Written by Spotloan

Do you enjoy paying a lot of money every month to a company you don’t like? For TV channels you don’t watch?

Probably not. But that’s what millions of Americans with cable (or satellite) TV packages are doing.

  •  Cable and satellite TV bills keep going up. Earlier this year, pay-TV packages rose 3 to 4 percent, according to Consumer Reports. By comparison, the U.S. inflation rate is currently 2.2 percent.
  •  Along with package rate hikes, cable and satellite TV providers are imposing add-on charges such as “regional sports fees” that further drive up monthly bills, says Consumer Reports.
  •  Pay TV providers are among the least popular companies in America. In a January 2017 Yahoo Finance article, “America’s Most Hated Companies,” Comcast ranked no. 1, with DISH Network no. 8 and Charter Communications (which owns Time Warner Cable) at no. 12. The companies are often criticized for poor customer service, among other complaints.
  •  Americans get an average of 206 TV channels but watch less than 10 percent of them, Nielsen reports.

Ready to cut the cord yet?

The good news: There are more live TV services streamed over the internet to choose from, including new offerings from YouTube and Hulu. Bundles can cost as little as $20/month, with add-ons (like HBO) available. There are no contracts or early termination fees, as you sometimes have with cable and satellite TV packages.

But there’s a lot to figure out before you cut the cord. Here’s how to get started.

Make a list of your must-have channels

What are the TV shows and channels that you and your family can’t live without? Create a prioritized list. (The more household members who, say, want ESPN or HGTV, the higher they are on your priority list.) Then, check cut-cording guides to determine which streaming bundles offer all or at least most of those channels. CNET has a useful channel-by-channel guide. The New York Times’ summary of streaming TV services is worth a look, too.

Read up on the streaming services you’re considering

Currently, there are five major live TV streaming services: YouTube TV, Hulu Live, DirecTV Now, Sling TV, and PlayStation Vue. Each has have its pros and cons. For example, Sling has the lowest-priced skinny bundle at $20. You can add small, themed channel bundles to your package at low cost as well, such as ‘Sports Extra’ ($5). But some users have complained of Sling’s streaming performance and customer service, as you can see from this Cord Cutter Forum. Also, on some Sling channels, you can’t skip commercials—and many of the ads are cheesy.

Before you decide on a service, Google it to get a sense of its advantages and disadvantages. If you’re considering Sling, for instance, use search phrases such as Sling customer complaints, Sling reviews, and Sling user reviews.

Do the math

Exactly how much do you pay per month for your current pay TV service? If you have a bundle from Comcast or other provider, your bill may not separate TV from phone and internet service charges. In that case, call your provider’s customer service. Ask the representative to break down the rates for you. If you get your home internet and TV service in a bundle, ask how much it would cost just for internet, or internet and phone (if you’re currently getting phone service). And as always, find out if there are any current deals.

While you’re at it: Ask what download and upload internet speeds you should be getting.  Download speed is important for streaming, as you’re literally downloading the video over your internet connection.

Finally, ask if you have the most current home internet router. If you don’t have the latest model, ask to have it shipped to you. (You shouldn’t have to pay to get the latest router. But if you get your router from your cable or satellite provider, you’re already paying a monthly fee to lease it.)

In addition, take a close look at any extras you may want from the streaming TV service. Example: Some services, such as Sling, charge extra for a ‘cloud DVR’ option, which lets you record live TV for viewing later. (Sling’s cloud DVR option is $5/month.) You may also need to upgrade to a more expensive package in order to stream video to multiple devices—which many families will want.

Once you have all those details, add up the cost of your broadband internet service and any streaming services you want. Compare it to what you’re currently paying for TV and internet. If there’s not much difference, you’re probably not a good candidate for cord cutting.

Test your home network’s speed

Streaming TV needs a fast broadband internet connection. Before you decide on a streaming TV service, make sure you have the internet service needed to support it. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recommends 4 megabits per second (Mbps) or more for HD-quality video streaming.

You can easily test your network’s speeds using the free Speedtest. The service is available in a web browser or as apps for iOS, Android, Amazon, or Windows Phone. You can also download Speedtest for Apple TV.

Invest in a streaming device (if needed)

To stream live TV or video to your TV set, you’ll either need a ‘smart TV’ with built-in streaming support or a streaming device that connects to an HDMI port on your HDTV. Keep in mind that not all streaming TV devices support all the pay-TV services. For example, currently, you can only watch YouTube TV on an actual TV by streaming it from a connected mobile device, like an iPhone or Android device, to a Google Chromecast or Apple TV.

Popular streaming devices include Amazon Fire, Apple TV, Roku, and Google Chromecast. PC Magazine reviews the best media streaming devices of 2017, as does CNET, Tom’s Guide, and The Wirecutter.

You might also want an HDTV indoor antenna to receive broadcast channels such as NBC, ABC, CBS, and PBS for free. The Wirecutter’s pick, Antennas Direct ClearStream Eclipse, is $40 to $57.  

Try before you buy

All streaming video services offer a free trial, usually for one week (though YouTube TV offers one month free). If you’ve got plenty of time to test, try one or two services during the same week to make direct comparisons. Otherwise, try one at a time. Make notes of the pros and cons. Get others in your household to test the service, too. And access the service on multiple devices, if possible, such as a TV, tablet, and smartphone, to see if performance varies.