: Post-Contract – So you’ve run the life of your contract and you now want new service. You hold more power in this phase than in any phase ever with your current service. There is an old adage in business that states acquiring new customers can cost five times more than retaining current customers. If you decide you want out with the current services regardless, then you go back to Phase 1 (minus the option of going with the service provider you have now).

    Now let’s play the game…

    Phase 1: There are typically three criteria you look for when you’re shopping around for a phone: a cool phone so you can show off to your friends, great coverage so you aren’t frustrated by drops, and price. The matter of finding a cool phone or discussing coverage areas is way too complex to get into for now so we’ll just get into price — bottom dollar. Keep this hard fast rule in mind — Never pay for a cell phone. It is accepted practice that cell phones are loss leaders and the service is what earns the big bucks. Take a look at’s Cell Phone and Services section and start scrolling through the phones. Over half of them pay you money to sign up, that’s how lucrative cell phones are these days (all free or “pay you” phones will require a contract). The benefit of an Amazon is that you can compare multiple offers are once, something you can’t do if you go to a T-Mobile or Spring store in the mall.

    Before you fall in love with a phone or a service, keep this next table in mind:

    Service Min. Contract Period
    AT&T Wireless* 2 years
    Cingular* 1 year
    Nextel 1 year
    Sprint 2 years
    T-Mobile 1 year

    *AT&T Wireless and Cingular are now one service (Cingular acquired AT&T Wireless) – but Cingular rebates still say 1 year minimum!

    If you sign a two year agreement, you lose power during those two years so avoid it if you can.

    Phase 2: The worst phase but you can still get something out of it if you try really hard. Early on in a two year agreement, there is still the threat of cancellation if they believe you think the service could possibly warrant it. I was once put hold for about an hour and transferred three times for a mistake they made in my bill. I was angry and eventually transferred to a mediator who offered a $25 courtesy credit for my trouble. Sprint has their automated customer service that if you say “dropped call credit” then they’ll credit you something like a quarter (you can do it a limited number of times a month). Just call a bunch of times when you’re bored and it’s like an instant discount. Always ask, always complain, you might get a little something in return, there’s no pain in trying.

    Phase 3: The best phase… going month to month gives you the most flexibility because they want to keep you. They’ll offer you free phones and better rates just to keep you but with the advent of number portability – there’s almost no point in staying because of the “pay you” phones available on Amazon. But if you do stick around for a few months, try complaining and asking for credit, they’ll give it to you more readily than in Phase 2. Don’t abuse it because they’ll see the pattern and get wise to what you’re doing.

    Phase 3 -> Phase 1: If you decide to go with a “pay you” phone, you can’t go with the service you have. New service activation means you can’t have had service with that company in the last three or six months (depends on the company). But you can have someone else sign up for you if you want to avoid it… and then have it transfered to you. To transfer just go to a store (they need to see you) and ask to switch it over.

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