New cell phone plans got you talking?

June 16, 2010

With promises of exciting new gadgets, cool new designs and “lower” plans, has the cell phone industry got you buzzing with the excitement of a handy new toy?

Last year, cell phone complaints were one of the top industries most complained about with the BBB registering over 500 complaints. Complaints ranged from issues with the contract, dissatisfaction with customer service and coverage, to people not understanding the final bill compared to advertised cost.

“There are new players on the market and new cell phones that have many consumers excited,” says Lynda Pasacreta, BBB President and CEO. “We are concerned that the marketing hype may not add up to the quality of service that the customer expects.”

Better Business Bureau would like to offer those thinking of switching plans or phones the following tips as a starting point:

  • Who will be using the phone and why? Will the phone be used primarily for business? If so, you may want to consider how much you may use things like email or web-browsing on your device. The charges associated with data are often higher than those of calling plans. If teenagers or children will be using the phones, you may want to consider text messaging capability or downloadable games.
  • Where will you be calling to and from? Will you be making mainly local calls, long distance calls, international calls or a combination? Do you anticipate making many calls on the road?
  • When will you be using the phone? What time of day and which days of the week will see the heaviest usage? How many minutes a month do you estimate using the phone? Will family members call one another primarily on their cell phones?
  • What type of plan meets your budget? Does a local, regional, national or family plan make the most sense? Carefully read the fine print in the brochures and all contract details. What are the monthly fees based on? What are the surcharges (e.g., activation fee; roaming charges; rates for extra minutes; fees for voicemail, text-messaging, data fees, Caller ID features, etc.)?
  • How can you take advantage of advertised offers? Check both online and in retail stores for special promotions. If a rebate is offered, what are the exact terms? If extra phones are included in the package, what additional fees apply? Does the contract permit you to switch plans or upgrade phones in the middle of your contract period?
  • What about “No Contract” offers? Consumers are often looking for "No Contract" offers as a way to reassure themselves that they are not locked into a bad deal. You need to be aware that without a fixed agreement, terms can change over time including what your monthly charges are for things like local calling, family plans, and long distance.
  • Buying an “unlocked” phone. Consumers who are eager to get the latest devices often go online to shop for things like the iPhone. Be aware you could have additional charges to unlock the phone and in all likelihood will void the manufacturer's warranty.

Finally, don’t make a final decision without checking the cancellation and return policies. There are plans that will permit you to try a phone for a few days without paying a cancellation fee. And, don’t forget to obtain a BBB report ( on the wireless provider before making your selection.