Money College: Talk, text via cell doesn't have to cost big bucks
But which weapon is the best choice when you want to tell your best friend about last night or send a text that "the movie begins in 5. Where r u?!"
There are two ways to go about this: buy a cell phone from a provider store and pay monthly for the extra privileges or purchase from the store (or the Internet) so you can pay per minute.
All major carriers offer pay-as-you-go phones, otherwise known as prepaid phone plans. You must first purchase the phone for a flat fee that will give you so many minutes for a number of months. When those minutes have been used, you can purchase more.
About.com offers a short test to find you the best plan. Most people opt for a prepaid phone because there are no hidden fees or credit check, you only pay for the minutes you use and there's no contract holding you down. However, the disadvantages of these prepaid phones are that they often lack insurance, the network may not have a connection in your area and the phone itself is usually not as modern as the monthly-plan counterparts.
Karen Orlowski, a sophomore student at Loyola University Chicago, likes her prepaid Virgin Mobile Kyocera Cyclops and wouldn't change.
"I kind of wish I had unlimited texting," the 20-year-old says, "but that would be difficult to accomplish with a prepaid plan. I feel like my parents only pay for what I use rather than my parents paying for x number of minutes on a monthly plan that you might not use. The extra money doesn't disappear, it's always on your phone."
Her 19 year-old-roommate Caitlyn Schmid started at Loyola using a prepaid T-Mobile Nokia but switched to a monthly plan with a T-Mobile Nokia 2330 over the winter holidays.
"Prepaid was getting more expensive because I was using my phone a lot more often than I was in high school. ... My friends now contact me through texting and calling," Schmid said. "I've had the monthly plan since Jan. 10 and I love the plan. I feel like I'm getting a lot for what I'm spending, it makes communication guilt free and a lot easier. I like the unlimited texting the best since that's what I do the most."
Virgin Mobile offers an array of what it calls "no annual contract" phones. One simply picks out the phone they like, pay for it in the store or online along with an amount of minutes and is now the proud owner of a new cell phone.
Verizon offers $3.99 daily access with only 1-cent text messaging if you opt for the prepaid unlimited talk plan, but you don't pay when you don't use the phone. Prepaid phone plans from T-Mobile include a slim selection of choices but the Samsung t239 gives you the option to include AOL Instant Messaging with your phone, should you wish to pay the additional fee.
The phone itself costs $39.99 but comes with 10 minutes of starter airtime, regularly a $6.99 additional purchase with its other phone choices. Cricket is up-and-coming in the prepaid market, offering unlimited minutes and nationwide coverage with the first month free.
If a prepaid phone isn't for you because you see your friends with BlackBerrys and want to fit in, consider a monthly plan. Monthly plans offer insurance on your phone; many offer Web access along with night and weekend access.
For every carrier save Sprint, night calling begins at 9 p.m. The Web site Compareplans.us offers charts comparing plans from all major networks. US Cellular provides overage protection by sending you a text or voicemail that you're nearing the end of your allotted minutes for free. Its cheapest monthly plan is $39.99 which also includes 450 minutes from anywhere in the U.S.A.
Cellular phones are a necessity in this day and age to communicate with co-workers, friends and family. The first and most important decision is how much you want to pay to stay in touch. It all depends upon how much you have to say and what it's worth to you.