Phones are expensive. And I’m not just talking about the device itself (although a new flagship phone will easily run you back $500 or more) but the plans themselves. Most people pay an average of $71 per person, per month. There are discounts for family plans, sure, but it can still add up pretty quickly.
However, it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, you can probably just about cut your phone bill in half without sacrificing too much in the way of service. But, before we can get into how, we’ll have to take a quick peek at how your phone bill actually works.
Understanding Your Phone Contract
“But I’m not on a contract!” You are probably thinking. It used to be that phone companies would offer customers free phones in return for signing a 2 year contract. However, T-Mobile brought about the first “no contract” plans a couple years ago, and since then everyone else has jumped on the bandwagon. But, despite what you might think, that doesn’t mean you can switch whenever you want.
When you got your phone, chances are that you signed up for financing for your device. There are a dozen different names for the financing programs (AT&T’s is called “AT&T Next” for example) and they can range anywhere from 12 – 30 payments. The payments can go from as little as $10 per month to $35 or more per month. The payment program allows for customers to pay for the devices over time instead of forking out $400 – $700 up front for that new iPhone or Galaxy device.
However, there’s a catch: you have to stay on the program for the full period or else pay the remaining price immediately. In other words, it’s a contract. And that’s totally okay, as long as you’re fine with staying on the carrier for 30 months. And, to make things even more lucrative, once you get close to the end of the contract, you’ll probably be offered a “free” upgrade, provided you sign another financing agreement. Sound familiar?
If your phone has been financed and you want to switch carriers, then you have to fork over the remaining price (which is usually more than it would have been to break the old 2 year contracts) before you can leave. Unfortunately, if you’re already in one of these contracts, then the only option you have is to pay the money or wait it out. There’s no other option. You can check how many payments you have left and what the payout amount is through your carrier.
The first step to saving money on your phone is to complete any phone financing options that you currently are under. The good news is that once you’ve paid it off, the device is yours to keep, and you are free to move to another carrier.
How to save money on your phone
No matter what carrier you have, you can get a very similar level of service for half the price simply by switching to a prepaid plan.
While prepaid does have a certain reputation, the truth of the matter is that if you pick the right service, you’ll likely not even notice that much of a change in coverage and you’ll easily pay half of what is offered. In fact, all four of the main network carriers own multiple prepaid brands, which use the same or a similar network.
If you’re using Sprint:
You have dozens of options. The two best choices are Boost Mobile or Virgin Mobile, both of which are owned by Sprint and use similar networks. Sprint’s prepaid brand (creatively called Sprint Prepaid) is not a good value compared to those two. Plans often start at $30, and unlimited data is available. The catch here is that you may have to buy a new phone to use these services; although there are some devices which can be activated via Boost. Learn more about Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile.
If you’re using T-Mobile
T-Mobile does offer prepaid options which are pretty decent. However, the company itself also owns MetroPCS, which runs on the same network. MetroPCS features plans which range from $30 – $60. Any T-Mobile phone can be used for these plans, and most AT&T phones are also compatible, provided they have been unlocked by the carrier. Learn more about T-Mobile Prepaid and MetroPCS.
If you’re using Verizon
Out of the four main carriers, Verizon has the fewest prepaid options, although a few popular ones include Page Plus and Verizon’s own prepaid segment, which offers plans starting at $40 per month. Verizon prepaid is going to have better coverage than Page Plus, but Page Plus offers cheaper plan options, so that’s really down to where, exactly, you need service. Both companies allow for device activation. Learn more about Verizon Prepaid and Page Plus.
If you’re using AT&T
In addition to AT&T’s prepaid brand, GoPhone, the company also owns Cricket Wireless. While Cricket started as a phone company for the elderly, the brand now focuses on prepaid offerings and has some pretty decent deals. Plans start at $30, and AT&T devices (and a few others) can be used on the service. Learn more about AT&T GoPhone and Cricket Wireless.
There are also, of course, literally dozens of other options for all four of the carriers, plus US Cellular’s prepaid division (which is actually not too shabby). I recommend avoiding TracFone, StraightTalk, Net10, and similar companies as they all are owned by the same company and are among the least reputable options. Page Plus is actually also owned buy the same company, but it is by far the most reputable of the bunch.
A few popular prepaid companies include Consumer Cellular, Ultra Mobile, Project Fi, FreedomPop, Red Pocket Mobile, and US Mobile. Ting, a postpaid carrier that allows users to create their own plans, is also a great option! Each of these companies run on different networks, but all have decent pricing and plenty of options. Just make sure that your device will work with the new carrier!
The only downside to going prepaid is that you’ll have to purchase any new devices outright, which means quite a hefty sum if you are a fan of the nicer phones. However, nice phones like iPhones and even flagship Androids can last quite a while. And, really, depending on what all you use your device for, chances are you really will be fine with a cheaper $100 – $200 device. It’s all perspective.
Regarding the prepaid companies, Ting is actually postpaid rather than prepaid (but they still have good prices of course!). I’ve been using US Mobile (www.usmobile.com) since the middle of last year and I pay $14/month so it might be worth adding them? They’re prepaid.
Thanks for the clarification Eva! I’ll update the article. And US Mobile is a great choice, I can’t believe you pay only $14! That’s awesome!! There really are a ton of prepaid options out there; it’s just a matter of finding them!! Thanks for the comment and for catching my mistake! 🙂