10 Things to Know Before You Sign Up for a Cheap Phone Plan

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Switching from Verizon, AT&T or T-Mobile to a cheaper cell phone service provider is an easy way to save $50 or more per month.

I’ve personally tested more than 15 low-cost cell phone carriers over the years. In this article, I’ll share what I’ve learned and how it can put more money back in your wallet.

1. $25/Month Is the Price to Beat for Unlimited Data

If you’re with Verizon, AT&T or T-Mobile, you may be paying close to $100 a month for a single line of service on a traditional postpaid plan. 

Since 2019, I’ve had an unlimited data plan with Visible.

This Verizon-owned service has shaken up the prepaid industry. Its single line plans start at $25 per month and offer truly unlimited talk, text and data — including mobile hotspot.

Read my full Visible review here.

2. Multi-Month Plans Can Offer Big Savings

Most of the cheap cell phone service providers that I’ve tested are prepaid carriers, which just means that you pay for service in advance. 

Monthly plans are most common, but multi-month plans are also worth considering.

One of my favorites is from Mint Mobile. This service has a few plans, but the unlimited plan is my top pick. The three-month introductory plan is $90 total, which breaks down to $30 a month.

If you like the service and want to continue, you’ll need to prepay for 12-months to keep that $30 a month price for unlimited. 

Mint Mobile runs on T-Mobile’s network. So if you prefer T-Mobile’s network over Verizon, Mint Mobile may be a better low-cost option than Visible.

3. Unlimited vs. Fixed Data Plans: Which Is Best? 

Most people do not need unlimited data, but you may want an unlimited data plan anyway to not worry about tracking usage. 

Let me use T-Mobile Connect’s plans to explain. I like these plans for very light data users because they start at only $10 a month. 

But once you get to the $25 a month plan for 6GB of data or the $35 a month plan for 12GB of data, I start to wonder why you don’t just get an unlimited plan.

The price is about the same as the unlimited plans I’ve already mentioned, and you wouldn’t need to track data usage.

Bottom line: I recommend fixed data plans only for very light data users.

4. Network Hopping May Lead to Trouble

There are three major wireless networks in the United States: Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile.

The low-cost cell phone service providers that I’ve tested use the towers from one or more of those networks to provide coverage. 

I’ve already provided a couple examples:

  • Visible uses Verizon’s network
  • Mint Mobile uses T-Mobile’s network

Let’s say that you’re with Verizon and you like the coverage. I would suggest that you switch to a low-cost provider that uses Verizon’s network.

In addition to Visible, there’s US Mobile, Xfinity Mobile, Twigby, Total Wireless and more. 

I make this recommendation because I mostly hear complaints from people who switch networks at the same time they’re choosing a cheaper carrier. So if it’s your first time making the switch, stick with the network that you already have. 

Of course, forget that advice if you aren’t happy with your current network or you know that more than one network performs well in your area. 

Here’s a resource from RootMetrics to learn which network is best where you live. 

But know that coverage varies within a city or town. I think it’s best to ask your neighbors about the network they use.

Those conversations may prevent you from switching to a network with worse coverage. 

5. Premium Data Is Misunderstood 

There’s a lot of confusion about premium data. 

Yes, it’s true that the people who pay for the most expensive postpaid plans from Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile will get priority data. 

But that doesn’t mean data with a low-cost provider will be slow or stop all of a sudden!

For example, Cricket Wireless offers four lines of unlimited data for $100 a month. For this plan, the AT&T-owned carriers says “Cricket may temporarily slow data speeds if the network is busy.”

This type of language is common among low-cost cell phone service providers, especially with their unlimited plans. 

But through my testing of more than 15 cheap phone plans and using Visible as my personal line since 2019, it’s very rare that deprioritized data has affected my experience. 

As long as I’m able to stream video, surf the web and use all of my apps, I don’t really care if other people are getting faster data speeds.

6. Your Phone Options May Be Limited 

With all of the low-cost carriers that I’ve tested, I’ve been able to bring my own phone to the service.

You should be able to as well, but make sure that your phone is unlocked and network compatible before you sign up. Check compatibility directly on the carrier’s website.

Want to buy a new phone? Not all low-cost cell phone service providers sell new devices, but most do.

The selection isn’t as good as Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile with most of the discount carriers. But Xfinity Mobile is one that offers the latest Apple iPhone and Samsung Galaxy devices.

Plus, Xfinity Mobile runs frequent deals like $400 off a Samsung phone at the time of this writing.

Many of these low-cost providers offer 0% financing if you’re unable to pay for your new device in full. However, doing so may require a credit check.

I’ll admit that Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile offer better phone deals – sometimes free phones.

But even with those incentives, you’ll typically save money with a low-cost provider over time because the service plans are so much cheaper than the major networks.

7. Family Plans Offer Some of the Best Deals

Joining a family plan is one of the best ways to lower your monthly cell phone bill.

Cricket Wireless (AT&T) and Metro by T-Mobile (T-Mobile) are two great options, especially if you have four lines. Pay as low as $25 a month per line for unlimited data with Cricket.

If you have only two or three lines, I like US Mobile’s unlimited plans on Verizon’s network.

  • $30/month per line for 2 lines
  • $25/month per line for 3+ lines

For singles, I recommend the $30/month base plan from Visible that I mentioned earlier.

8. Perks Are Harder to Find

Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile include lots of perks with their unlimited plans. For example, T-Mobile Magenta MAX now comes with Netflix, Apple TV+ and Paramount+.

Some low-cost carriers have perks, but others don’t. 

You may have seen Metro by T-Mobile advertise Amazon Prime and Cricket Wireless promote its plan with HBO Max.

With low-cost carriers, I’ve found that perks are typically reserved for the most expensive unlimited plans and may require multiple lines of service.

My advice? Never sign up for a phone plan based solely on perks.

9. Switching Is Becoming Easier Than Before

Have you heard about eSIM? It stands for embedded SIM card, and this technology allows you to switch providers without waiting for a physical SIM card. 

Here’s the catch: Not all phones are eSIM compatible at this point. 

That’s why carriers like Mint Mobile and Visible have tools online to let you check compatibility. And if your device is compatible, you can activate your new service in minutes.

Don’t worry if eSIM isn’t available with your device yet. Your carrier will mail you a physical SIM card in that case.

10. Customer Service Is Hit or Miss 

It’s hard to find good customer service among wireless providers, even with Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile.

But know that many of the cheaper carriers don’t have the same level of customer support. Many have no retail locations and some don’t have 24/7 phone support.

I’ve mentioned Visible throughout this article. Its customer service is among the most limited.

The service doesn’t have any stores or even an 800-number to call for support. Everything is handled through the Visible app. But you can chat and request a callback.

Most people are able to change providers without ever needing to contact customer service.

If you want to keep your phone number, here’s a tip: Start the switching process about a week before your current plan expires in case there’s a delay with porting your number. 

Have you switched to a cheap phone plan? Add your tips in the comments below!

Keep Learning: Recommended Cheap Phone Plan Providers

9 thoughts on “10 Things to Know Before You Sign Up for a Cheap Phone Plan”

  1. After twenty years or so with Tracfone, my wife and I recently switched to Ting, so far we are 100% pleased. The biggest difference for us is that Ting is a post paid service, this means we never run out of data. Several times with Tracfone I ran out of data without knowing it, once when I was 600 miles from home and no Google Maps without data. We use very little data and each of us pay $12.50 per month or a total of $25.

  2. Good article.

    I personally use a pay-as-you-go phone as a way of avoiding monthly subscriptions and ultimately trying to save money.

    I also don’t have a data plan either. Instead, I take advantage of free public wifi whenever I need internet access on the go. This has served me quite well.

    Thanks for your thoughts 🙂

  3. I love my phone service with Tello. T-Mobile network. Customizable service is perfect for keeping cost under control.
    Currently I pay $8.07 total for 500 minutes, unlimited text and 500 mb data. I don’t use much data, relying on wifi primarily. But if I do exceed the data, it just throttles me down to 2G, fine for basic web search or game, not videos or extreme gaming.
    I have bumped it up to unlimited talk and 1gb data when I have been stuck for hours on hold or the power has gone out at home. That added $2/month.
    But cost starts at $5/month for texting only, with no talk or data, which would be great for a kid, that you want to keep offline, or a emergency phone. Add 100 minutes of talk for a dollar. I think for a senior who wants to keep their landline, it would be a low cost option.
    I have had no prob with the network since everywhere I go has towers.
    I laugh at the offers I get to save on my cell phone bill. They can’t come close.

  4. We have a couple of back up phones on Tello. We have been happy with them. I’m thinking about moving all our phones to them. They have very affordable and customizable plans.

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