How do I choose the best mobile phone plan?

Mobile phones have become a crucial part of everyday life, which is why it's so important to compare mobile plans and ensure you're getting the best deal.

No matter whether you're in the market for a new phone or looking to upgrade an existing one, it's essential to weigh up what's on offer before making a final decision.

Here are some of the questions to ask yourself before signing up for any new plan.

PAYG or contract?

The first decision you'll need to make is whether you want a pay as you go (PAYG) deal or a contract. Each product has its plus and minus points, it just depends on how often you'll use your phone and what for.

These are also often referred to as pre-pay and post-pay plans, so make sure you're aware of the terminology before starting your research.

PAYG deals are great if you just need to send the occasional text or make infrequent phone calls. All you need to do is top up your account with the amount you want and it'll be available for you to use whenever you need it.

It's also a good idea to opt for PAYG if you want to keep track of how much you're spending. It can be all too easy to get carried away and start racking up bills, so this is one way of limiting the cost. If you're buying a handset for a youngster than PAYG could be the best way forward, as it reduces their - or your - spending.

There are disadvantages to PAYG. If you run out of credit then you'll have to top it up manually - not great if you suddenly find you need to make an urgent call! There's also the fact that if you don't use your balance, it will expire after a set amount of time.

Your other option is a mobile contract, or post-pay agreement. You will receive a certain amount of SMS​ messages, minutes and data as part of your plan, so this can be a good idea if you're a regular mobile phone user.

You will need to sign up for a certain contract duration - generally speaking, the longer the contract, the better the deal you'll receive. In many cases, you will receive a handset as part of the deal.

Bear in mind that once you've exceeded your inclusive allowance you'll be faced with additional charges. You should be able to keep track of how much you've used by checking online or by calling your mobile service provider.

What are my mobile usage levels like?

If you're still unsure which mobile plan to choose then take a look back at how much you've used your handset over the past few months.

Knowing how many texts, minutes and megabytes of data you've used will help determine the best way to go - PAYG or contract.

A contract will give you a set amount of inclusive features, so it's worth assessing whether you're likely to use them all before signing up. For example, if you're only going to use 300 SMS a month, do you really need to pay for a contract with 3,000 included?

The same goes for minutes and data - be realistic about your usage and this should narrow down your options when comparing mobile plans.

Do I need a handset?

As already stated, many contracts come with a handset included. If you don't need one, ask whether you could benefit from a PAYG deal or perhaps a SIM-only contract.

Although the novelty of a brand new phone may seem appealing, bear in mind you'll end up paying for it one way or another.

The latest handsets generally come with higher priced, longer contracts so although you might have the trendiest phone around for a short time, you may still be stuck with it two years down the line.

What is the coverage like in my area?

Certain mobile providers are likely to offer better coverage in your area than others, so it's worth doing your research before making a final decision.

It doesn't matter whether you're on a PAYG deal or a contract, if a provider doesn't have good coverage in your area then you'll find it difficult to text and make calls.

Many mobile providers will have a coverage map for you to look at on their website. It's also a good idea to ask other people who live nearby what experiences they've had with the different companies.

Don't forget to look at any other areas where you might want to use your phone as well, such as friends and family members' houses who might live some distance away. The same goes for where you work - there's nothing more frustrating than finding your phone doesn't connect when you need it most!

Posted by Richard West