I have to admit that like many people I have gotten into a zombified pattern over the past several years with my cell phone bill. It seems to have somehow ballooned to the point of being just over $300 monthly for my wife and three college-aged children. Yes, we have the fancy phones with all the bells and whistles, and that may be changing in the not too distant future (shhh, don't tell my kids yet). I have been doing some research and uncovered some truly remarkable deals for the casual cell phone user. These are deals that are so fantastic that they really caught me by surprise. Even more remarkable, is that these plans are with companies most people have never heard of. What's more, the following plans are all 'prepaid' arrangements with no contract. Also, as far as I know, none require a credit check since you are paying in advance for your usage.
Keeping Your Own Phone Number
Although porting your phone number to a new carrier is technically possible, some prepaid carriers simply don't offer this option. Be sure to ask about this if this is an important factor in your own situation.
Bring Your Own Phone
One thing that has definitely changed within the world of prepaid cell phones is the notion that you are required to buy a new phone. Many carriers have become very flexible in providing the means to set up a plan for you with a phone you may have acquired while under contract with another carrier. Much of this change in the wind came with an agreement in December of 2013 among major carriers making it easier for consumers to unlock their devices (for the purpose of transferring to a new carrier). For those that want to get out of an existing cell phone contract, you will also find it fairly easy to 'settle' with your current carrier (check your contract for terms). This means that you can legally and morally work out a plan to drop your contract arrangement and begin a new month to month prepaid plan. It won't be free to buy out your contract, but understandably you must pay for the prorata value of any free phones you were bonused in your agreement and an early termination penalty.
Offers a basic free plan that includes 500 mb of data, 500 texts, and 200 voice minutes. For more details, check out their website here. How can they offer a free plan? First, their calls do not go over standard voice lines, but use the Internet. Secondly, like many such offers, the company's business model relies on a certain percentage of users going over their base usage and paying additional fees. One very nice feature about Freedom Pop is that unlike many other prepaid cell phone arrangements, they do not require that you buy a phone from them. Although I don't have all of the details, it is my understanding that in many cases, out of contract phones can easily be transferred to their service (especially those that were previously used on the Sprint Network).
An additional interesting item of note is that the company offers similarly amazing deals on both a mobile hotspot and home Internet as well. All in all, very much worth checking out. Although not available everywhere yet, the company is in the midst of a nationwide expansion.
2. H20 Wireless
Operates on AT&T's wireless network, so my guess would be that they would be more reliable than Freedom Pop (depending on your location). Plans start for as little as $10 per month. For just $30 per month you can grab an unlimited talk and text plan. They also offer service for a wide variety of devices, including the iPhone. There is also a plan that includes unlimited international calling (this feature may be very important to some users). They will also allow the use of some out of contract AT&T devices. For more details, check out their website.
This service is targeted to the children's market, offering a base plan of just $4.99 per month. What makes this plan especially interesting is a host of parental controls available to parents. One very cool feature is the GPS that allows you to know exactly where your child is. Perhaps the greatest of all parental controls is account limits that can be set for each phone. Like many of the other plans outlined in this article, the company seems very flexible in allowing customers to bring their existing phones. For more details, check out their website.
This company will not strike you as having remarkably low rates, but they offer what would be very comparable to a top quality package with a major carrier. They also offer the very latest phones. No contract and $40 monthly for unlimited talk, data, and text. So, if you want access to a prepaid plan with all of the bells and whistles of a big brand name carrier, this may be for you. Also, there is an unlimited international calling plan here as well. For details, check out their website.
5. Republic Wireless
Republic puts you on the Sprint Network with an unlimited talk and text plan for just $10 per month. One of the downsides here is that they seem to only offer one phone, the Moto X. The phone goes for $299 and is apparently quite a phone. The reviews of the device are off the charts, so I guess if you only have one option this is not a bad single choice to offer. I saw no option on their website to transfer in an existing device. For more details, check out their website.
6. Zact Mobile
One interesting note about writing this article is that each player in this niche has their only little unique twist. In the case of Zact, you can add additional phones to your account for just $4.99 per month. All users can then share the same plan. Also, like Kajeet (above) there are some very nice features for managing a child's phone. You can't bring your own phone to Zact, but the family sharing aspect of their service may make that a minor issue. Their site offers a very nice cost estimator allowing you to plug in your own family numbers to get a rough estimate of your monthly bill. They also carry over any unused credit to future months. For more details, check out their website.
What a cute name, but the price is even cuter. Just $19.99 for unlimited talk and text. They offer their own phones or the option to use an out of contract Sprint phone. They also feature a $39.99 monthly arrangement that includes unlimited talk, text, and data. For more details, check out their website.
Easy One Stop Shopping Through Amazon.com
An easy way to shop for devices and plans is through Amazon.com. The very cool thing about Amazon is the ability to grab a refurbished phone that will work with the plan of your choice at a substantial discount. By using the menu on the left hand side of the screen (using the Amazon link I just provided) you can quickly see a list of available options. What is truly remarkable is just how nice many of these phones are for less than $100. With this Amazon sort and shop tool you will quickly see how most of us are simply paying way too much with the major carriers.
This will take a little homework to find the best plan for your own unique situation. It should also be noted that service quality will vary widely based on where you live. This is why an article like this can really not select a #1 choice for everyone. This is one blog post, however, that I really need your input on, so here is the deal. I will monitor the comments on this one, and the most helpful comment will earn a $25 Amazon gift card (cut off date on this will be Feb 1, 2014). What plans have you used? Were you satisified? Please share the good, the bad, and the ugly (and also your general location so that this factor can also be considered by other readers here) and good luck on winning the gift card.