Tips Before You Buy a Cell Phone

Finding the perfect cell phone requires more than just picking out a color, size and ring tone.

 Here are some tips to get you started:

Talk with your parents. Make sure you understand their expectations and rules for having a cell phone. You may need an adult to sign or co-sign a service contract for you.

Lifestyle: Look for a plan that suits your needs. Do you want a cell phone for emergency uses only? Or do you intend to use your cell phone every day? Do you want a long distance plan? Determining how much time you spend on the phone and what types of calls you intend to make affects your monthly cost significantly and the type of service plan you should purchase.

Your budget. What can you afford? If you-- and not your parents-- are going to pay for your cell phone plan, or if you are going to contribute to the cost, figure out on paper how much you can afford each month. If you have a small budget you might consider opting for pre-paid minutes where you pay for a fixed number of minutes prior to making any calls.

Service Agreements. In most cases you are buying more than just a cell phone, but a wireless service plan that could last one to two years depending on your contract. Remember that you are entering into a legally binding document and are responsible for monthly payments that depending n your plan could range in price from $14 a month to several hundred. Breaking these contracts will cost you steep penalties of $100 to $200 or more.

Read the small print. It's boring and time-consuming, but it will save you frustration in the long run if you understand the specific capabilities of these services and their pricing options before purchasing.

Trial Periods. Find out the length of a carrier's trial period before signing a service contract. Many carriers allow you to cancel service without paying the termination fee if service is cancelled within a certain period of time after the service contract is signed. These "trial periods" generally range from 14 to 30 days. Use the time period to determine if your new plan suits your needs.

Free minutes aren't really free. Many plans offer a set number of "free minutes" which are included in your monthly cost. Going over the number of set minutes will increase your bill significantly.

Features/Special Options: Figure out what you want. Do you want text messaging, voicemail, caller ID, call waiting, instant messaging, three-way calling, games, etc? Or does a no-frills plan suit your needs? Be sure to find out what features are included in your plan and what their respective costs are.

Shop around. Compare plans and rates. Talk it over with your parents and ask your friends if they are happy with their wireless companies.

And finally…

Don't be pressured. Cell phone companies want your business. Don't feel pressured by a sales person into buying before you are ready.