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Posted: 6:00 a.m. Friday, Jan. 18, 2013

More Americans going with no-contract cell phone carriers

They trump the Big 4 contract players in customer service, value


If you're with a contract carrier for your cell phone service, odds are you're not happy.

New data from the American Customer Satisfaction Index reveals that people are from unhappy to miserable with the Big 4 contract players. The highest rated one is Sprint, while the lowest rated is AT&T. But all four, including T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless, got anemic scores on customer satisfaction.

The really good scores went to the no-contract wireless companies. They offer high speed service, the latest and greatest Androids, and now many of them will let you take an unlocked iPhone onto their network. That's a big cost savings and much better customer satisfaction.

With the no-contract guys, you'll typically pay more for your phone upfront, but what you pay per month for service is so much lower. Straight Talk, for example, is one of the fastest growing no-contract providers and charges $45 a month for unlimited talk, text, email and a decent amount of web surfing.

So the contract guys will give you a phone for free, or maybe $99, or maybe $199 if you absolutely have to have the latest and greatest fancy-dancy phone. The non-contract guys, meanwhile, have higher price points on the phone. That means the $99 phone may become $149, and the fancy smart phone may go for $259 to $329.

But don't forget about the wonderful flexibility of the no-contract cell carriers. If you don't like the service, you bolt. Try doing that with one of the Big 4 when you're under contract and you'll typically get stuck with an early termination fee of up to $350!