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Will Replacing An Uninsured Cell Phone Cost a Lot?

Yesterday, someone searched for that and found my post on cell phone insurance and self-insuring. However, I don’t think I answered that question fully in that post. Yes, it talked about things you can do ahead of time to make sure you have money to replace the phone (like putting away the same amount in an ING subaccount or somesuch). But now about how much it costs to replace an uninsured cell phone.

First, check the warranty to make sure it’s expired. If it’s only been a few months and the phone died of “natural causes,” you might be able to get it replaced for free.

Otherwise, as I see it, you have three main options:

1. Renew the contract. Probably the cheapest option is to go to your local provider’s store and get a new contract. Most 2-year contracts get you a major discount on the phone, or perhaps even a free phone…depending on which model you choose. But go over all the fees with your provider before signing, they may have activation fees and the like.

Advantages: If you were staying with the provider anyway, this gets you a new phone for comparatively little. You shouldn’t have to pay the early termination fee because you’re staying with them and they want to keep you (be sure to ask about it, though).

Disadvantages: You’re staying with the same provider, even if you were planning to switch. You can’t shop around for the best contract deal. Your monthly service price may go up because that’s what they’re offering now, as compared to when you signed the contract.

2. Buying a used phone. If the cell phone is compatible and “unlocked” (meaning is ESN…electronic serial number isn’t assigned to a particular group), switching phones may be as easy as slipping in the SIM card from your current phone. Here’s a pretty decent article on activating a used phone, if you decide to go this route.

Like buying anything online, buying a used phone is a risk. Ideally, you’d be able to get your money back and whatnot if it didn’t work. Follow your usual safe eBay/online buying rules…whatever you’re comfortable with. People may be selling the phone because it’s a dud or they may be selling because they got a new one and it’s just old.

Double check with your cell phone company before doing this, make sure that you can activate a used phone. Call, since store employees may not be familiar with it, but you can easily be transferred to the right person in the service dept if you’re on the phone.

2.5 Saving your old phones. Like self-insuring, this is something you have to think of ahead of time. But it’s still a good idea if you’re a cell phone user. If you get a new phone with your contract renewal, put the old one somewhere safe. I donated my last one to a women’s shelter…so there may also be a good reason not to keep it.

If you’re using the same provider, it should be pretty easy to switch SIMs. (But call your provider if you have any problems.) Give this a shot before purchasing new equipment. There’s no point in spending the money if you’ve got something perfectly good that’ll work.

Ask your friends, too. See if one of them has an old, undead cell phone they’d be willing to give or sell you.

3. Buying a new phone. Without renewing your contract, this will probably cost a lot. The phone I got for $15 with the contract retails for $200+. So yes. Replacing an uninsured cell phone may cost an awful lot. But it doesn’t have to…so think carefully before you take this step.

For more on cell phone insurance and refurbished electronics, try these posts:

What Happened to My Cell Phone? by Madison at My Dollar Plan

Save Money on Refurbished Electronics by Patrick at Cash Money Life

– and the 17 awesome comments on my last cell phone insurance post.

Edit: Isn’t it embarrassing when you mess up something in the post title? I fixed it now. It was from a previous version of the title, which I rewrote but left a word in the wrong…case?


Eden May 15, 2008 at 11:12 am

I no longer purchase cell phone insurance. I’ve had success by saving old phones and using them to replace a broken phone. If you don’t mind making a downgrade in phones of course. The Verizon store even set up the old phone for me at no charge.

You can also find good phones very cheap on Ebay.

Anitra May 15, 2008 at 1:47 pm

We save our old phones (although we don’t usually replace them until they’re having some problems anyway) – we haven’t had to use them ourselves (thankfully), but we’ve been able to lend them out to friends who broke their phones – our old phones will work just fine for at least a few months with good care, which is usually all a friend needs to get to new-contract/free-phone time.

Aaron Stroud May 15, 2008 at 8:36 pm

We keep our old phones handy, just encase the new one fails. We’ve also been known to get a used phone from a family member to avoid replacement costs.

On a side note,
Isn’t it amazing how our amazing standard of living has driven some of us to invent new problems? Cell phones use to be the domain of the ultra rich. They were bulky and they didn’t work many places.

A few years before that, they didn’t even exist. Now they’re free with a service contract and yet many people shell out a couple hundred (or more) for a fancier one…

Mrs. Nathan May 15, 2008 at 9:11 pm

We’re now saving our hold phones to keep in the event of a replacement. Nathan’s phone literally snapped in half last year right before our wedding…and it was more than a little bit upsetting to be incommunicado while we figured out what to do about a new one. As it turns out we had to pay $200 to buy the cheapest Verizon phone available without a new plan, when we were switching off my parents’ plan in 1 month. It was sad and absurd.

Ryan [email protected] May 16, 2008 at 2:34 am

A lot depends on which provider you’re using, one that does GSM (phones that use a SIM card, like AT&T and TMobile) or CDMA (ones without a SIM card). The SIM card deal makes going from handset to handset pretty easy. You can often also find handsets at thrift stores…

My Dollar Plan May 17, 2008 at 2:20 pm

What I can’t seem to understand is how come phones always seem to break so often… what happened to buying a product that was built with quality? Planned obsolescence I guess. Thanks for the mention.

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