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The Purchase Transaction

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The Bottom Line

Phone prices vary by where you buy; a carrier's rate plans do not. You'll often find noticeably better phone deals online, from independent retailers, than you will by buying directly from the carrier.

There are thousands of places you can sign up for new wireless service, including retail stores, mall kiosks, or online. Regardless of the location, you will either be buying directly from the carrier or from an independent retailer acting as an authorized agent on behalf of the carrier. Additionally, no matter where you make your purchase, it will consist of a package containing a rate plan and a cell phone. Clearly understanding the connection between these two elements can save you quite a bit of money, not only on the day you make the initial purchase but throughout your ongoing relationship with the carrier.

Since the carriers provide the service, they are the ones who set the terms and conditions of their plans. Each carrier's terms and conditions (e.g., the number of minutes you get each month) will be the same regardless of from whom you make your purchase. So, while it is important to choose the right calling plan to minimize your monthly bill, there is no reason to visit a lot of different places to seek out different calling plans for the same carrier. This also means that there is no advantage in buying directly from the carrier, either from one of their retail stores or from their website.

In fact, buying directly from the carrier is usually a bad idea, as they often charge the highest prices for the phones. On the other hand, independent retailers set their own cell phone prices individually, and the differences can be dramatic (see box on next page). Additionally, you will usually find that online retailers, lacking the overhead of physical stores, have the best prices of all.

When you choose a cell phone, you have effectively selected your carrier, as phones are generally preprogrammed to work on a specific carrier?s network. Once you select one of the carrier?s rate plans to complete your order, the retailer will ship you the phone (if you bought online), and the carrier will activate your service based on the calling plan you have chosen. Your new phone should be ready to use when it arrives at your door. Your ongoing relationship for billing, customer service, and rate plan and phone changes/upgrades will be with the carrier.

It Pays to Shop Around

On February 16, 2010, a survey of the AT&T website showed the very popular BlackBerry Bold 9700 selling for $199.99 with new service. That same day, the best price on the MyRatePlan site was free, a difference of almost $200! For those seeking a family plan, the difference was $400. For current comparisons, click here.

While MyRatePlan is not a retailer, we do partner with a number of online organizations we have chosen for both their excellent customer service and low prices. One of the benefits of using MyRatePlan for your research is that we strive to show you a comprehensive list of cell phones and the lowest price for each phone from among our partners.