After Black Friday: How to choose a shared data plan for cell phones, laptops or tablets

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  1. Picking the right cell phone plan means wading through a lot of information and options about voice minutes, the number of text messages covered, and the cost and extent of data plans. With the wealth of mobile phone providers available, this process can be confusing. Here are some tips from Molly McLaughlin, senior editor of ConsumerSearch.com, on how to weigh various plans and avoid going over monthly data usage limits.
  2. (Getty Images/Justin Sullivan)
  3. Shared data plans

  4. Shared data plans, available from Verizon and AT&T, are advantageous to cellular customers who no longer need a separate plan for each cell phone, tablet or laptop.

    “I think the carriers are all realizing most people have a cell phone plan,” McLaughlin said. “Smaller ones are trying to get new customers and bigger ones are trying to get more out of the customers they have.”
  5. How they are structured

  6. Verizon and AT&T base the monthly data fees in storage units called gigabytes (GB). The more gigabytes the consumer needs, the more expensive the plan.

    Verizon’s device fee is $40 per smartphone, $30 per basic cell phone, $20 per Verizon Jetpack
    USB Modem and $10 per tablet. Shared data charges begin at $50 per month for 1GB and increase in increments of $10 for plans of 2GB, 4GB, 6GB, and 8GB, up to $100 per month for 10GB. Details of Verizon's data plans can be found on their site, as can a handy data usage calculator.
    AT&T costs an initial $40 for a 1GB "Mobile Share with Unlimited Talk & Text" plan, and has incremental pricing up to $200 for 20GB. On top of this, AT&T charges $45 per device for 1GB of smartphone data usage, with the price decreasing the more gigabytes and devices that are added. Details of AT&T's plans are on their site under the "Mobile Share" tab, and they also have a mobile share planner.
  7. How to stay within your plan limits

  8. Consumers who still have unlimited data plans may be unable to keep them when they upgrade their phone. One way around to avoid changing you plan, McLaughlin said, is to pay full price for the phone and keep what you have.

    “It seems for many people it will be more expensive because (carriers) are throwing in unlimited minutes and text which people may not have needed,” McLaughlin said. “If you’re streaming videos or music, that’s when you can burn through a lot of data; and if you have multiple devices, that could easily eat up a lot of data.”
  9. Overage charges are expensive, she said, but can be avoided:
  10. 1. Switch to wifi when in range of a free provider, but be careful not to access private financial information or other sensitive material

    2. Use the option in share plans to make one device a mobile hotspot, that way other devices can be added without separate fees
  11. More pointers

  12. Estimate costs for all features

  13. Video streaming, Internet connections, text messaging, games, music, and photo management can add up quickly. Some carriers allow them to be bundled together. Choose a plan that will cover your usage within the monthly fee to avoid overage charges.
  14. Compare plans in retail stores or online

  15. Retail store employees can help you weigh phones, features plans side by side.

    On the web, sites such as Amazon.com and LetsTalk.com allow you to compare plan contracts offered by several carriers.
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