Canadians are purchasing cellphones in record numbers. There are so many choices in the cellphone marketplace that you need to carefully review what is being offered to make sure you choose the right option for you.

Whether you are planning to purchase a new phone or service, or to change what you already have, it is important to take the time to think about what you need and talk to as many providers as you can. This is a complex purchase, so the more time you put into thinking about what you need, the more likely you are to get what you need at a price you can afford. Below are a few tips to help you understand your cellphone needs.

Estimate the number of minutes you will need and when you will likely use them. Think about whether you will use your phone during the day, in the evening or on weekends. Many cellphone providers charge different rates for weekday minutes, weekday evening minutes and weekend minutes. The start and end time of these time periods can vary by provider and by cell plan, so don’t assume that all evenings and weekends start at the same time. Evening start times can make a big difference in cellphone costs. It is important to choose a plan that matches your usage.

Remember that, in most cases, you not only pay for the calls you make and the text messages you send, but also the ones you receive.

Decide what features are, and are not, important to you. Common services are call display, voice mail and text messaging. Choose carefully, since the more features you want, the more you may end up paying.

Although the phone you purchase may allow you to do certain things like take and send photos, send and receive email, access the Internet or play or download music, always check with your provider about the fees for using these features. They may not be included in the cell plan you have chosen.

Bundling Features. Many service providers bundle features together as a package, charging one amount for a group of features. This may save you money, but make sure you are only selecting and paying for features you truly need and will use. It is best to research the cost of the different features carefully.

Consider the physical features of the phone. Is it convenient to use? Find out about the battery life and volume and if possible check out the phone in the store to see if the keypad and screen are easy to use. Some phones may not let you use features you want such as text messaging or taking pictures. On the other hand, some cellphones may have more features than you will use and may be more expensive as a result.

Contract or no contract? You may choose to commit to a long-term contract, purchase prepaid cards or commit on a month-to-month basis. There are advantages and disadvantages to each of these options. Long-term contracts may offer lower rates per minute or discounts on the phone itself, but these come with a long term commitment and can be very expensive to break if you want to switch to a different plan with another provider. Prepaid cards allow for greater bud getary control, especially for low volume users, but may not offer the best price per minute. Keep in mind that you may need to purchase a cellphone from the provider. If you choose a month to month or prepaid plan, you may have to pay the full price of the cellphone, but won’t be tied to a long-term contract.

Link between the phone and the contract. When you sign a long-term contract, the cost of purchasing a cellphone is usually tied to the length of the contract term. In most cases, the greater the discount on the cellphone (including the offer of a free phone), the longer the contract period you have to commit to.

If you have committed to a contract, you are usually eligible to upgrade your phone after a certain time for a reduced cost. However, this may involve renewing the contract for an additional term, locking you into a new 12, 24 or 36 month contract. Always check with the provider to ensure that you understand the terms and conditions of the contract.

If you change providers, your existing cellphone may not be compatible with the technology of the other provider’s network. You can, however, keep the same cellphone number if you are changing to a provider within the same general metropolitan area or local calling area. In order to retain your number you may have to set up a new account with the new provider before you terminate your existing account. Cellphone service providers may require notice to terminate your contract. Contact your provider for more information about the notification period needed to terminate your contract.

Fees and Charges. Be aware that there may be monthly add-on fees with any cellphone service. The plan price may not be all that you will be paying. Each month a system access fee, a 911 service fee and taxes may be added to your bill. You will also be charged for any minutes you used over and above what your monthly plan covers (overage) as well as fees for options you used that are not included in the base price of your plan. A system access fee, 911 service fee and taxes may also be charged every month for prepaid services. Check with the provider for more information, and before committing to a plan make sure you ask what your total bill will be each month based on the number of minutes you plan to use and the time of day when you plan to use these minutes, plus any additional features you order and any additional fees that may be included.

If you already have a plan, carefully go over each line of your bill when it arrives. Are you in the right plan? If your cellphone habits no longer seem to match your plan, talk to your service provider to see whether another plan might better suit your needs.

Coverage. The coverage area refers to the region within which a cellphone can reliably receive and make calls and send and receive data. Check to make sure that there are no coverage gaps in the areas where you will regularly use your phone.

Roaming. Roaming is a service offered by most cellphone service providers that allows their subscribers to use another provider’s system. This extends the geographic coverage area and allows you to continue using your phone when you leave your provider’s coverage area – when you are traveling on holiday for example.

There are additional roaming charges for calls you make and receive outside your provider's coverage area. Fees vary depending on the provider used. Check with your provider before you head out.

Complaints. If you are unable to resolve a cellphone-related dispute directly with a particular provider, you can use the services of the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS).

The CCTS, of which most cellphone providers are members, is an independent, non-governmental agency with a mandate to receive, to facilitate the resolution of, and, if necessary, to resolve eligible consumer and small business complaints relating to certain retail telecommunications services, including wireless telephone services.

You may also contact your provincial or territorial consumer affairs office for advice or assistance relating to the terms and conditions of your contract, billing issues or the provider’s business practices.

For more information and tools on buying a cellphone and cellphone services, consult www.ConsumerInformation.ca.

Environmentally Responsible Consumer Tip:

When you have finished with your old cellphone or battery, do not throw either of them out. Your community may have a recycling program to help you dispose of them in a sustainable and responsible manner. Check with your municipatlity, or go to www.Recyclemycell.ca to find a drop-off location near you, or to print out a pre-paid shipping label. Remember to remove all of your personal information from the phone before recycling it.

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