Consumer Reports reviews top 4 cellphone carriers

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Picking a Cell Phone Plan

You know it's bad when one of the nation's largest and oldest consumer watchdog organizations calls cellphone plans "so convoluted you need an accounting degree to decipher them."

That's how the nonprofit Consumer Reports describes the so-called "Big Four" carriers — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon — in a recent rundown of these major carriers' plans.

Consumer Reports continues:

They continually shift prices up or down according to the number of phone lines you need and the amount of data you're purchasing. They further complicate matters with "special" short-term offers to lure customers from rivals.

The nonprofit organization's rundown breaks down the major carriers' plans, noting pros and cons, and includes tables that allow for easy comparison shopping based on the number of phones and amount of data you want from a plan.

Note that Consumer Reports omitted short-term specials from its calculations, however, "because of their extremely short lifespan and their fragility (deal benefits often vaporize when a customer buys a new phone or makes other changes)."

To view the tables that break down the major carriers' plan costs, check out Consumer Reports' cellphone plan comparison in full. To find out whether the small carriers beat the Big Four, check out the best cellphone carriers.

The rundown on the major carriers follows.

AT&T

"AT&T stubbornly clings to variable-rate access fees that can mislead customers into spending more money when they're trying to save," Consumer Reports writes.

On the upside, the company's customers gave it good marks in Consumer Reports' survey for voice, text and Web services.

Sprint

Sprint is among the lowest-rated carriers in Consumer Reports' ratings for both its monthly billed service and its prepaid service.

The good news is that Sprint's plans are "a bit cheaper" than they used to be, "even besting bargain-champion T-Mobile in some instances," Consumer Reports writes.

T-Mobile

T-Mobile plan costs are "only slightly cheaper" than those of AT&T and Verizon.

T-Mobile is advantageous for people who stream a lot, though, as streamed music and video content from providers like Spotify and Netflix does not count against your data allowance.

On the downside, the company does not offer data-sharing plans, which enable you to share your data allowance with other people who have cellphones on your plan.

Verizon

Verizon "keeps things simple," Consumer Reports writes, charging a flat $20 for each plan on its sharable data plans.

The company also received good marks for voice, text and Web services.

Which of the Big Four carriers do you think is best? Sound off in our Forums. It's the place where you can speak your mind, explore topics in-depth, and post questions and get answers.

This story contains affiliate links, which means Money Talks News may get a commission if you decide to purchase anything from some of the companies in this story. However, we only recommend products we love. Using affiliate links helps us keep the lights on, and allows us to continue to offer you great money-saving tips every day.

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