Don't go to a carrier just to get phone financing

Ever since traditional two-year phone contracts fell out of vogue, carriers have come up with new and inventive ways of locking you in. One of the best examples of this is a monthly installment payment plan for a new device. It's so simple to walk into a carrier store and walk out with a phone for $0 down, paying that total over the course of the next 12, 18, or 24 months. It just gets baked right into your monthly phone bill — super easy.

But it's also super restrictive, because just like a two-year contract, your phone's cost is once again tied to the carrier. What if you want to take your phone elsewhere? You have to pay it off at the carrier, cancel your service, and move. And if you're financing a $700+ phone (or four), that could be tough — so now you're staying with a carrier you don't want to be with, just because you need longer to pay off the phone.

At the same time, people keep going to their carrier because they often think that's the only way they can get long-term, interest-free financing on what are increasingly expensive phones. But actually, you can get financing with identical terms from all of the major phone companies today, as well as from many retailers that sell phones — even phones that are exclusive to your carrier.

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Financing from the phone companies themselves

Samsung financing page

Phones are expensive, and the top-end models are seemingly increasing in price over time. More and more companies are also offering unlocked models that don't have the option of carrier financing. To help keep the phones accessible, they're offering no-interest financing for these phones.

HTC offers financing with up to a 24-month no-interest term (opens in new tab) for purchases over $599. That means a new HTC U11 at $649 will set you back $28 per month. Pay it off in full on time and you won't pay a penny over that price.

Samsung's financing offers a no-interest term for everything it sells over $250 (opens in new tab), with varying terms based on the amount financed. It typically reserves 24-month financing for $1499+ purchases but also offers it for its top-end phones; that would price out a new $725 Galaxy S8 at $30.21 per month over two years, again with no extra financing charges. The nice thing here is you can buy carrier-branded versions of the Galaxy S8 and S8+ with Samsung's financing, meaning you can get the exact model you want, without having its financing tied to the carrier.

Motorola will let you finance its phones using the third-party service Affirm (opens in new tab), and its terms are very similar to the others. 6-, 12-, or 18-month financing terms are available depending on the purchase price, and there's no interest or additional fees. The financing offers are available through Motorola's website, whether you're buying an unlocked phone or carrier-exclusive model.

Google has 24-month no-interest financing on phone purchases (opens in new tab) from the Google Store. So you can pick up that Google Pixel XL directly from Google for $32.04 per month, rather than going to Verizon just to pay over time. Accessories and less expensive items have 6- and 12-month financing options as well.

OnePlus has one of the weakest financing options, but then again, it also has some of the cheapest top-end phone models. When shopping on the OnePlus store (opens in new tab), all purchases over $99 are able to be financed with PayPal Credit over 6 months (opens in new tab) with no interest if paid in full in that term.

Financing from retailers

Amazon financing page

If the phone you're looking at doesn't have manufacturer-backed financing, there's a chance you could finance it with similar terms from a third-party retailer instead.

Amazon, where we all buy so many small things, offers convenient financing for larger purchases (opens in new tab), like phones. The financing is no-interest like the others, and the length of financing offered depends on the purchase price. A $149+ phone can be paid off over 6 months, but a $599+ purchase gives you 12 months to pay it off.

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Best Buy will let you buy anything in its store with monthly payments if you sign up for its own-branded credit card (opens in new tab). Purchases over $199 can get 6-month no-interest financing, and purchases over $399 get 12-month no-interest financing. This goes for unlocked phones but also carrier-branded phones, which is a great piece of flexibility — just be sure not to confuse it with the carrier-backed financing Best Buy also offers.

Seriously, consider financing outside of the carrier

As you can see, there are several different ways to buy the latest devices on a monthly installment plan while keeping that bill separate from your commitment to the phone carrier itself. It also gives you the ability to shop around and potentially find better deals at the manufacturer or retailer of your choice without giving up monthly financing. While it's a slightly bigger hassle to deal with two bills instead of one, the freedom of having your long-term phone financing separated from the carrier is worth it. Get the phone you want, the way you want.

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

65 Comments
  • Check out these Verizon financing deals, but don't buy them..
  • But no one else gives me a service discount if I finance with them. A $32/mo Pixel XL isn't so bad with a $25/mo service discount. $7*24 = $168. As long as Verizon lets me keep this type of discount (even when the phone doesn't cost $25/mo!), I've got no reason to finance elsewhere. I'm sure it might be baked into the service price elsewhere...but the service price is still competitive, so it's all a wash, plus I get a super cheap phone.
  • Also as long as you are current on your bill you qualify for carrier financing even if you have bad credit.
  • Exactly this. All the financing options listed in this article aren't valid if you had difficulties that caused a less than perfect credit rating even if it was years ago; however, if you have a good standing with your carrier that'll usually be considered when purchasing thru them even if your credit rating isn't stellar. That being said, for a purchase of just a few hundred dollars, financing shouldn't really be necessary. Of course if you have multiple handsets you want to purchase at once, then it can come in handy I guess.
  • You don't need anything near perfect credit to qualify for at least two of these.
  • First you guys tell me I'm a fool for not buying an Amazon Echo, now you're telling me how to finance my phone.
  • Well I'm not buying an Amazon Echo, but I do appreciate the purchase options. Lot of people come to me about phones and other tech, and it's good to know what choices there are. A lot of them are young and don't have $500 to drop.
  • We're not telling anyone to do anything. We're giving you information to hopefully make a more informed decision.
  • It's just information because lots of clueless customers think they can only get financing via carriers and have to buy the subpar carrier crappy devices. So this information of for them.
  • I simply to do not understand how you came up with that statement after reading the article..... amazing.
    maybe you just read the headline and knee jerked a response...
    wow . . .
  • Can you guess how many times an editor has scolded me for going with Google home instead of an echo? 0
  • It's good to know all the options. Many people don't realize all the ways possible, so thanks for listing them out. On the other hand, I continue to see from technology writers articles about doing something, just so you don't have to worry about changing carriers. It's never stressed enough that VERY FEW folks change carriers at all, or even enough that this matters. I'm sure some readers of this site do, but the general public almost never does, and as such, reasons for alternative financing have less benefits overall. Still, I always appreciate articles like this that remind folks of choices. Thanks.
  • Exactly. I have been with Verizon for the last 10-15 years. Best service at the time in my area.
  • I echo what others have said, even though there are better ways to buy the phone (unlocked mostly), they usually don't offer the discounts that the carriers offer. Sure, when a phone is brand new the cost will be the same almost everywhere, but after a month or so, the carriers start throwing in credits that these other stores don't. Case in point, the Verizon Pixel deal that you guys posted today.
  • Of course there will always be other incentives on both sides. When you go to make a phone purchase you should weigh all of them into your decision. All I'm saying here is don't just blindly go to your carrier to finance a phone, because if that's all you want there are other better ways to do it.
  • 2 for 1 S8 via Tmobile.
  • I am fine with non-carrier financing - as long as those phones are also carrier bloat free.
  • In many cases they are — because you're buying an unlocked phone directly from the manufacturer.
  • But u forgot to add in if there is a phone issue on the manufacturer end how do u swap a device without having to send it in and being without a phone for a certain period of time or if u damage it the carrier doesn't offer full protection on unlocked devices.
  • Maybe carrier bloat free, but not all bloatware apps are added by the carrier, they'll still be plenty of Google Apps and other 3rd party apps like Flipboard, etc possibly that are integrated with the phone mfg and not the carrier.
  • Sure but you can uninstall most of it. Definitely a better track record than carrier bloat has.
  • With less than stellar credit those options may not be available though..
  • Of course. But I can't break down the rates and offerings available for every type of credit rating someone may have. That'll be a personal decision — much like the decision to buy an expensive phone and have an expensive phone plan in the first place.
  • Credit plays part in carrier deals too. You will have to put q much larger down payment if you have crap credit. And if it's bad enough they'll flat out deny it.
  • I have my Moto G5 on payments with Motorola and it's great. I made the mistake of getting a LG G5 with Verizon's payments after my Nexus 5X messed up because I was in need of a phone. The Pixel wasn't out yet or I would have gotten that for sure and been happy with it. Now I'm stuck with a phone I hate that I can't afford to pay off and it will have no resell value at all once it is. The only reason I did it was I was understanding I could trade it to upgrade in a year but I later learned that was only with iPhone and Galaxy. So I don't mind doing it with Verizon for my gf's iPhone because she will always want the newest one, but I will never buy any Android from them again.
  • Once you have the phone 75% paid off you can trade in for a new phone. 
  • This is good to know! I'm thinking of going another route other than through the carrier to get a new phone. If I got a Blackberry KEYone or Huawei Mate 9 on Amazon for example, what options do I have for insurance since the carrier wouldn't cover it?
  • Might be a good follow up article.
  • you can also get  third party insurance like square trade
  • You should say unless you get a really good deal. I got my wife the Pixel XL for $15 a month back in December from Verizon. I haven't seen a deal nearly as good since then. Even now the best Verizon is offering is $20 a month on the XL.
  • I am one of those dumb people and save up money, and just buy a unlocked phone outright. Every 2 to 3 years.
  • That's an incredibly normal and totally responsible thing to do!
  • Seeing most do not change carriers that often, financing through the carrier (and getting an additional discount) makes it worth it
  • Exactly right. The overwhelming majority of people don't hop carriers. Plus it's convenient to have it on the same Bill.
  • If we start buying direct from manufacturers, do we gain or lose clout?
    Will they then just load even more bloatware on the phones? I will never use Facebook. I want it gone. But if I jailbreak the phone I can't have Google pay. And the next Android update brings all that bloat back again. AC should do an investigation into how much manufacturers get paid per phone to install bloatware. I'd probably be willing to match that.
  • I've seen (and heard on the podcast) alot of conversations about financing phones and what people, including the author of this article, forget is people with bad credit. If your credit is bad, and there ARE many way you can get bad credit that has nothing to do with being irresponsible, the carriers are the only entities that will partially finance a phone. Yea you have to pay for half up front but that beats the crappy combo of hard inquiries on your credit report and rejections as well as buying phones outright. If you need (or want) a phone that's more than $200 and have bad credit, the carriers, especially Tmobile, are your best (but obviously not cheapest over the long term) options. But such is the lot of the poor who literally pay more for being poor. Now I know that you can't do a huge breakdown of each option for every income/credit level but it would be nice for us poor nerds/geeks who love Android to at least get a head nod in pieces on buying/selling android devices.
  • What exactly can he tell you? If you've ruined your credit. No one will finance anything for you, so that leaves you will Full price up front or whatever the carrier offers, weather it be 20% down or 50% or 90%
    What options can Any article give? He can write and article about credit and why it's important not to destroy it or just write one sentence:
    "Fix your credit and you will have These Options."
    I can tell you how to get the latest phone, if you have no credit.
    Buy a Samsung S8/Note 8 or iPhone 7+ (wait til sept for new phone) ( the only two phones on the market that hold Good resale value )
    Treat it like gold, and keep it in Mint condition (VERY easy to do). The minute the new version comes out, sell the current phone for 60-70% of what you paid for it and use that money, plus some of your own, and buy the Newest phone, full retail price.
    Rinse and repeat until credit IS an option.
  • I tried to qualify for Google financing​ 2 or 3 times because I wanted the unlockable bootloader Pixle. Finally I broke down and bought from Verizon, and didn't even have to make a down payment. Syncrony Bank (who does Google Store Credit, Paypal Credit, Amazon Store Card, and numerous others) is a terrible company to deal with even once you're approved.
  • Synchrony is terrible. I have had to reset my password twice for no reason other than my correct password stored in a password app doesn't work. However, the 0% financing is good and so is getting an unlocked phone. No matter how much you love your current carrier, things can and do change and often overnight. For example, earlier this year I was strictly prepaid on various services and bounced around to get better deals and service. It worked great, but then came along T-Mobile's deal for 55+, two lines for $60, unlimited, with no taxes or fees. Can't beat unlimited data for $30. I could move easily due to having an unlocked phone. Similarly, go abroad and without hassle pop in a local sim to get better service on the cheap. Unlocked also increases resale value. I don't think I will ever buy a phone locked to a carrier again.
  • Good article, even though many didn't understand anything you said (going by many comments)
    Options are a good thing still, right? ...
    I would like to point out, that some of those phones will be unlocked. Also, know what features that carrier will allow if you buy an "unsupported" phone.
    For instance, the new HTC U11 on AT&T doesn't have HD calling, VVM etc.
    Also, if you are on AT&T or Verizon, both allow for a 'voluntary down payment' to help make monthly payments cheaper, and easier to upgrade earlier.
    Instead of walking out with $0 and financing all $700 for 24 months, take the option of paying down $250 (and maybe even trade in your old phone) and walk out owing $450 / 24 so the payment is $18 a month instead of $29 a month.
    And, you start out being closer to that 75% to upgrade right out of the gate, or closer to the 50% on AT&T next 24 (1 year upgrades)
  • You'd sell your soul to AT&The for HD Calling and VVM? WOW.
  • Verizon does one year upgrades on high end devices also. And with Verizon u can always pay up to that 50% mark at anytime u want. Same for Att, sprint and tmo.
  • Why would I want a separate bill to keep up with each month when it can be rolled into one via my carrier (at the same price)? Counterproductive at best... I see absolutely NO advantage to this, especially since I will be getting the version for my carrier anyway...
  • A lot of the time it's actually cheaper. The total of all payments are often $50-150 less than they full retail on the phone, plus no interest or finance charges.
  • This. I finance through my carrier (T-Mobile) because it’s convenient to have the phone payments added onto my service bill. No need to worry about ruining my credit by buying an unlocked phone with a credit card, or worrying if the phone supports all of my carrier’s bands.
  • This is good information, as there were a couple of options that I was not aware of. However, I still haven't found anything that beats Jump On Demand at T-Mobile. It's a financing plan with the added bonus of being able to trade for a new phone up to three times a year...or just paying it off to own it. (It's such a good deal, they stopped doing it.) Of course, it would be much improved if T-Mobile would start carrying a larger selection of phones...
  • I agree with a lot of this information, However, sometimes the carriers run great promotional pricing.
    I was able to buy a phone at a steep discount with a financed rate of $4.99 per month for 24 months. I paid the phone off immediately and saved a lot of money.
  • It’s not about being “locked down” to a carrier, it’s about getting the device and service in one package. I’ve had T-Mobile for 6 years and I’m happy with them, so I figure I might as well finance my phone through them so I don’t have to look on Amazon (or pay with a credit card) to get something compatible with their service.
  • Carriers sometimes have better deals on a phone you want. The Z2 Force at T-Mobile is $375 right now, or you can pay $720 direct from Motorola. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  • My current phone costs £349.00 to buy cash or £16.76 a month over two years. My two year contract costs me £17.99 a month for unlimited calls, unlimited texts and 1gb of data (I use WiFi at work and at home so don't need much data). I am therefore paying just £1.23 for unlimited calls and texts plus 1gb data. The same carrier charges £13.99 a month for 500 minutes of calls, unlimited texts and 500mb data. I don't think my carrier deal is too bad.
  • At the end of the day, if you have less than perfect credit it's possible you will be denied financing options outside of your current carrier. Some people make poor financial decisions and for that there are consequences. Others will just experience some bumps along the way that mar what might have been an otherwise good credit rating. Carrier financing is perfectly fine if you understand the costs up front and are prepared to pay them. And while prepayment may not be easy, it is an option. Verizon, for example, will accept a payment in full of the balance due on your installment plan. Sadly they won't accept smaller additional payments towards the balance of the installments. No one is stopping you from budgeting a small portion of your income towards a phone repayment fund to end your two-year agreement early.
  • After reading stuff like this for years I drank the kool aid and went unlocked a few months ago. I was so excited. I bought an HTC 10 this past summer during their sale. It had issues out of the box. So I sent it back for a swap. It took them 73 days to swap my phone! Meanwhile, I needed a working phone so I walked into my carrier store and got a phone that I've not had a single issue with on a good deal. And that HTC 10, which was unlocked had as much bloatware on it as this carrier phone. I'll never buy direct from the manufacturer again. It will be Amazon, Best buy or the carrier, whichever has the best deal. I've had problems with phones to many times to go though that again. Every other time I've had insurance though the Carrier or BB and always gotten it fixed or replaced quickly, usually within two days. I appreciate what you guys do but I just don't think this works for everyone.
  • Hmm, well, that is highly subjective really. I've bought straight from Motorola before and it was a smooth experience, near the end of the year i had to return the phone for a battery defect and they promptly sent me a new one, no questions asked. It really just depends on how much the company cares about providing good customer service.
  • Must be a slow day news to generate click bait. Verizon doesn't lock you down on anything. You could pay it off after 2 weeks (or even lesser).
  • if you can pay it off after 2 weeks, then you didn't really need financing, eh? this is a discussion for those that need or choose to pay over time.
  • His point is you can pay off your phone anytime you have the extra cash to do so. Two weeks, two months, or after a year.