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How to add a student to your cellular plan without getting ripped off

OnePlus n200 5G
(Image credit: Samuel Contreras / Android Central)

Whether your student is ready for their first phone, or it’s just time to get them onto a plan that has enough data to accommodate school trips, adding their line to your existing plan makes account management easier. 

It may also be cheaper than you think, with many carriers offering multi-line discounts. There are some pitfalls to avoid when it comes to adding lines that can lock you into long payment plans, or wasting money on features you don’t need.

How to add a student to your existing cellular plan

Visible SIM card next to Pixel 3a

(Image credit: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

Carriers will be very pleased that you want to add a line to your account, and have many ways to do it with very little friction. 

The first and most obvious option is going into a carrier store. Store salespeople will be able to answer questions about the plans and offer recommendations based on usage. You’ll likely face the most sales pressure in this one-on-one situation.

Another option is an authorized partner store. This can be in a department store or an electronics store like Best Buy. You may also add a line through their websites when you buy a new phone. This includes unlocked phones as well, so you don’t have to get locked into a carrier to get everything done in one place.

Carrier websites also allow you to add lines by bringing your own device or buying a new one. You will need to sign in to your existing account, so make sure you have online access to get your account set up. This also carries over to your carrier's app, which will often allow you to add a line directly from your account overview page. 

Activating online will often require you to wait for the shipment of a SIM card, or you may also pick one up from a carrier store. If you already have a phone and compatible SIM, you can also activate that SIM from your account page.

Finally, you can always call or chat with your carrier. If you don’t want to sign in online, this may be the easiest option. If you’re buying a phone, you won’t have the advantage of seeing it, but if you know exactly what you want, it can be one of the simplest options. You can simply call support, or you can chat with support through your carrier's app.

Can I get a discount when I add?

Postpaid carriers like AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon charge by the line, but with additional lines, the price per line can come down quite a bit. T-Mobile even has a promotion for a free third line on its three main plans. 

If you’ve got an old phone kicking around or are up to buying one of the best cheap Android phones, you can get your student activated with unlimited data. On top of that, AT&T and Verizon also have multi-line discounts that can lessen the impact of a new line on your plan. 

It’s also worth noting that some prepaid carriers like Metro by T-Mobile, Cricket, and US Mobile have some multi-line plans. These carriers can even save you some money over your current bill with a simpler unlimited plan.

Verizon and AT&T allow you to mix and match plans, so if you need a more premium plan on one of your lines but not on the others, you can create that plan. 

Keep in mind that some discounts may actually make it cheaper to put two of your lines on the more expensive plan. It’s worth taking a few minutes to price a few configurations. T-Mobile doesn’t allow customers to mix plans, so you’ll need to pick a single plan for all lines.

Are you on the right carrier?

Mint Mobile SIM status

(Image credit: Samuel Contreras / Android Central)

Before signing up a new line and going through the trouble of activating a new SIM, it’s worth taking a minute or two to consider if your current carrier is the best fit for you. 

For example, if your coverage isn’t up to par, you may find that another carrier has better coverage in your area. It’s worth checking every couple of years, at least, as the race to 5G has led to some significant coverage improvement, especially on T-Mobile.

Competition has also led to a lot of the best prepaid carriers offering plenty of data at reduced rates compared to their postpaid counterparts. Some even have multi-line discounts. Cricket Wireless and US Mobile both have cheap unlimited plans with multi-line discounts. 

Some of these plans give up a few features such as international usage, streaming services, cloud storage, and hotspot data, but you may find you weren’t actually using those anyways. And if you want them back, premium plans from either carrier add many of those features back in.

Keep in mind that cheaper plans will often have lower priority data, meaning that when a tower gets congested, your line can get slowed down. While many people will find the slowdown to be trivial, it completely depends on your location. Still, if you spend most of your time in a lightly populated suburb or rural community, it may be a non-issue.

Watch out for these carrier tricks

The home screen of the Google Pixel 6a

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

One of the easiest ways to add a line is to go into a carrier store and talk to a real human being. The problem with this approach is that these people are more often than not paid on commission with certain products, like accessories, meaning you may end up paying out more than a phone or a simple line addition.

This can lead to unoptimized recommendations, so you walk out the door with as many items as possible. Get to know the plans and what you need before going in, so you don’t give up features you want to keep.

You’ll also see compelling offers for phones such as a free phone with a new line, or a buy one, get one free deal. The problem with these deals is that more often than not, they require you to sign up for a three-year payment plan, with bill credits used to offset the cost of the device. That means that if you want to upgrade early or switch carriers, you still owe money to that carrier. Sometimes hundreds of dollars.

Get to know the plans and what you need before going in, so you don’t give up features you want to keep.

Be wary of bill credits and be sure to acquire an itemized list of charges and bill credits so you know exactly what you’re signing up for. It's also worth keeping in mind that you don't need to spend a ton of money on a phone to get a good experience. As we saw in our Pixel 6a review, affordable phones can offer plenty of performance for much less than a flagship phone.

Phone insurance is one of the most misunderstood services available from a carrier. While it can be genuinely useful, many people that sign up don’t fully understand the conditions. For example, some levels of damage will require a deductible to get a phone replaced or repaired. Water damage, for instance, is rarely covered without a deductible.

Make sure to find out these deductibles ahead of time, and also ask where the nearest repair centers are and which parts they stock. We’re fans of unique and interesting phones here at Android Central, but the fact of the matter is; if you need a screen replaced in a hurry, you’re going to have more luck with a Galaxy or an iPhone.

When Samuel is not writing about networking or 5G at Android Central, he spends most of his time researching computer components and obsessing over what CPU goes into the ultimate Windows 98 computer. It's the Pentium 3.