How to Get the Best Cell Phone Deals

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You're bombarded with offers for cell phone deals, each promising something better than the last. In fact, the cell phone industry has become so massive and competitive that high-dollar commercials feature cell phone wizards and magical attack dogs. However, before your plop down your hard-earned cash for a new phone, pay attention to the fine print. Because underneath all those cell phone promises is a contract that may cost you an arm and a leg.

Ask yourself how you want to use your phone. Do you use it only for calling? Mostly for texting? Do you want to surf the Web on it? Do you need to make lots of international calls? Your choices should lead you to look for a contract that will be the best fit for you.

Compare the base amount of minutes and the base charge for those minutes but don't let that rule your choice. Base minutes are only a starting point; more important is the amount you will be charged for excess minutes.

What is a night or a weekend to the cellphone company? If your night starts at 7 p.m., does the person you're calling also have to be in that time zone? Question the cellphone rep about when a 'weekend' starts and ends. Does the plan have free holiday minutes, too?

Can you save your unused minutes? If so, for how long? Some providers allow you to accumulate "rollover" minutes that expire after one month or one year.

Is texting included or will you pay extra for the service? Too many unhappy cellphone customers receive their first bill and nearly faint when they read the amount due. If you do a lot of texting, consider a plan with unlimited texting for an additional fee.

How long is the contract in force? Can you commit to one year? Two years?

Opt for a prepaid cell phone if you don't trust yourself or your family to a regular plan wisely. Prepaid cellphone plans allow you to purchase minutes in advance and use them as you need them. This is a good deal if you don't have a large sign up fee for a prepaid cellphone.