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How to choose a mobile phone tariff

Lynn Wright / 17 February 2016

Choosing a new mobile phone tariff can be a challenge. Follow our tips to help you work out the right mobile phone tariff for your needs.

Man speaking on his mobile phone
Work out how much you use your phone before choosing a tariff

Whether you’re in the market for a new mobile phone or just looking to switch to a cheaper mobile phone tariff, here’s what to look for when choosing the best mobile phone tariff for you.

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There are three types of mobile phone tariffs:

1. Pay-monthly contract 

Pay each month by direct debit to get a set amount of calls, texts and data. This typically includes a free mobile phone, and you’re normally tied into a regular monthly payment for between 12 and 24 months.

2. Pay as you go (PAYG) 

Pay for your phone use in advance – either online, by phone or text, or using vouchers bought at high street stores. Once your credit runs out, you’ll need to top it up in order to continuing using the phone.

3. Sim-only contract 

Pay a cheaper monthly fee for a SIM card from your chosen mobile provider that you place inside your existing mobile phone.

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Tally up what you use

Before choosing, check how often you use your mobile phone for calls, texts and how much data, such as for email, web browsing and music downloads you’re likely to need. 

Don’t be tempted by tariffs offering massive amounts of calls and texts if you’re a light mobile phone user, as they can be a waste of money. 

However, if you choose a contract with too few calls and texts, and then use more than your contract allows, it can be expensive.

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Choose the right mobile network

Check the mobile phone network coverage for your local area, especially if you live in a rural location, as some providers may be unable to provide adequate signal strength. 

Some networks offer incentives, such as Clubcard points with Tesco Mobile, so investigate any extras.

How many minutes and texts do I need?

Mobile phone tariffs usually include free calls and texts. 

SIM-only deals tend to be cheaper for the same amount of calls and texts compared to monthly contracts. 

A PAYG deal will be more expensive per call than a monthly deal, but if you’re an occasional mobile phone it can work out cheaper.

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How much mobile data do I need?

Check the tariff carefully to see how much data is included. 

If you use the internet on your phone regularly throughout the day, then look for a tariff with a high or unlimited data allowance. For most people, 2GB of data per month is plenty.

Do I need a new mobile phone?

If you need a new mobile phone, then a monthly contract is the way to go. Most monthly contracts include a free or low-priced mobile phone for the duration of the contact. 

If you don’t need to upgrade your phone, then a cheaper SIM-only tariff is better.

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How long should the contract be?

Most mobile phone contracts run for 24 months. If you lose your phone, you’ll still need to pay the monthly fee until the contract ends – and you can’t usually switch contract without paying a heft penalty. 

SIM-only tariffs offer the shortest contracts, usually just 30 days long.

For more tips and useful information, browse our technology articles.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.