With the way cell phone contracts work now or don’t even exist, it may be tempting to trade in a phone every now and then for a new phone. For most consumers, this may not be practical or worth the effort; for others, the temptation of a brand new phone is too strong, especially with highly rated phones from Apple, Google, and Samsung rolling out every few months.

How Do Cell Phone Contracts Work Nowadays?

Before you invest in a new phone, it’s important to understand how most cell phone contracts work in today’s day and age. For most carriers, they offer two types of “plans:” Contracts and non-contracts. You’re still roped into a contract, either way, let me explain.

On some carriers, you use your own phone that you own outright but to qualify for certain plans, you have to agree to a one to a two-year contract. If you don’t own a phone, you sign up for a payment plan – basically an extension of credit without all the bells and whistles – and have a month-to-month service plan. You’re still under contract because you have to pay off the phone each month until you either upgrade to a new phone and start the cycle over again or pay off the phone in its entirety.

All the big carriers offer the above options, such as Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint. In fact, you may be lured into getting a new phone by taking advantage of one of the “big deals” they offer to get you away from a competitor. The new phone, termination fee coverage, and more, but buyer beware: Unless you fit a very narrow set of criteria, you’ll still end up buying a phone, paying termination fees, and probably spending more by trying to get a new phone this way.

When Should You Buy a New Phone?

Buying a new phone cell phones comes down to one thing: What do you do with your cell phone? If you meet one of these four criteria, chances are you should invest in a new phone every two years:

  • Use cell phone instead of a landline
    Use cell phone for business/work, especially if self-employed
    Use cell phone to play games often
    Use cell phone to take pictures/videos frequently

Cell phones go bad over time because of heavy use. This is one of the reasons why cell phone carriers always offered two-year contracts, to encourage you to upgrade your phone and improve performance. All the above criteria fit that heavy use profile. Over just two years, you’ll run down your battery and slow down your processor due to heavy use. This degrades the hardware to the point that your phone becomes more cumbersome than useful, especially when on the go.

Replacing hardware is expensive, and even if you have one of those insurance plans, you’ll still pay a hefty deductible to have your cell phone replaced. It’s easier at the two-year mark to either trade in your phone or buy a new one outright; nowadays, you’ll pay the same price either way in most cases.

So, Is It Time for a New Phone?

The choice is up to you! If you’re looking for new and improved, getting a new phone is the only way to truly get that experience. As your phone needs change, so does the phone you hold in your hands. Consider all the options, read reviews – particularly from tech websites – and choose the phone that gets the job done for your needs.

You don’t necessarily need bells and whistles to get the most out of the phone, even if everyone around you tells you to get the new iPhone or the new Galaxy or the new whatever from whoever. Get the phone that feels right for you and fits the way you live life; the phone itself will take care of the rest.

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Melissa Popp is Director of Digital Engagement for Altitude SEO, a boutique agency helping small businesses win with content online. As a digital strategist with a passion for technology and travel, she coaches her partners to connect with their audience through experience optimization, with the goal of retaining more loyal visitors, creating brand ambassadors, and increasing conversion goals. She can be found online writing for About Travel, TechNorms, and The Emmys. Past clients include Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, and Samsung.