If you renew a contract with AT&T or Verizon Wireless, choose a cell phone you can live with for a long time. Both carriers are scrapping the option to buy a new phone at a discount after 20 months. The new rules, which affect Verizon customers whose contracts expire in January 2014 or later and AT&T customers whose contracts expire in March 2014 or later, require you to wait two years to get a phone at a subsidized price.
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If your phone bites the dust (or falls in the water) early, you needn’t pay full freight for a new one. Both carriers allow a member of a shared account who is eligible for an upgrade to transfer it to a fellow account member. Or you could reactivate a device you’ve used in the past or buy a used or refurbished phone on a site such as Amazon or eBay.
Don’t overlook manufacturer warranties, which often cover malfunctions for the first year. If you bought the phone with a credit card that provides an extended warranty, you may get an additional year of coverage. A warranty won’t cover damage that you cause. But if you use a card with purchase protection and damage the phone within three months of buying it, you might get a reimbursement, refund or replacement. Insurance probably isn’t worth it; you’ll typically pay $5 to $7 a month per phone plus a deductible of about $100.