There are a number of factors to consider when you are a recent college grad looking for a phone plan. You may be getting your own phone plan for the first time, or perhaps you had a phone plan in college that just doesn’t cut it anymore. If you’ve taken the time to peruse the available options, one of your first conclusions may well have been: there are too many options.
We have compiled research and compared plans across dozens of companies, and this article will discuss what we found and answer these questions.
- Why are phone plans so expensive?
- When is the right time to switch carriers?
- Do I need unlimited data?
- What phone should I buy?
- And more!
Perhaps the most obvious place to start is the cost of the plan. When you are browsing for plans, it is important to set your sights on a price point. As in all things cell phone plan-related, it is not that simple. There are plans that are dirt cheap, in fact, FreedomPop offers a plan that’s completely free. It comes with 10 minutes of calls, 10 texts, and 25 MB of high-speed data. While this works for some, we’d wager you are looking for more than this barebones plan. When you are searching for a new carrier and a new plan, you should keep in mind the data you want.
Most plans these days come loaded with unlimited talk and text, or the options to get unlimited talk and text are really cheap. For major wireless companies, a lot of the wireless plans are unlimited data plans, and they are very expensive.
Premium Wireless Plans
If you’re getting a plan from a major wireless provider, expect to pay over $60 a month on the plan alone. The basic unlimited plan from T-Mobile starts at $60 a month, the basic unlimited plan from Verizon starts at $70 a month, and AT&T has similar prices. These plans, of course, come with benefits like a lot of high-speed data and some free streaming services. They also often run new-customer deals which can be nice but be wary whenever signing up for one because there may be strings attached that result in having to pay extra in the future.
If you want a plan from a major wireless provider, expect to pay between $50 and $80 a month for your service. This is almost always more than receiving service from MVNOs, but it comes with one major advantage: you have priority wireless service. MVNOs lease bandwidth from major wireless companies, which means that their users don’t have the same reliable premium network service that is available with major wireless networks.
Major wireless networks are faster, more reliable, and offer more perks than MVNOs at a substantially higher price. If you get a plan from an MVNO, expect to pay anywhere from $0 to $50 a month for your service. While we do not expect FreedomPop’s free cell phone plan to be a good match for recent college grads, it puts forward an important idea. Depending on what you are looking for, MVNO plans can save you a ton of money on your cell phone bill. This is not a secret or a life hack that the major wireless networks don’t want you to know, because you are making sacrifices in the amount of data you receive and the security of high-speed data when you switch over to an MVNO.
Let’s dive a little deeper into the big difference between major wireless networks and MVNOs. Major wireless networks construct and maintain the cell towers that power their networks. That maintenance increases the cost of their plans, along with a variety of other business-related reasons. The upside of that is that as a customer from a major wireless network you will always have access to their highest data speeds.
MVNOs lease that network from the companies, meaning they don’t own networks of their own. For the most part, MVNOs are able to provide their customers with high-speed 4G LTE and 5G data just like major wireless companies, but there is never a guarantee that that will be the case. If you are in an area with a Verizon MVNO and their bandwidth gets dangerously low, you and all of the other MVNO users will receive a harsh bottleneck on your data speeds until the area clears up.
How Much Data Ddo You Use?
The major area where there are no differences between MVNOs and major wireless networks is, of course, on WiFi. It is essential that you figure out how much data you use. That lets you pick the best plan and influences how much you should expect to pay for a cell phone plan. Someone who uses a lot of data each month benefits from knowing that they will never be bottlenecked, while someone who works from home does not need that same security. Let’s jump into the second major impact on how much recent college grads should expect to pay for a cell phone plan: whether or not they want it to be unlimited.
2. To be Unlimited or not to be Unlimited
The next question at hand is whether or not you need unlimited data. This is different for everyone, but it comes down to your data usage and what you use that data for. If you want to save money on your cell phone plan, a limited data plan is the way to go. Getting a limited data plan with an MVNO is when the savings start to pile up. There are a wide variety of plans on a bunch of carriers between $10 and $30 that give a few GB with unlimited talk and text on the same network that Verizon, T-Mobile, or AT&T use.
MVNOs vs Major Wireless Networks
The great majority of unlimited plans have an asterisk next to “unlimited.” They really just supply a set amount of their highest-speed data before deprioritizing that user. Major wireless companies often provide a certain amount of premium wireless data before deprioritizing the user where they too can have their data slowed if the bandwidth is undergoing serious strain. This would happen after the MVNO customers get throttled, of course, but it is still possible.
For MVNOs, this usually manifests where unlimited plans provide a set amount of high-speed data and if you go over that they throttle your speeds to 2G or 3G speeds. That’s pretty slow. If you are trying to do anything more than send e-mails and texts it will have noticeable effects. A lot of mobile sites and social media platforms are built around 4G LTE speeds, making anything less than that cause difficulties.
For a recent college grad, we are taking into account the idea that they want to have access to high-speed data all the time, so that means picking out a plan that provides enough data to make it through the month without hitting the cap. Be wary, especially of MVNOs, that tout unlimited plans because those are the ones which you have to pay close attention to. For instance,
- Mint Mobile’s unlimited plan caps users at 35 GB
- Tello Mobile’s unlimited plan caps users at 25 GB
Just about every unlimited plan on an MVNO caps the high-speed data available to its users, somewhere between 20 GB and 50 GB a month. It all comes down to the amount of data you use.
Benefits of an Unlimited Plan
There are a plethora of benefits associated with unlimited plans. For starters, an Unlimited plan that’s truly unlimited lets you use as much data as you want without any repercussions. As a recent college grad, if you spend a lot of time browsing social media or streaming video using data, shelling out the extra $40 or so a month is worthwhile.
At this point, checking out how much data you use each month is crucial to figuring out how much you should expect to pay for a cell phone plan. If you are comfortably using, say, 20 GB or less each month, that opens up many unlimited MVNO plans, which will save you a lot of money. If you use even less or are willing to use even less data, that opens up the door for limited data plans, where you can expect to pay between $10 and $40 a month, bringing in even bigger savings.
3. Your Phone Counts
The other huge part of this equation is your phone. At some point, you will look to upgrade. Phones are incredibly expensive, and they appear to only go up and up in their pricing as time goes on. The Apple iPhone 14 and Samsung Galaxy S, for instance, are both $800, and both of them have upgraded versions that get even more expensive. A lot of phones have two or three-year payment plans, and if you get one of those new phones on a two-year payment plan it adds $33 to your monthly phone bill. That’s nothing to scoff at.
It all depends on how much you want to pay, and what you are looking for in your phone. Your cell phone plan can quickly rise to over $100 a month if you are buying a new phone and getting a plan with a major wireless carrier. As a recent college grad, your phone plan can fluctuate tremendously when it comes down to the price you pay every month. There’s nothing wrong with getting the new iPhone and getting an expensive phone plan as long as you are using the perks that you receive.
What are you Looking for in Your Phone?
A lot of new phones are focusing on the processing power within, the camera, and the battery life. The difference between the iPhone 14 (priced at $800) and the iPhone 12 ($600) is a slight processing power upgrade, a slightly more robust battery, more storage, and a stronger camera. There are not many activities on a phone that use full processing power, which is already very impressive. A better camera is nice if you want to take a lot of pictures, but is it worth the $200? Maybe not. The comparison between the iPhone 14 and the iPhone 12 leaves a little to be desired, but it is easy to take that further and further back.
Older iPhone models are priced between $300 and $600 without any deals, giving you the core features of the iPhone without coming at such a cost. We used iPhones in this example, but there are a ton of affordable smartphones that allow you to stay connected without having to pay an arm and a leg for a new phone.
Regardless of what phone you wind up getting, make sure it is something whose features you will use in your day-to-day life.
New versus Used
Another way where recent college grads can save a bit of money is with used phones. There is a kind of used phone that is “certified pre-owned,” which are the phones that are returned after only a little bit of time in someone else’s hands. A lot of these phones have barely been touched but are sold at a lower price point because they are used. Getting a used phone has its advantages (lower cost) but comes with the danger that something might go wrong with it in the near future.
Example Phone Plans for Recent College Grads
As a recent college grad, figuring out a way to save on your cell phone plan is great for some. Others may need the more robust and expensive plans offered by major wireless networks. Regardless, we’ve compiled a list of example cell phone plans for recent college grads to help you see what’s available. This list goes, generally, from the least expensive to the most expensive plans.
Freedom Pop’s Free Plan
The free plan at Freedom Pop is uniquely cost-effective and is on this list as a plan for those who spend just about all their days in WiFi zones. If you have a phone that allows WiFi calling, this could let you cut down your phone bill to just about nothing while retaining your number and other features. We recommend this plan for recent college grads who need to do some serious budgeting. A plan with barely any texts, calls, or data means you have to build your day around these serious limitations, but it does save you a lot of money. As a recent college grad, you can expect to pay between $0 and $10 with Freedom Pop’s Free Plan, as you have the ability to add on more minutes, texts, and data as you need to.
- $30-$40 for unlimited talk, text, and data
Mint Mobile has pros and cons when it comes to its phone plans. The best part about them is that they have a robust unlimited plan for only $30 a month, but to get that price you need to sign on for a 12-month contract. Otherwise, it costs $5 or $10 more.
- $30-$45 a month
Visible is a relatively new company that offers up only unlimited plans at a great cost and with access to Verizon’s network. Visible, like Mint, has a robust unlimited plan that lets medium data users gain access to a lot of data each month. Their unlimited plus plan (the $45 option) is on the expensive side, but if you use a lot of data it is a great way to save money while getting an unlimited plan that looks a lot like a major wireless unlimited plan.
- $50 for unlimited talk, text, and data
Fifty dollars a month isn’t too cheap when it comes to a monthly plan, but their plan comes with a lot of high-speed data and other perks to make up for its increased cost.
- Postpaid — $60 for unlimited talk, text, and data
T-Mobile is standing in for our phone plans on major wireless networks. Their plan, while the most expensive on this list, is perfect for people who want the certainty that their service will remain strong no matter how much data they use or how strained the bandwidth of their carrier is.
As a recent college grad, figuring out how much you want to pay for your cell phone plan can help narrow down the plans in your budget. If you know, for instance, that you want to pay under $50 a month, consider an MVNO. If you know that you need access to high-speed data all the time, a major wireless plan may be best for you. Switching cell phone carriers is always a challenge, and we wish you the best of luck!