Huzzah! You’ve finally reached the end of that oppressive two-year contract with your evil, over-charging mobile phone carrier. At long last, you’re free to… free to…
Now that your phone’s out of contract, what are your options? A year ago at this time, you didn’t have many. Today, however, the mobile landscape has changed dramatically. In a good way. You’ve got loads of post-contract choices, and in most cases you’ll end up spending less than you are now–possibly a lot less.
One phone, two phone, old phone, new phone
At this point you’ve got two basic options: You can keep your existing phone or replace it with a new one. Let’s start with the former.
It’s a common misconception that you have to stay with the same carrier you’re using now–and continue paying the same rates. The good news is that most of the Big Four carriers (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon) have lowered their post-contract rates in an attempt to keep customers from jumping ship.
The better news is that smaller carriers often have even lower rates if you’re willing to make a change.
I’ll use my own post-contract AT&T iPhone 4S as an example. When my contract ended in November, I was paying nearly $80 monthly for a fairly basic voice/data plan. But then I started shopping around and discovered I could take that phone to any number of other carriers, most of them offering more for less.
For example, Straight Talk provides unlimited calling, texting, and data (up to 2.5GB at 4G speed, then slower after that) for $45 per month–no contract required. All I had to do was pop in a new SIM card (about $10) and jump through a few setup hoops. Similarly, AIO Wireless has plans starting at $35 monthly, and newcomer UppWireless can keep you talking, texting, and, er, Internet-ing for just $15.
However, Straight Talk robs my iPhone of visual voicemail (a feature I like but rarely use, so not a big deal), and UppWireless doesn’t allow for short-code text messages (like the kind airlines use to send you boarding passes). So these lower prices may require a few compromises. Make sure to do your homework before switching to another carrier. Of course, if you’re not happy after a month or two, it’s easy enough to switch again. No contracts, remember?
The bottom line is if you want to keep your existing phone, it’s worth shopping around to see what other plans and services are available. You don’t have to keep paying what you’re paying now, and you definitely don’t need another contract.
New is nice
Your phone may have been state-of-the-art two years ago, but by today’s standards it’s a bit long in the tooth. Newer models have faster processors, better (and bigger) screens, and more advanced features.
So does that mean you have to lock yourself into another contract for two years? Definitely not. For example, I recently purchased an iPhone 5S from Virgin Mobile. Although I had to pay for the phone upfront, monthly service costs me just $30. (Virgin is actually a great source for new, no-contract phones, which are often sold for less than full retail price. The iPhone 5S was 30 percent off, a huge savings.)
Meanwhile, Motorola sells its Moto G and Moto X unlocked, meaning you can take them to the carrier of your choice–again, no contract required. Prices start at $179 and $349.99, respectively. (The Moto X is especially cool in that you can customize the front, back, and trim colors via Motorola’s Moto Maker tool.)
Google’s new Nexus 5 also starts at $349 and also comes unlocked, so you can use it with AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, or Verizon. (You can also take it to a smaller carrier like AIO Wireless or Straight Talk, as described in the previous section.)
Needless to say, you’ve got options–lots of them. Whether you keep your old phone or a buy a new one, you can cast off the yoke of the two-year contract and never look back. I’ll drink to that.
Veteran technology writer Rick Broida is the author of numerous books, blogs, and features. He lends his money-saving expertise to CNET and Savings.com, and also writes for PC World and Wired.