Phone Plans

Save Money Each Month With Affordable Phones and Phone Plans

By
Kyle Reyes
September 4, 2022

Phones and phone plans are constantly climbing in price. Without taking the time and pursuing each option it can seem like the cost of owning a phone (which is almost a necessity nowadays) requires more and more budget to it each month. Fortunately, there is more to the story than “phones are expensive.” With the right searches, the cost of phones and phone plans can be much more affordable than carriers may lead you to believe. Affordable, that is, without sacrificing the high-speed data and quality phones to which we have all grown accustomed. 

This article will cover the costs associated with a variety of phones and phone plans, what the differences are between low and high-cost plans, and plans that don’t check your credit beforehand. 

The Costs of Phones and Phone Plans

With major companies releasing a new line of phones every year, consumers can get trapped in trading in their phone before it’s paid off, meaning they always have a monthly payment to make on their phone. 

Fortunately, there are a wide variety of plans all at a variety of price points. Just about all of the costs are laid out on the table, but sometimes the company will ask for, say, unorthodox fees based on specific circumstances. More on that later! 

The way society has grown, it is almost impossible to go forward in your personal and professional life without a decent cell phone and a decent phone plan. With that in mind, it can be challenging to understand what each plan really provides, and one of the easiest ways in which to spend too much money on phones and plans is by paying for unnecessary bells and whistles. These unlimited plus plans and these new smartphones are filled with bells and whistles. For some, they are important additions that they utilize to the fullest extent. For others, they are merely financial weights. 

Monthly Cost Per Line

This is, perhaps, the primary expenditure for cell-phone-related bills. Not always, especially when paying off an expensive smartphone, but let’s dive into what makes up the cost of phone plans. First and foremost, it is data. Of the four major carriers (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon) the prices for their least expensive unlimited data plan varied from $60 to $80 a month. That’s a lot! With that, you get access to all the data. For some, this plan is necessary. There are people who spend a lot of time in areas with spotty or no Wi-Fi coverage, and having access to high-speed data with no cap is very valuable. 

All of these major carriers have been advertising their unlimited data plans, many of them hiding their limited data plans deeper in their website. This is mainly because the major carriers are switching to all of their plans having unlimited data as a baseline. It makes sense for them to offer unlimited data and then unlimited data plus other bells and whistles. For example, if you have only one line, there is a plan for $50 a month that comes with unlimited data and another plan at the same price that only gives you 4GB of data per month. There is not much reason to go for the limited data plan over the unlimited data plan. 

So, what does this all mean? Major carriers are moving to unlimited plans so you are paying for it even if you only use a tiny bit of data each month. Major carriers are not the only place to get phone service, however, and other companies, called MVNOs, are bringing a much more affordable set of plans into the equation. 

Cost of Smartphones

All phone companies advertise their phones at their monthly payment price, oftentimes keeping the actual cost in the much smaller, gray text at the bottom of the table. On the Verizon store, they advertise the iPhone 13 Pro at $27.77 a month for 36 months. That’s three years before you’ve paid off your smartphone. That is a lengthy period of time. While it’s much easier to pay a bit under $30 each month for three years than to shell out the $1,000 for the phone all at once, paying it off over three years has an additional effect.

It makes it much harder to change phone providers when you haven’t paid off your cell phone. Verizon will not allow users with a, say, half-paid iPhone to switch to a new carrier. This essentially locks them in to use Verizon for the duration of their phone payments. 

With some users purchasing phones more than once every three years, that traps them in a cycle of paying off their phone eternally and being Verizon customers eternally as well. Using Verizon as an example, their most expensive smartphone is priced at an astonishing $1,800 for the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G. More importantly, they have lots of phones with price tags between $700 and $1,100 that all allow the user to pay it off over the course of 36 months. 

It is easy to look at a monthly payment of between $10 and $40 a month and think that it’s easy to add to the budget, but it sneakily grabs customers and makes them stay customers until they pay off their phone or trade it in for a new one. 

Credit Check

Normally, when you purchase a phone from a carrier, you have to pass a hard credit check. The exact numbers vary from carrier to carrier, but when you are planning to pay out your phone in 36 months and you don’t pass the check they will ask for a deposit up front. It acts as a down payment for your phone and the plan which you’ve purchased. 

Cheap Phone Plans — What’s the Difference Between $15 and $50 a month? 

The cost per line in a given company, as the months go by, can become a huge financial burden. As a single-line user, paying for the cost of an unlimited plan and the cost of a phone can get way over $100 per month with no signs of lowering for over a year. How did phones and phone plans get so expensive? There are, fortunately, other options. This section will discuss the alternatives to a major carrier, what the differences are, and what you get at each price point. 

Enter Mint Mobile

Mint Mobile is an MVNO, a mobile virtual network operator. These companies don’t have their own cell towers, instead, they piggyback off of existing cell towers. The upside is that they are cheaper, and the downside is that in times of high regional data usage, the MVNO companies lose a lot of data speed. 

Mint Mobile has embarked upon a big advertising campaign over the last year or so, and it’s drawn a lot of attention to wireless companies as a whole. Can MVNOs provide the same high-speed service at such a low price point? For comparison, the lowest single-line plan at AT&T is $50 a month, and the lowest single-line plan at Mint Mobile is $15. 

That is a significant change in cost. To answer the question — yes. MVNOs like Mint Mobile, Cricket Wireless, Boost Mobile, and many more are able to provide high-quality service at a much lower monthly cost. If you are looking for a way to lower your monthly phone bill, then switching to an MVNO is the play, right? Well, it’s not that simple. 

When you are with a major carrier and paying your bill, there are conditions that make it much harder for you to switch. As discussed earlier, before your phone is paid off in full, switching carriers is much harder. They are able to “lock” your phone, which, in essence, means it cannot be used by any other carrier. Phone carriers unlock your phone when you meet a certain number of conditions, the specifics of which we will discuss in the next section. 

Changing Your Carrier and Keeping Your Number

When you switch carriers, you are often given three major choices: what plan to use, what phone to use, and if you want to keep your number. This section will outline a possible thought process behind each one of these significant choices when it comes to changing carriers.

What Plan to Use?

This is a big question. What plan do you have now? Are you paying too much for comfort? If you’ve pinpointed which carrier to use (a feat unto itself) they often have a variety of plans to choose from. There are a lot of factors that go into choosing the right wireless plan, but we like to think of it as what’s the best plan to deliver exactly what you need at the lowest cost. If you are looking to lower your wireless bill, one way is to cut off any extra bits from your plan. 

One of the common ways to do this is to migrate from an unlimited plan to a limited data plan. Nowadays, many shops have free Wi-Fi. If you are able to limit your Wi-Fi to a few GBs each month, you may be able to get a much better deal with a limited data plan. 

Family Plans

As families grow, so does the ability to get discounted family plans. Many companies offer pretty sizable discounts as the number of lines per plan goes up. 

A very common way to save money on phone plans is with family plans. In fact, on most carrier websites their default line amount is three or four. That, before anything else, is a bit misleading. One very important aspect of saving money with your phone plan is reading all the details. There are so many little bits that are hidden behind word walls or mystified by the particulars of the plan that it is easy to think you’re getting one thing, and in reality end up with something much different. 

But, in general, all plans are less expensive relative to the amount of lines contained within the plan. In Verizon, for example, their starting unlimited plan is $65 for one line, but only $40 each line for three lines. Family plans are good for wireless companies, and if you can find a family plan that works for you, you can end up with significant savings over time. 

Now, to talk about the difference between a $50 per line plan and a $15 per line plan, a lot of it comes down to the carrier. Major network versus MVNO. Are you willing to sacrifice priority high-speed data for a significantly lowered cost? If so, the cost reduction for moving to an MVNO is marvelous. Their lines are significantly less expensive than the ones at a major network. 

Sample MVNO Plans — Cricket Wireless

There are a lot of MVNOs out there. Each MVNO operates on a major carrier’s cell towers, some utilizing multiples. There are actually MVNOs that are owned by a major carrier and there are MVNOs that use a major carrier’s cell towers. In this section, we will talk about Cricket Wireless and their plans.  

Cricket Wireless uses AT&T’s towers, providing excellent coverage across the nation. They have four plans, ranging from one to five lines. Cricket has a pretty impressive multi-line discount, and this comparison will show each plan for a one-line plan, and then a three line plan (their maximum plan size is five lines). Cricket has four main plans:

  • Unlimited Plus. $60 a month for unlimited data + 15 GB Mobile Hotspot
  • Unlimited. $55 a month for unlimited data 
  • 10 GB data each month for $40 a month
  • 5 GB data each month for $30 a month

From the beginning, Cricket’s least expensive plan is only $30 a month, which is significantly cheaper than what major carriers offer. Once their multi-line discount is applied, however, prices drop considerably more. This is what the three-line plans look like:

  • Unlimited Plus. $37 a month for unlimited data + 15 GB Mobile Hotspot
  • Unlimited. $30 a month for unlimited data 
  • 10 GB data each month for $30 a month
  • 5 GB data each month for $30 a month

The best value comes from the unlimited plan, which has been reduced in price to be the same as both of the limited data plans. At three lines, there is really no reason to go for either of the limited data plans. To Cricket’s credit, their phone store displays the total cost of each phone rather than the monthly cost if paid out over two or three years. 

No Credit Check Phone Plans

Low credit can cause problems when it comes to finding a phone plan that fits.

A fair amount of phone companies will run a hard credit check around the time that you set up your account. This is normally harmless, as if you have good credit you pass, they don’t mention it, and you can get on to your plan. If you don’t have good credit, however, they might ask for a security deposit that gets returned to you after a set amount of time. In order to avoid that, there are a variety of plans that do not run credit checks. 

MVNOs

MVNOs are king when it comes to plans that don’t ask for a credit check. Prepaid plans, also, are oftentimes without credit checks, as the money is paid up front. Here are a few of our favorite no credit check phone plans: 

  • Tello’s 1GB plan comes at $10 a month for unlimited talk and text and 1GB of data. At Tello, if you go over your monthly data allotment they lower your speeds significantly, but they don’t charge you for overage. You have the ability to add-on data as you see fit. 
  • Mint Mobile’s Unlimited plan is $30 a month and comes with unlimited talk, text, and data. This is an excellent option for those who want unlimited high-speed data while saving money on their wireless bill. 
  • Ultra Moblie’s 2GB plan is $19 a month and offers unlimited talk and text. At Ultra Mobile, you can pay month to month, but they offer savings if you commit to three, six, or 12 months of service. 
Saving a few dollars each month adds up as the months turn into years.

It All Adds Up

With the options on the table, it is not uncommon for users to switch and save on their monthly phone plan. The ability to take a phone bill of, say, $100 a month and bring it down to $40 has great immediate and long-term effects. In order to lower your phone bill each month, follow these two steps:

  • Get the phone you need, and one that doesn’t tie you to a carrier for over a year
  • Find the carrier that can give you the plan you need without all the extra bells and whistles.

Kyle Reyes
Kyles Reyes is a journalist from Pittsburgh, PA that specializes in the wireless industry, phone plan comparisons & advice.