Shopping for cell phones is a fun experience, as you explore stylish, compact, and advanced technological options. The cell phone you choose can be classy, impressive, and greatly functional for your working needs.

Shopping for cell phone contract plans, however, can be very frustrating; in fact, cell phone contracts are specifically designed to be confusing and difficult to compare with the competition. Cell phone providers are not exactly forthcoming about hidden fees and charges. If you are looking at signing a new cell phone contract, it is important that you go into the process with your eyes wide open, armed with knowledge. What kind of contracts will you have to sign? Is $20 too much for unlimited texts? And how much will it cost for you to cancel your contract?

When do the “nights and weekends” begin?

Each wireless carrier has a different policy when it comes to the parameters of “nights” and weekends.” Although many carriers offer unlimited nights and weekends, it is important for you to know when that timeframe begins.

Sprint offers unlimited nights and weekends on its “Power Pack” plan starting at 7 p.m. Or, you can pay an extra $5 a month, and 6 p.m. is officially “night.”

US Cellular pulls a similar stunt. If you are purchasing 450 minutes from them, your unlimited nighttime minutes begin at 9p.m. If you are purchasing 900 minutes from them, the sun sets a bit earlier, and 7p.m. is now when your free minutes start.

AT&T offers unlimited nights and weekends starting at 9p.m., but will happily change that to 7p.m. for you if you pay them an extra $9 a month.

Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile are straightforward with its nighttime policy: nights begin at 9p.m., and no amount of money can change what time the sun goes down.

Alltel’s “National Freedom” plan offers nights beginning at 9p.m., but its “Smart Choice Packs” have nights beginning at 7p.m.

Although most companies now agree that Saturday and Sunday are considered the weekends, you will soon be able to buy “three-day weekends” for your cell phone.

In conclusion, the provider with the best nights and weekends policy is Sprint, whose 7 p.m. policy comes standard without extra fees. US Cellular is a close second, offering free nights and weekends at 7p.m., but only if you purchase 900 minutes or more.

Add-on features: texting and media options

The additional features, such as texting and internet access, for your wireless service can add up to a tremendous amount of money each month. When you are comparing contracts, it is important to also evaluate the differences in costs for additional features.

If you are someone whose fingers are buff from texting, you can choose the unlimited text option from Sprint and T-Mobile for $10/month. US Cellular and ALLTEL charges $15 monthly for unlimited texting, wile AT&T is the most expensive option at $20 per month.

If you are into multimedia options on your wireless phone, then you can choose comprehensive packages. For unlimited email, picture messages, text messages, mobile internet, radio, and Sprint TV, you would only need to pay an additional $15 per month. You can obtain these options for approximately $20 with Verizon and T-Mobile and $40 with AT&T. US Cellular and ALLTEL do not offer similar multimedia contract plans.

Binding contract length: the gimmick of “rebates”

What about contract length? Do you have to sign a 2-year contract to get service? Most places offer contracts of one or two years, but they are not required. Instead, they utilize “rebates” on their cell phones to entice you to sign longer contracts. Typically, the rebates for a two year agreement range between $30 to $330, and the rebates are substantially greater than the one-year contracts.

Verizon Wireless is the only wireless provider that has a mandatory one year minimum contract, but you sign a two year contract, you can choose between four free phones and substantial rebate discounts.

T-Mobile, on the other hand, forces you to sign a two year contract if you want to purchase any of their “My Faves” packages; however, T-Mobile does not offer significant differences in the cell phone rebates between one or two year contracts.

Sprint’s phones are some of the most expensive. If you sign up for a two year contract and purchase online, you’ll have the option of only one free phone. US Cellular is the same, offering only one free phone after you are locked into a two year contract.

On the other hand, if you sign a two year contract with AT&T, you have the option of 12 free phones from which to choose.

ALLTEL does not have any free phones (although technically none of these phones are really free), but with all discounts and rebates, they offer three phones that will only cost $1 with a two year contract.

Termination fees

The ominous termination fees with cell phone contracts often bind unhappy customers to their current provider. Although the laws have begun to change, cell phone companies still include hefty termination fines in their contracts.

Due to potential legislation in Congress, some providers have preemptively changed their termination fee structure. AT&T and Verizon both prorate their $175 termination fee. This means that the later you cancel the contract, the less money you will have to pay in fees.

Alltell, Sprint, and T-Mobile charge a $200 early termination fee, while US Cellular fines you $150. While most service providers will waive the termination fee if you move outside of their service area, US Cellular will force you to pay the $150 early termination fee. This has been a point of grief for many US Cellular customers who have moved outside of the provider’s coverage zone, but still must fork out the hefty fee.

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3 Responses to “Comparing the Confusing Contracts of Cell Phone Providers”

  1. Debra Archdale Says:

    This needs updated because US cellular has changed to the Belief project plans….which night and weekends start at 7pm for everybody, and no longer requires you to continue contracts. In fact most of their pricing has changed for the better.

  2. J Says:

    correction to some Alltel Facts
    Alltel has the option to add 7pm night minutes with free weekends on any plan for $7 per month.
    Alltel now offers free Fridays with any plan that the primary line is 49.99 or higher, no additional cost. That means you get Friday, Sat, and Sunday FREE!

  3. J Says:

    Also Alltel offers Unlimited Family texting for $25 per month per account.* some restrictions apply.
    Alltel offers unlimited texting and mobile web for basic phones for 19.99 per month.

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