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Smart Buying

Fewer Discounts on Cell Renewals

Phone subsidies are disappearing, but you can still find a bargain.

Amidst all the hoopla surrounding Verizon's release of the iPhone on its network, you may have missed this: Verizon's New Every Two program is ending. New customers are no longer being enrolled in the program, which allowed anyone signing up for a two-year contract to get a credit of up to $100 toward a new phone. Those renewing contracts can redeem the benefit one last time.

As of April 1, Sprint offers annual upgrade deals only to longtime customers and those with the priciest service plans; others must wait 22 months. Subsidizing the cost of expensive smart phones eats into profits. That means getting a phone at a good price is becoming trickier, as companies re-focus their strategies.

Explore the refurbished phones your provider sells. Carriers inspect and certify these phones, so they're often as good as new, and even a new model may be available a few months after it debuts. Verizon was recently selling a refurbished Motorola Droid X, which costs $200 new with a two-year contract, for $100. You might save by shopping at an authorized retailer, such as Best Buy or Radio Shack, or at a carrier's Web site rather than in-store.

Also check out Web retailers such as Amazon, eBay and Overstock. They can be a good option if you need a replacement phone mid-contract, sometimes discounting phones by hundreds of dollars from the manufacturer's price. A phone has to be compatible with your carrier or "unlocked" so it works with multiple servicers. Phones bought directly from Amazon and Overstock are returnable and usually come with short-term warranties. Independent sellers on Amazon and eBay set their own policies.