Nowadays, it seems everyone has a cell phone. What if you just want a really basic phone plan for light calls (“are you here yet?” “where are you?”) and emergencies? Or you may be thinking about getting an additional phone for grandparents, kids, or other relatives. The good news is now you can have all that convenience for less than $10 a month.
Here are the cheapest prepaid cellular plans with nationwide coverage assuming light usage. The benefits of prepaid are that there are no credit checks, no long-term contracts, and most phone taxes other than sales tax are already rolled into the cost instead of an extra $5 a month per line. They may even work with smartphones for people who are okay with data usage only where there is WiFi coverage (potentially home, office, and many cafes).
You may have never heard of some of these names before, but if you look under the hood you may find they use the same cell towers as the big companies (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint) all at a fraction of the cost.
With a T-Mobile Prepaid plan, you can buy 1,000 minutes for $100 that will last an entire year before they expire and you are required to refill. That’s $8.33/month. In addition, that will get you on their Gold Rewards plan which gets you 15% extra minutes on future refills and in future years you can buy as little as 35 minutes for $10 or 460 minutes for $50 and that will also last you an entire year. The Gold Rewards status lasts as long as you keep your prepaid account account, so in future years you could be spending just $50 a year or less.
New basic phones are about $25, and new Android phones start at $99 direct from T-Mobile. You can also buy a SIM card to put in an off-contract T-Mobile phone or any unlocked GSM including the Apple iPhone.
Page Plus Cellular (Verizon MVNO)
By purchasing bulk minutes from the Verizon Wireless network as a MVNO, Page Plus Cellular offers the coverage of Verizon and the ability to use off-contract Verizon phones (iPhones are blocked still I believe). You can buy a 2,000 minute card for only $80 that will also last an entire year before you are required to refill. Note that there is a $0.50 per monthly service fee charged on the 25th of every month deducted from the refill card balance. That’s only $6.67 a month.
Alternatively, you can buy 100 minutes for $10, which lasts 120 days after activation. That can result in only paying $30 a year ($10 x 3, though you still have a $.50 a month service fee which reduces your balance and thus minutes), but you have to watch your minute usage and renewal dates carefully. They also have a $12 recurring monthly plan that provides 250 minutes, 250 text mesages, and 10mb of data. Their own phone selection is limited but you can buy off-contract Verizon phones from eBay, just watch out for stolen phones with banned IMEI/ESNs.
H20 Wireless (AT&T GSM MVNO)
H20 Wireless sells 2,000 minutes for $100 that is valid for one year. Additional minutes are 5 cents, and additional texts are 5 cents each as well.
You can use old AT&T phones on H20 wireless. This also means you can rock an AT&T iPhone (can be locked, off-contract) and look like the cool kids but only pay $100 a year for service instead of $700+. Of course, you won’t have a data plan. (If you want data, check out StraightTalk where you can get a $45 Unlimited plan using AT&T iPhone via their SIM card.)
Kajeet (Sprint MVNO)
Kajeet is meant for kids and has built-in parental controls. But they do have a really cheap $4.99 a month plan that includes a dinky 10 minutes included. Additional minutes are 10 cents each, and text messages are 10 cents each as well. Not a bad option for very low usage.
You can buy a new Android phone from them right now for $99, but other than that the phone selection isn’t very good for cheap phones (important for kids that lose/break them often). The bad news is that the parental controls mean that you can’t just bring over any old Sprint phone either.
Other providers with good low-usage options (but not as good as those above in my opinion) include:
- TracFone (MVNO for Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint) You can buy 800 minutes for $120 good for one year, which includes double minutes on all future airtime. You can later buy 120 minutes for $20 that lasts 90 days, or $6.66 a month.
- PlatinumTel (Sprint MVNO) $10 for 90 days, with no minutes included. Instead, you pay a flat 5 cents a minute for talk, 2 cents per text, or 10 cents per MB.
By Jonathan Ping | Frugal Living | 4/26/12, 1:07am