Cheapest Smartphone Plans – March 2017

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Great Options for the Cheapest US Phone Plans

In this day and age, going without a phone is next to impossible. Keeping in touch is mandatory for professionals, and talking with friends or family is difficult without access to a phone. Most people who try to get a phone will also run into a few problems: the price of the hardware (the phone itself) and the service plan accompanying it.

Fortunately, there are options for people who need both cheap phones and price-conscious phone plans. In this article, I’m going to go over some cheap phone plans that will get you the service you need, for less. For practicality’s sake, hardware won’t be the primary focus; this will be about finding a service that keeps you in touch with your valuable contacts. You should be able to find something you like that fits your finances.

But, before we begin, have an idea of what plan best fits your profile:

  • Consider your budget and find a cap on how much you’re willing to spend on a phone plan annually
  • List out your needs first and your wants second; if cost is an issue, you must focus on the important things first
  • Decide whether you can meet a contract obligation or if you think you need to purchase minutes
  • Consider how often you use (or plan to use) the phone, text, and data services, as these can be big determiners of cost

There are plenty of other factors to consider too, such as location, service stability, and the type of phone you have. We’ll cover as many as possible so you can make an informed decision.

Cheap Networks

For the most part, low-cost providers are riding on major carriers but offer service in a smaller area. These mobile carriers vary by location, but they all focus on the same thing: affordable prices. They all provide services in different ways, so use our guide as a springboard to decide if one is right for you.

US Mobile

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To start off, our first choice for a cheap cell phone plan is US Mobile. US Mobile uses T-Mobile’s 3G/4G network, but instead of purchasing a monthly plan, you buy minutes instead.

This is good news if you already have a SIM-compatible phone; you can simply buy the plan with the accompanying SIM card from them. They also offer discounts for students (from specific schools) and offer a free 30-day trial.

There are a few things to note, though. The service fee is $2 monthly, which isn’t too bad. Talk, text, and internet data are all their own brackets. 100 minutes of purchased talk time doesn’t mean you also get 100MB of data. But this means you can customize each bracket to suit your needs, and you can change your plan every month if you need to. For those on a budget, this is exactly the kind of flexibility you’ll need, because being locked into a contract can cause trouble.

So, maybe you only plan to use phone services, but not text or data? You can get 750 minutes for $8. Or if you want the most minutes, unlimited texting, and 6GB of data, the cost is $59 monthly.

The downsides? Your phone must be unlocked and compatible with the SIM card sent to you. This won’t work for customers on a tighter budget who use simpler phone models.

If you’re in US Mobile’s coverage area, this is a good starting choice. If it’s unavailable, or you don’t have a smartphone for their SIM card, read on.

US Mobile Features:

  • Completely customizable plans included text, data, and phone minutes
  • Monthly prices as low as $9 for talk, text, and data
  • Can be changed on a per-month basis without a contract obligation

TracFone

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TracFone is another great, cheap option, operating in a similar fashion to US Mobile. TracFone is another prepaid minutes service, where the user buys the minutes they think they’ll need, rather than a flat monthly fee under contract. If they prefer, customers can also choose a no-contract monthly plan. These are great deals for people who might have unpredictable income or who can’t afford to get backed into contract agreements.

What if you don’t have a smartphone or SIM-compatible phone? Not a problem. TracFone has a stock of hardware to sell, along with its service plans. This includes anything from flip phones to reconditioned Android smartphones. Customers sweating with their wallets will be happy to know that TracFone has a great inventory of affordable devices. Some refurbished phones are even free with purchase of a monthly plan, even a minimal one. After that, it’s only a matter of purchasing minutes on a monthly or yearly basis.

New or existing customers recharge their minutes with airtime cards. Or, if they prefer, they can go to TracFone’s website to charge them through the website, or with a service representative.

The prices here vary, and of course, change based on the types of services desired. Plans have set amounts of talk, text, and data, and also last for different amount of time. For example, a $15 plan gets you 200 minutes, 500 texts, and 200 MB of data, and lasts for 30 days. A plan for 750 minutes and 60 service days, including data, will run $35. For $125 you can buy 1,500 minutes, 1,500 texts, and 1.5 GB of data, and have a full year to use it. Users can also opt for an auto-refill, which gives them 5% off their total charges.

For those who need a decent phone at a low price, with the same flexibility in prices and coverage, TracFone is another solid choice.

TracFone Features:

  • No contract–prepaid minutes as a service
  • Low one-time prices for a variety of phone choices
  • Air-Time cards can be bought or refilled online
  • Good one-size-fits-all base prices

Republic Wireless

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Some options exist that aren’t as established as other brand names. Republic Wireless is one of those options, and hopefully they can last to deliver another inexpensive option. Republic Wireless provides its own phone plans, although they lack some of the customization options from the previous listings.

While not as cheap as the previous listings, Republic Wireless boasts better call quality. This is because, according to them, their network adapts to your location using wireless signals to carry the burden of phone signals. This is good for those who have dealt with call quality issues or are more concerned about call quality in general.

As for pricing, the range here depends on what the user needs: it’s good if you don’t need data, but middling if you’re a heavy data user. Republic Wireless customers can pick from one of the monthly no-contract plans, starting at $15 a month. These include unlimited talk and text, but different plans offer different amounts of data, from 1 GB of data for $20/month up to 10GB for $90/month.

If you don’t have a smartphone or compatible device, Republic Wireless has a variety of options, primarily Android phones. Users can choose to purchase a phone all at once and then their respective plan, or finance a phone and pay the hardware fee for up to an allotted time. So, for example, a $179 phone may have a finance option for $11 a month, along with the chosen phone plan.

While these choices aren’t ideal for customers looking for a simple phone service, Republic Wireless is an excellent choice for anyone who relies on consistent call quality. If dropped calls or eroded coverage get in the way of performing personal and professional tasks, Republic Wireless seeks to shore up those weaknesses.

As a technology startup, Republic Wireless the has potential to continue making improvements as the business evolves. It’s worth the investment if you’re looking for new ways to improve call connections.

Republic Wireless Features:

  • Greatly improved call quality using an adaptive network
  • Runs from various WiFi signals instead of singular cell towers
  • Multiple prices and finance options available for a variety of phone types
  • New business with large growth potential, may reward loyal customers

Ting

So far, the choices for cheaper plans typically include text, data, and phone. However,  some customers may not need one of those options at all. For anyone who can do without minutes, or without texting or data, Ting is an inexpensive option.

For example, if a customer only buys a phone line with no text or data, monthly prices can be as cheap as $9 per line. This gets a customer 100 minutes of talk time, so if you’re not one to make calls often, this can cut down on phone bills severely. Additionally, it requires no contract obligations, and a person can add services/minutes as needed.

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An example of Ting’s pricing options.

Users are not limited to a single phone line. Ting has the advantage that multiple lines can be added to the same plan. This means all connected plans will use the same minutes and text until refills are required. So, two lines can use the same 1,000-minute pool, for example. Adding a line is not expensive either, at $6 for each new device. Ting allows for adding as many lines as desired, which can be helpful for staying connected.

As for hardware, Ting operates in a similar fashion to previous choices by offering a stock of phones. If you have a compatible phone, you can purchase a SIM card for $9. If not, you can buy one of their phones for as little as $55. Their network is compatible with older and new models, like the iPhone 7.

For newer customers, Ting also offers discounts and deals at certain times, which can be helpful for those looking to save. It’s another great competitive choice and an alternate option if previous choices don’t work out.

Ting Features:

  • Extremely cheap minutes plans as low as $3
  • Unlimited lines can be added using the same resource pool
  • Low phone prices starting $55
  • Numerous specials and discounts offered every month for bigger savings

Cheapest Plans with the Major Providers

Maybe you’re not interested in the options listed so far, but you want the cheapest possible plans from one of the major providers like Sprint, ATT, Verizon, or T-Mobile. It’s a sensible decision, as these providers have the biggest coverage areas and lend the most resources to their call quality. With focus on deals and the drive of competition, sometimes bigger is better in the phone world. This should give you a general idea of what your monthly call expenses would be with the different providers.

To start us off, let’s look at AT&T.

AT&T Mobile Share Plan

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AT&T focuses on an all-in-one plan that includes data, text, and talk. It can be shared between lines or used for just one device. The Mobile Share Advantage plan is one of their cheapest starting plans, as typical prices from major providers often easily break the $100 mark. It includes:

  • 1 GB-100 GB of Data, starting at $30/month
  • No Limits Talk/Text
  • “Unlimited” Data (After data is used connection is slowed to 128 kbps, slightly faster than dial up)
  • Compatible with most phones (can add phone as part of plan)

Prices begin at $30 for the 1GB plan, up to $450 for a 100GB plan, not including taxes, device fees, or finance options. There’s also a monthly “access charge” of $20/month per phone or laptop, and $10/month for other devices.

From there, it’s up to you to pick a device/phone. The prices will vary, and it’s unlikely you’ll want drop $500 or more to buy a phone all at once, so financing is available. This can be as low as $5 or more often around $30 a month.

Let’s assume you pick a mid-choice and select a $15 finance plan. Now, you’re at $65 monthly bill without taxes or any additional fees. Note that you will typically be required to sign an agreement for the device that extends two years (you can upgrade your device every two years according to ATT). In some cases, this requires a credit check.

Final Estimated Price: $50/month or more

While that sounds expensive, keep in mind that you get unlimited text and talk, whereas some of the earlier plans limited you to certain allotments before you would need to recharge. As for data, even if you use all your fast data, having backup access to the web is supremely useful. All this can be shared with others on your network too, so long as you pay for the extra lines. All things considered, it’s a decent plan, though has some requirements and contracts.

Now, let’s move on to Sprint, who over recent years has done a lot to expand their services and network.

Sprint XS Phone Plan

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It’s important to note that major carriers will often require credit checks before they give you certain types of deals. We’d like to assume you have stable credit, so we’ll be basing our model on that. However, if your credit is building or took some hits, we recommended you check out the other plans, as they’re far more lenient for customers in a pinch.

Having said that, the baseline Sprint XS plan starts at $20 for 1GB of data per month, plus a $20 per device monthly access charge.

All plans include at minimum the following:

  • Unlimited Talk/Text
  • High-Speed Data
  • “Unlimited” data at 2G speeds

From here, things get a bit trickier. If you’re buying a new device from Sprint, you’ll have to finance it (assuming you don’t want to pay all at once). Finance options vary based on the phone of your choice. Assume you want an iPhone, the monthly device fee is anywhere between $5-$30. If you’ve picked a decent phone with the most inexpensive option, your monthly charge is likely to be $70.

Final Estimated Price: $70/month (with purchased phone)

If you have your own device, you can dodge a lot of the contractual obligations. Most phone companies rely on their users wanting the latest smartphone to rope them into more payments, which is why prices tend to jump when you’re buying a phone with a service.

T-Mobile (Pay as you go)

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One of the biggest national carriers has potentially the cheapest plan of the lot. However, unlike contract plans, this is for prepaid minutes. You basically get all the advantages of a major provider, but instead of contracts or allotments, you’ll have to “recharge” everything. There’s no contract, initial start-up fee, or credit check. It’s one of the best options for those who need to pinch pennies.

T-Mobile’s cheapest pay-as-you-go plan is $3 a month, for 30 texts and 30 minutes of talk. This plan doesn’t include data, though. You can buy data passes to download 4G data for one day ($5) or one week ($10), but that will only work as an occasional fix.

Additionally, T-Mobile has a range of phones compatible with its 4G LTE services, without straining one’s budget too much. Combined with the fact that the company is continually expanding its network and coverage, users get the best of both worlds: great service for an incredibly low price.

Here are some of the benefits:

  • No contract obligation
  • Financing options available for smartphones
  • Compatible with most Android smartphone models
  • One of the largest cell networks in the US
  • Cheapest options started at $3 (not including additional fees for service charges)

Final Estimated Price: $3-$10/mo (Depending on usage and charge rate)

Ultimately, users benefit from this if they don’t intend on using a phone that much, except for emergencies or important calls. However, for a more streamlined service that covers all end with only a monthly bill, you may prefer another service.

Verizon Plan

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Finally, we’ll take a look at Verizon. Not too long ago they changed a few of their plan options, moving the plans into categories. This makes it a lot easier to grab a low-cost plan. At the bottom ring of their services is the “Small” plan, good for a single individual. The initial cost is $35. This gets you:

  • Unlimited Talk and Text
  • 2GB of High-Speed Data
  • Data Carryover, meaning you keep unused high-speed data for your next monthly cycle
  • Unlimited Data–slowed down data after high-speed allotment is used

Competition, as you can see, has forced Verizon to create better plans. This was good news for customers looking for a solid plan.

After the initial $35, you may choose to bring on your own device or choose from one of Verizon’s. If you buy a new one, you’ll need to finance a phone and pay a monthly fee. It’s here where things begin to add up. Even with the cheapest plan selected, you have to pay the “line” fee, which is an additional $20. On top of that is the phone. So your $35 initial charge jumped up to $85. If you have your own device, however, this plan becomes much cheaper.

Final Estimated Price: $55/mo (With Own Device) OR $70-80 With Financed Device

Making the Most of Your Plan

This list briefly covered some of the cheapest phone plans out there. However, the price is not the only determining factor in how much you’ll spend on phone plans. It comes down to use. In fact, these plans won’t do you a whole lot of good if you aren’t using your minutes, text, and data wisely.

Most phones will record the number of minutes each call takes. You can use this information to view precisely how much and how often your minutes are drained. If you’re making three 15-minute calls a day, the pricing options listed before will evaporate quickly.

So, ask yourself, are the calls crucial? If they aren’t, can you find an alternate way to communicate with the other line (like online messaging)? Weigh your needs, looking for methods to cut down on talk time.

If you plan to use data, you must practice extra care as well. Data is relatively expensive, no matter the plan you look at. If you have apps that constantly drain data, you may need to remove them or make sure they’re disabled most of the time. Check your data usage to get a handle on it. (The process for doing this is different on Androids and iPhones.) Limit internet activity with your phone, or otherwise say goodbye to those precious megabytes. If you need to download something on your phone, try to have your phone connected to a Wi-Fi network instead of relying on your data plan.

Lastly, if you text or have texting habits, it may be wise to cut back. The phone plans we’ve listed all have their own options for texting, but most come with limits, such as “five dollars for 200 texts.” For one who only texts every now and again, that can last a long time. But if you message friends or family on a frequent basis, you’ll find yourself spending more to recharge than you saved in the first place.

So, in review:

  • Monitor your phone usage and average call time
  • Record how often you make calls (daily, weekly, or monthly)
  • Prioritize the importance of your calls, from necessary to personal
  • Check your data usage and apps, if applicable, and determine if any of them routinely use data
  • Check the number of texts you send, and cut back when appropriate

Check Your Coverage Areas

Regardless of the plans and strategies above, none of it matters if you aren’t covered by the phone service’s network. For the most part, off-brand networks will piggyback off of major carriers to provide the same degree of coverage. This is good news, as it offers the same range as companies like Sprint or AT&T.

But it isn’t always the case. And even if your network choice does use a major provider, that’s no guarantee their cell range is where you are. This is mainly a problem for people living in rural areas. Smaller towns and country areas with lower populations don’t take as much traffic, and therefore don’t usually get the same level of coverage.

Double-check to see if the plan covers the area you will use their service in. You can typically do this by visiting their website (or calling customer support) and finding their coverage areas. After putting in your ZIP code, a colored area should demonstrate whether you’re in their cell range. You don’t want to purchase a new phone with minutes you won’t be able to use!

If your desired network does cover your area, the next step is to begin comparing prices and plans to see what’s the best fit for you.

Preparing a Budget

The last step in choosing the right plan is figuring out how much you can spend on phone. Once again, needs outweigh wants if on a tight budget. When searching for plans, estimate your expected costs based on use.

Remember to consider hardware fees and service charges well. For example, if you use 400 minutes a week, and your plan charges $5 for every 100 minutes, this doesn’t mean the total monthly bill is $20. You also have to look at the service cost for the provider’s SIM card, on top of any other fees. Additionally, if the phone you purchased is being financed, add that to your total expected cost.

So, if the service charge is $9, with a $5 weekly minutes cost, then your actual bill is somewhere around $30, not including taxes. If you finance the phone, it gets closer to $40 or higher. As you can see, the example adds up quickly. And this doesn’t include text and data. Most of the sites we picked will give you an estimated monthly bill, but look your actual bill over for any extra charges you were not previously aware of.

If you aren’t sure about your minutes usage, check previous amounts on your older phone service (if they’re available). That, or you can estimate; the average call goes from 5 to 15 minutes depending on the subject.

Ultimately, this budget favors customers who don’t use their phones very often. It might sound counterproductive, but when you’re trying to find cheap phone plans on a budget, cutting down on phone time is a big part of saving.

To reiterate:

  • Estimate your phone usage on a per-week basis and analyze the cost
  • Look for ways to decrease minutes used to save
  • Forego text and data to increase savings
  • OR add text and data along with service/financing fees to see your monthly phone costs
  • Set a monthly limit on how much you want to spend on a phone plan; if your costs exceed this, look for ways to trim back cost

Conclusion

You don’t have to buy the latest smartphone and most expensive plan to have phone service. Smaller companies like the ones listed above host numerous alternative options including no-contract plans that can help you save big on your total phone bills.

If you’re in dire need of cheap phone service, or just want to cut back, one of the plans above should get you on the right track to affordability.

Have any questions or tips about saving big with cheap phone plans? Let us know in the comments!

Posted by Douglas on January 26, 2017

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