Don't phone it in: 5 hacks for getting the best mobile phone plan

Cellphones have almost become a necessity, but figuring out the best plan to get can be a challenge.

The price of a phone and plan can be substantial, and the amount of information available about carriers and plans is often overwhelming. Many people simply make a choice and stick with the same provider for years, which may not necessarily be best for your budget or your needs.

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Whether you're getting new service, adding a line or switching providers, these five hacks will help you get the best cellular plan:

Research coverage areas

No single carrier provides the best coverage in every part of the country, so it pays to consider companies that have good coverage where you live and travel, according to Investopedia.

Ask your co-workers, friends and neighbors what provider they use and whether they have any problems with coverage. In addition, you can often try cellphone service for 30 days without obligation so you can see first-hand how good the coverage is.

Credit: M. Spencer Green

Credit: M. Spencer Green

Shop around – with a little help

Consumer adviser Clark Howard offers a list of providers and the best deals. You can contact the companies for more information, but the guide is a great start for comparing the various providers and plans.

Time magazine's Money website also has a list of recommended plans by category, including Best Unlimited Plan and Best Couples Plan.

Be willing to make a change

In some cases, providers are willing to offer perks such as giving you a new phone or paying your early termination fees to entice you to switch.

Consumer Reports surveyed 100,000 subscribers and found that the 10 percent who had switched plans in the past two years reduced their monthly bill by at least $20. Just make sure early termination fees don't offset your savings.

Check with your current provider

Fox Business suggests calling your provider to ask if there's any way you can save money. It doesn't always work, but it's worth a try.

If you're paying for more data than you actually use, you may be able to switch to a cheaper plan without breaking your contract. Conversely, if you find yourself needing more data, ask about moving to a plan that better suits your needs.

Time it right

If you're currently with a provider and want to switch companies, your timing is important. Clark Howard suggests that you check first with your current carrier to find out when your billing cycle ends.

Most cell phone companies won't refund money for unused days, and you'll likely have prorated charges with your new company. As a result, you could end up paying for both your new and old service. The site recommends that you sign up for new service and transfer your phone number four days before the end of your billing cycle with your old carrier.