When you find a cheaper wireless plan and are ready to switch cell phone carriers, there are a few things you need to remember to avoid paying too much.
In this article, we’ll take you step-by-step through the process of changing cell phone providers and keeping your number.
Warning: What You Need To Know Before Switching Cell Phone Carriers
Before we get to the steps, money expert Clark Howard has a special warning for you about a costly mistake that many people make when transferring their number from one cell phone company to another.
That mistake? Incorrectly timing the switch to a new wireless provider.
Here’s an example: Let’s say that the billing cycle with your current carrier resets on the 1st of the month and you activate service with a new provider on the 5th.
Think the company you’re leaving will refund you for unused days? Think again.
The major cell phone companies generally won’t prorate your final bill even if you’re not breaking a contract and are currently paying on a month-to-month basis.
Here are links to the policies for the major cell phone companies:
The cell phone provider that you’re leaving will probably charge you through the end of your billing cycle, and you may have to pay prorated charges with your new wireless company.
Clark’s solution is to sign up for your new cell phone service and port your number at least four days before your billing cycle is set to end.
“If you’re switching from one of the majors to one of the major carriers to another (AT&T, Verizon Wireless or T-Mobile), four days is enough. If you’re switching from an MVNO to another MVNO, that probably needs to be more like 10 days.”
Transferring a number to a new cell phone provider usually only takes a few minutes, but you want to give yourself a few days of pad time in case any problems come up. Porting phone numbers with an MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) tends to be a little more trouble-prone, according to Clark, which is why he recommends giving yourself around 10 days before your current billing cycle ends.
How To Switch to a New Cell Phone Provider and Keep Your Number
Now that you know the #1 mistake to avoid, let’s get to the steps that you need to follow to get started with a new cell phone provider and save money every month.
1. Review Your Billing Statements
Reviewing your previous three to six months of billing statements is key to understanding your cell phone usage.
You might be paying for an unlimited data plan but using only 2GB of data per month. If that’s the case, you’ll be able to choose from lots of cheaper cell phone plans.
Take the time to analyze your cell phone bill and determine what type of phone plan you really need before you switch phone carriers.
2. Compare the Best Cell Phone Plans and Deals
The next step is to take the information you’ve gathered from your current cell phone billing statement and shop for a less expensive plan.
Clark.com’s list of the best cell phone plans and deals includes information on a number of mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs). These companies don’t own cell phone towers, but they partner with the major providers to offer cheap phone plans. You can search online for even better deals you may qualify for as a new customer.
Don’t know where to start? If you’re happy with your current coverage, look for an MVNO that runs on your existing network.
For example, some former Verizon Wireless customers have switched to Visible. It uses Verizon’s towers to provide the same great coverage at a fraction of the price.
There are many more MVNOs that partner with Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile. Compare your options here!
3. Check Phone Compatibility or Buy a New Phone
A lot of people switch phone carriers when they’re ready to buy a new phone, but bringing your own device may also be an option.
Cell phone companies have compatibility checkers on their websites. You’ll typically be asked to enter your device’s IMEI or MEID to find out if the phone will work on the carrier’s network.
Your phone needs to be unlocked if you plan to keep it when you switch. If it’s locked, you’ll need to check with your current provider for instructions on how to unlock it.
If you buy a new phone from a third-party seller like eBay, make sure it’s an unlocked phone that will work with your new network.
If you are going to get a new phone, here’s the best place to sell your current phone.
4. Purchase Your New Plan
After you’ve found a new cell phone plan and figured out the phone situation, it’s time to purchase your new plan!
Some of the most popular prepaid carriers sell SIM cards at major retailers including Walmart, Target, Best Buy and CVS. These SIM cards are also sold online. If you’re interested in starting a prepaid plan, check out our guide for the best prepaid phone plans here.
If you order online, give yourself plenty of time for shipping so that the SIM card is delivered before your current plan expires.
To keep your current phone number, you’ll also have to port it at the time that you purchase your new plan. To do this, you’ll need to know your current phone plan’s account number. If you’re switching from an MVNO, Clark recommends contacting the company to clarify your account number.
“Talk to them and find out what they consider to be the account number because that’s what screws up porting more than anything else.”
With AT&T, Verizon or T-Mobile, your phone number and account number will be different and they’ll both be listed on your bill. However, MVNOs may provide only one number that acts as your phone number and account number, or they might be different. If it isn’t clearly stated on your bill, make sure you find out what your correct account number is. If you enter the wrong number, you’ll have a port that bounces. “And once it goes manual, all bets are off when that port will ever be completed,” Clark warns.
5. Install Your New SIM Card
Once your SIM card arrives in the mail, follow the instructions from your new provider to install the SIM card.
If you’re transferring a number from one phone carrier to another, review the number transfer policy. Most companies list this information on the FAQ section of their website, but you can also reach out to customer service for help.
Again, Clark recommends that you port your number four days before the billing cycle with your existing provider ends.
6. After Porting, Confirm Cancellation of Your Old Service
Do NOT call the provider you’re leaving and cancel service before the port completes. If you do, the account will be closed, and you won’t be able to access your old number.
The porting process may take only a few minutes, but sometimes it will take a full 24 hours to transfer your number.
Once your service is active and your number has been transferred, your new carrier will let you know. Meanwhile, the number transfer will automatically cancel your old service in most cases.
After you’re up and running, we suggest that you call your old cell phone company to confirm the cancellation.
7. Get the Most Out of Your New Plan
Now that you’ve switched cell phone plans, check the FAQ pages on your new provider’s website or mobile app to adjust any settings that need to be changed on your phone.
This process will vary depending on the type of phone you have.
If you run into any problems along the way, most MVNOs offer customer support by phone and chat. However, some of the smaller carriers don’t have retail locations where you can go for help.
If in-person customer support is important to you, look for a cheap cell phone provider that has physical stores.
8. Review Your Phone Plan
The wireless industry is very competitive right now. Cell phone companies are making frequent adjustments to their pricing and data offerings, so you want to review the latest plans and deals at least every 12 months.
If you’ve recently switched cell phone service providers, please share any tips that you have in the Clark.com community!