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5 Reasons to Drop Your Cellphone Carrier

Poor service and extended contracts leave many looking for better service

Woman on rooftop patio, Changing your cell phone carrier

Changing your cellphone carrier shouldn't be a stressful experience. — Hero Images/Hero/Corbis

The relationship started off strong. Commitments were made and adhered to. But now you're losing that loving feeling. In fact, you've been checking out other potential suitors on the sly. Is it time to part ways with your cellphone carrier? With so many companies vying for your attention, you're right to question if you're truly happy. But keep in mind that, as in some divorces, a breakup could cost you a stiff penny.

"If you're already in a contract, and want to switch before it ends, you'll get charged an early termination fee," says Sam Costello, an iPhone and iPod expert with "If it's going to cost you $325 [a standard fee], that may overcome any reason you have for wanting to leave."

Still, fees are prorated over the course of your contract. If you're at or near the end, and seriously weighing a split, here are a few reasons it might be time.

1. Your coverage is poor. Most companies today offer decent coverage, but you can't seem to get a signal in your own living room, by the window, or upstairs in the bedroom, and it's driving you nuts. Why should you have to resort to conversations outside? Perhaps there's a carrier with stronger service where you reside now, or where you are planning to retire? "You want to make sure the company you're switching to has good service where you live, where you work, and the places you go to regularly," Costello says. "Check the coverage maps that they offer on their websites and talk to neighbors about their cellphone experiences."

2. You've changed your lifestyle. Transitioning from work life to retirement may mean you want a more relaxed cellphone plan, says John Marick, CEO of Consumer Cellular, a carrier that requires no contracts, which is popular with boomers. No need for all those minutes. Or perhaps you're newly married and want better sharing options to save you money. Do the math: Weigh the costs of your current plan against the plan you want to see if it benefits you to stay or go. Find out from your carrier if you would be charged an early termination fee and factor that into your overall equation.

3. You can no longer afford it. You've watched your monthly mobile bill tick up and over your monthly budget. "Loyalty is great, but if their pricing structure has changed, it's a good time to look around," Marick says. It's also worth it to call your current carrier, vent about your bill and coolly throw in that you're looking at cheaper competitors. "Tell your carrier that you're thinking about leaving, and they will often magically come up with ways to help you with deals and discounts," Costello says.

4. You're tired of contracts. Prepaid phones give you the option to play the field with no papers to hold you back. You'll have to be OK with paying the retail price for the phone, in lieu of the free upgrade with your current company. "No-contract providers are simpler and less invasive; there's no service agreement and no credit check," says Jessica Dolcourt, a senior editor. "Selection is one big drawback; you can't always be as choosy about what you get."

5. You don't want the bells and whistles. The customer service rep talked you into buying a phone with fancy features you never use. Sound familiar? Well, experts say that most providers carry a range of phones — from the very basic to the very sophisticated. Look at what your company offers, first. But if you're not satisfied, there are competitors who design senior-friendly phones with buttons that are larger than normal, for example. The Samsung Jitterbug, the Doro PhoneEasy and the Snapfon ez ONE are just three of many to pick from.

"It's really important for customers to feel that they are empowered to find the service that's best for them," Marick says. "Just because they've had someone for a while isn't a good reason to settle. They have options."

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