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Need to change your wireless plan? Here's how to choose the right one for you

Are you finally ready to disconnect from your wireless plan for something new?

There are several reasons you may be rethinking your cellphone or smartphone plans. Perhaps you want something more affordable, an increasingly important factor as inflation maintains its grip on the economy.

Maybe you are having a bad experience with your current wireless carrier, or the connection with your carrier's network is not compatible with where you live.

As competition in the wireless space increases, so do the benefits and perks you receive when you sign up for a plan. T-Mobile recently introduced several new perks for unlimited customers, such as a 25-cent-a-gallon discount on gas at Shell stations and free connectivity and streaming on flights.

Let's break down the choices you have when selecting a wireless phone plan.

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What are my plan options? Plans with one line start at $50, gradually increasing if you want more available data. Plans also vary depending on how many lines you want. So, AT&T's best unlimited plan costs $85 for one line; but if you have four people on one plan, it's $50 per line.

What perks can I get? All of AT&T's Unlimited plans support 5G and include unlimited talk and text as well as the carrier's ActiveArmor mobile security app to protect your phone from spam calls or when you connect to an open Wi-Fi network.

On its highest plan, Unlimited Premium, users get unlimited data, up to 50 GB of data if you want to use a phone as a mobile hot spot to hop online with a laptop or other device, and 4K streaming. Some of those perks diminish or disappear if you drop to a cheaper plan. For example, AT&T's plan below Unlimited Premium offers less hot spot data and standard-definition streaming.


What are my plan options? The carrier's most affordable plan is $45 a month and offers essentials including 20 GB of data, unlimited 3G mobile hotspot data, and a free year of Paramount+. Like AT&T, plans will vary based on how much data you want and the number of phones included. T-Mobile's top plan for one line costs $85 a month ($90 if you don't use autopay).

What perks can I get? On the top-tier Magenta Max plan, customers get a Netflix basic plan for free, along with a free year of Apple TV+ and Paramount+ streaming services. There's also unlimited data, talk and text, as well as up to 40 GB of data if you use your phone as a mobile hot spot. You can also text and use Wi-Fi on flights. Some perks like free Netflix drop off if you go to a lower plan.

Verizon Wireless

What are my plan options? Verizon is the priciest of the big three; its lowest plan starts at $70 a month for one line, all the way to $100 a month for its top plan depending on data needs and the number of lines. Verizon's plans have unlimited plans with perks for entertainment-focused users, plus a top-tier "Get More" plan that combines both.

What perks can I get? On the "Get More" plan, you get unlimited data and 50 GB of mobile hot spot data. If you already subscribe to Verizon's internet service, you can also get a discount. As part of the plan, you get a free subscription to the Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+ bundle, a TravelPass to use your phone internationally, as well as a choice between Apple Arcade or Google Play Pass. If you're on an iPhone, you also get a subscription to Apple Music. Perks vary if you go to a lower-tier plan. For example, the "Do More" plan aimed at travelers includes the TravelPass, but none of the streaming options (you can get them free for a six-month period).

What about budget carriers?

You don't have to stick with the big three carriers if you're seeking a plan at a reasonable price. For example, Mint Mobile is offering an unlimited plan for $15 a month, which includes 35 GB of 5G data before flipping to 4G, along with unlimited talk and text. The one catch? You have to sign up for three months at a time at minimum.

Metro by T-Mobile offers its top-tier Unlimited plan for $60 a month, and includes unlimited data, access to T-Mobile's 5G network, 15 GB of hot spot data and an Amazon Prime membership.

Visible by Verizon has its own Unlimited plan starting at $40 a month with unlimited talk, texting and data and unlimited hot spot use.

Other carriers, including Cricket Wireless and Consumer Cellular, provide similar budget plans.

What Unlimited really means

You may notice phone plans referencing premium data or premium networks. No, your phone won't pull data from a special luxury network. It's basically data the carriers won't slow down due to congestion.

On most top-tier plans, you really do get unlimited data. But for those mid-tier plans that show a set amount of premium data, once you cross that threshold, you may see slower speeds due to congestion on your next bill.

How to choose the right wireless plan?

Figure how you plan to use your phone. The most important factor you should consider is what you want from this new plan. Are you looking to save money? Do you want to use your phone as a hot spot more often? Do you need this phone only for the basics like texting and calls? Once you nail down how you want to use your phone, you can decide which plan best matches your needs.

Premium data limits? Wi-Fi is your friend. If you are considering a plan with premium data limits, make sure you have several good, safe spots for Wi-Fi so you can avoid hitting them each month.

Watch for extra incentives like autopay. Most carriers will provide a discount if you decide to enable autopay, which means the carrier will automatically take your payment from a checking account, debit card or credit card. Just make sure you read the fine print before committing to autopay.

Double-check fees (and benefits) for switching. Carriers usually will hit you with an early-termination fee if you're under contract on their plan. On top of that, if you financed a phone, you would have to also pay off any remaining balance if you plan to keep it. Check carefully how much it might cost to leave early before you move to a new service.

However, you may find discounts from carriers if you're a new customer switching services. For example, T-Mobile has offers to pay off balances at your previous carrier to cover any fees.

Check for special discounts. You might be able to save money on your plan depending on whether you work, if you are a student, or a member of the military or first responder.

Follow Brett Molina on Twitter: @brettmolina23.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Changing your phone plan? How to pick the right wireless plan for you