Prepaid: Not just for burner phones anymore

My phone works just like yours. It makes calls, sends texts and has a high-speed data connection with nationwide coverage. As a matter of fact, I have the same device as many of you, a Samsung Galaxy Nexus. That’s all run-of-the-mill, so why’s this important? I pay $45 every month to use my phone.

“That’s crazy,” you might be saying, “I pay more for my data plan than you pay for your entire phone bill”. You’re right, it is kind of crazy. The cost of cellphone service in the United States is quite astronomical when compared to services around the world. The common misconception, however, is that there are no other options if you want to pay less for your service.

The true cost of cell phone ownership

Here in the United States, carrier advertising has a disproportionate amount of emphasis put on the up-front cost of the device, rather than the monthly service cost or total cost over the course of a 2-year contract. They want to entice you with a “cheap” device at $99, or a high-end device for as much as $299. What a deal, right? What they tend to hide, so to speak, is the monthly cost of ownership. For an individual, a contract from Verizon, Sprint or AT&T will set you back upwards of $100 per month. At the end of your two-year commitment, the $99 or $299 you spent on your device pales in comparison to the $2500 you just spent for service.

So let’s look at a quick example of buying a Samsung Galaxy SIII (S3) on the big, popular networks with a 2-year contract for each carrier’s unlimited plan (2GB and 3GB data plans selected on Verizon and AT&T, respectively, as they don't have unlimited options at this time), and compare it to three popular prepaid carriers. On the big 3, you’re paying $199 up front and signing a contract for service in the $120 per month range. On the 3 popular prepaid carriers I’ve selected, you’re looking at $599 (usually less nowadays, but we’ll keep it simple) for the device and $30, $45 or $60 per month (calculations here include a sales tax of 10%, which is about as high as you'll see) for service. Let’s see how the numbers come out after 2 years of phone ownership:

Android Central

The numbers don't lie. With the same phone and relatively the same service (or even better in terms of data offerings) from a prepaid carrier, you'll save hundreds -- or even thousands -- of dollars over the life of the 2-year contract. The deceptive marketing of the major carriers in the U.S. masks the true cost of ownership of a device over the life of the contract. Putting it on a chart like this, which shows that even in the most expensive case you "break even" in 8 out of 24 months, makes it extremely clear what savings there are to be had by going prepaid.

Now there’s no need to keep making the same point over and over, I think the above chart and graph speak for themselves. There’s no way to make a blanket statement about everyone’s situation, but the numbers would have to be significantly different for the prepaid carrier to ever be more expensive than the postpaid carrier in the long term -- or even the relatively short term.

Prepaid plan selection

There are officially some 40 distinct MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operators) carriers in the U.S., giving you plenty of options to choose from. For the sake of convenience, there are really only two providers that are worth looking at right now.

Straight Talk (opens in new tab)

One of the numerous MVNOs running under the TracFone parent company, Straight Talk offers a fantastic value with their single plan. Unlimited Minutes, Unlimited Texts, and Unlimited Data, all for $45 (+ applicable sales taxes). Straight Talk offers service on either AT&T or T-Mobile depending on what your phone is compatible with, and is a great option for those who need the better coverage area nationwide offered by AT&T’s towers. While the plan says "unlimited", their terms of service indicate that they have the discretion to throttle your speeds for whatever they deem excessive use. It really depends on your market (how many other Straight Talk users are around you), but I've not had any issues keeping my speeds and using plenty of data.

T-Mobile Monthly 4G (opens in new tab)

T-Mobile offers a few different tiers of its prepaid service, dubbed Monthly 4G. The first tier is just $30 per month, and offers 100 Minutes, Unlimited Texts, and 5GB of 4G data. The second is $50 per month, and offers Unlimited Minutes, Unlimited Texts, and 100MB of 4G data. The third, $60 for the same but 2GB of 4G data. The last is $70, with 5GB of 4G data. Seems like a lot of options, but it’s good that T-Mobile offers different tiers to save people some money. The most compelling option for many will be the $30 plan because talk minutes are starting to become less and less important.

Honorable mentions

Device selection

At this point we’ve established that switching to a prepaid service and buying your device at full price can save a substantial amount of money. But what device do you choose? Where do you find devices for prepaid service? For many people reading this article, the idea of going online to a smartphone importer and buying an unlocked device doesn’t sound too scary. To others, they may prefer the ease of walking into a store and buying a device in person. Both people have options, but unfortunately given the current state of the U.S. market, those willing to buy online may have a better selection.

For the latest high end devices, you have several options. Because of manufacturer agreements with carriers, they very rarely will sell directly to consumers. Luckily, there’s quite the market for unlocked devices online. From popular retailers like Amazon and Newegg to your smaller outfits around the internet, you’ll have plenty of options if you’re okay with buying online. Prices vary quite widely on unlocked devices, especially if you’re trying to get in on the first day of a device launch, but there are definitely deals to be had. Unlike buying directly from carriers, unsubsidized prices can come down over time.

For those who want to buy a device in store, you’re not out of luck! It may not always be the most cost effective option, but carriers and retailers like Best Buy and Radioshack will sell handsets at full price, and sometimes unlocked. The prices will often be high in order to entice people into contracts, but we understand if the security of buying at a store is worth a few extra dollars. If the phone is SIM locked, you’re not always out of luck. For example, phones SIM locked to AT&T can often be used on AT&T MVNO carriers without issues. If you want it unlocked, several services around the internet offer unlock codes for a nominal fee.

One word of warning when buying your device is to make sure you’re buying the proper model. Check ahead of time that the device has the correct radio bands for your carrier of choice, and that it comes SIM unlocked (if possible). A full manufacturer’s warranty is not a guarantee with these devices, as they’re often imported from other countries, so make sure to read the fine print. Luckily, third party phone insurance companies often cover unlocked phones the same way they would a carrier device.

Paying your bill

Filling up your prepaid phone account doesn’t require buying a card at a gas station and scratching a code off the back with a coin anymore. Any MVNO worth it’s salt today offers auto-refill options that automatically deduct from your credit or check card, meaning you never have to think about whether your phone will shut off on you at the end of the month. Once you get in the cycle of using your device and auto-refilling the service, it’ll feel the exact same as a postpaid contract plan. Keep the funds there, and your phone keeps working.

Things to know (odds and ends)

While I’ve chosen to put more emphasis on buying unlocked devices and using GSM carriers, the more “traditional” prepaid model of buying a cheap phone from the prepaid carrier and keeping the monthly costs as low as possible is the most viable option for some. Prepaid carriers like Virgin Mobile, Boost Mobile and Cricket Wireless offer everything from the cheapest flip phone up to mid-range devices like the HTC Evo 3D and now even higher end devices like the Samsung Galaxy SII (S2) and iPhone 4/4S as of late. They pair these phones with extremely cheap plans -- around $30 to $50 per month. You can’t unlock and take the phones to other carriers, but for the extremely budget conscious among us, there are great values to be had with these carriers.

The reasons I moved from traditional postpaid phone service to prepaid were twofold. First, I just like saving money -- and who doesn't, right? Second, and most importantly, I was tired of dealing with carriers. I was tired of waiting for updates, not having good device selection, uninstallable bloatware, carrier locked firmware, plan restrictions, everything. I was just tired of it all. I just wanted to buy the device I want and use it how I want, without any carrier telling me I couldn't. Everyone out there, from the hardcore phone enthusiast to the average user, has a bad story about how they were treated by their carrier or how they're not getting what they paid for.

I'll be the first to say that moving to a prepaid phone service isn't for everyone. But if you're at all like me, prepaid is just what the doctor ordered.

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

  • Well done article. Interesting to see prices broken down like this.
  • Is there any pre-paid option for those of us who want to be using Verizon's network? Their coverage (and especially, their 4G coverage) is way WAY better for me. To the point that I would not consider being on any other network at this time.
  • Ignore...double post
  • Page Plus and StraightTalk. I believe you'll be required to have them flash your VZW phone to make it work on their virtual networks, and I don't know if you'd be able to return to using your phone on VZW after doing so (could be wrong on that last point). You also won't get LTE (as of now).
  • I had Straight Talk about two years ago and I bought the card from Walmart. I bought the card for the Verizon network. Walmart has both. CMDA and GSM. I bought the phone at Walmart for the CDMA network. The ones with Verizon has a "C" So yes , they have them for both networks. At the time, I bought a feature phone that was CDMA.
  • Verizon has a prepaid plan but you need to use one of their prepaid phones and they only have one smartphone at this time .. plus its $80 a month and 1 GB of data. Straight Talk has 2 phones that work on Verizon (look for the CDMA-V on the box) but the are both under-powered and Low on storage.
  • Verizon has a prepaid plan but you need to use one of their prepaid phones and they only have one smartphone at this time .. plus its $80 a month and 1 GB of data. Straight Talk has 2 phones that work on Verizon (look for the CDMA-V on the box) but the are both under-powered and Low on storage.
  • I also would like to know as Verizon is the best in my area. Sprint and T-Mobile are almost non existent in my area and AT$T has connection problems here although it shows in my area. I have had AT&T and had to switch to verizon. No problems of any kind with Verizon. Straight Talk does have Verizon Phones , but they are not high end like those on AT&T . I hope Straight Talk will get some high end Phones for the Verizon network.
  • Wow i really feel for you US folks, we have got a much better deal here in the UK! Maybe we don't have the "4G" speeds, but i pay £10 ($16) a month on the virtual carrier Giff Gaff. For that measly £10 i get unlimited texts nationwide, 250 call minutes, and unlimited data. Absolute bargain and i would recommend them to anyone in the UK. Also the HSPA+ speeds of 7 meg+ are more than enough not to get frustrated. Man you Americans have got your balls clamped good and proper by the carriers, you need to break free!!!
  • I wish we could, I'm currently paying $230 a month for 3 smartphones.
  • You must be on VZW. That's almost to the penny what I also pay for three smartphones.
  • We Americans just keep buying and buying anything and everything that the Telcoms throw at us. mean while they are laughing all the way to the bank. It could be stopped if all would refuse to buy their prices , but we won't unfortunately stop . we cannot do without our toys and what a price we dummies will pay.
  • Quote ["Man you Americans have got your balls clamped good and proper by the carriers, you need to break free!!!"] Do you know why the carriers charge like this ? Because we keep on paying them at any cost. if people would refuse these outrageous prices , they would come down. But the sheep won't do it. They gotta have those toys at any price.
  • Why do the plans you are using from the postpaid carriers cost $120-130? You could get an $80 plan from Sprint and get unlimited data, unlimited texts, unlimited mobile-to-mobile calls...
  • i was about to ask the same question. i mean, who uses over 450 minutes a month to landlines between 7AM and 7PM on weekdays anyway?
  • Some of us use cell phones for businesses, and you really have no control over who calls you, and where they call you from, and when they call. Our company runs totally on cell phones, and during office hours out tech support calls have historically been almost always from land-lines because our users are sitting in corporate and government offices. Lately, I've seen that more and more of our calls are falling into the Mobile to Mobile category on our bill. Still, each of our techs blows thru 450 minutes every single month. Since we have a corporate plan, we are paying about 40 bucks a month (30 dollar data plan plus 10 dollar add-on-line) on AT&T. In fact, single-line plans on AT&T seem to be ridiculously cost prohibitive, and I suspect most AT&T customers add lines for family member to make the total package less revolting. Bur for individuals, its clear Andrew's analysis is spot on.
  • Agreed. I have att. I have the most basic single line plan with unlimited text and my grandfathered unlimited data and still pay roughly 150 in the end with taxes, etc. It is not cheap and this article gives me even more reason to finally drop them.
  • Crap 150 a month is enough to make someone go broke. My verizon Bill is 90 a month and that is Unlimited Data, 450 minutes unlimited txts, and 3 or 2gb on a tablet cant remember, an I thought mine sucked. I do get a discount but still 150 a month you need to try and see if the business you work for or something gets discounts.
  • Sprint to home costs 5/mo. Give sprint your google voice number as the sprint to home number. All incoming to the StH number calls are free 24x7. All outgoing calls are free 24/7 using a tool like flexdialer from the app store [configured to use the StH number of course].
  • Not me. I'm on Sprint's Everything Data 450 with the Android powered Samsung Transform Ultra and I only use about 10-20 mins a month calling landline's when and if needed. Most of my contacts have cell phones. The mobile to mobile is a really nice feature to have. Plus I do use a lot of data and text messaging so it worked out well for me.
  • I do for one use 900 minutes a month. 450 minutes would well put me over.
  • For ease of comparison, I chose to highlight each carrier's unlimited plan (close as possible because VZW and AT&T don't have unlimited data). That means selecting the plan that gives you unlimited everything, same as the prepaid plans.
  • Sprint's Unlimited plan is $109, which seems to include the $10 addon for a smartphone. I'm not sure where your $130 came from.
  • I have you actually looked at your monthly statement on a big 3 carrier? Assuming you do have one, it will not be 109 at the end of the month. Taxes, govt. fees, etc., etc. that they easily tack on for no reason jacks that price wayyyyy up.
  • $109.99 does not include taxes or fees, which easily put it to $130. Anyone who's regularly paid postpaid carrier bills will tell you.
  • Andrew, I have Sprint as my carrier and I can tell you from experience your numbers are WAY off. My FAMILY plan with the 450 minutes and unlimited everything else is $160 a month AFTER taxes and fees and all that other crud. The Family Simply Everything plan is about 20 bucks more. The single plans are roughly HALF the cost of the family plans INCLUDING the taxes and fees. On top of that, Verizon and AT&T don't offer truly Unlimited everything anymore, so you are making an Apples - Oranges comparison. Also, you need to avoid estimating taxes and fees. If you don't know, leave them off. Guesses do not make for good journalism. You can always include a qualifier afterward to indicate that these prices don't reflect those costs. (The excess costs are going to be pretty much the same across the board for all carriers, so you can leave them off and still get an accurate feel for the TCO.) Honestly, you need to pull this article, and then go back and do your research with an unbiased eye. Prepaid may indeed come out to be a better value, but you need to offer a more honest assessment. You owe at least that much to your readers.
  • ...this isn't an article that will be picked up by Reuters. It's a blog. An opinion. Go hit up Wall Street Journal if you are looking for unbiased reporting.
  • I have the Everything 450 plan on a single user account & my bill this month was $103.13 including the $11 for top-tier TEP insurance on my brand new GS3. __ I would've strongly considered the prepaid model had I not already been under contract with them for an additional year, but being that I wanted to use my final Sprint Premier Gold upgrade I decided to stay with a Big 3 carrier. My hope is that in 3 years when my contract is finally up with Sprint there will be amazing strides made in this business model. I've already recommended this approach to many friends who have all been pleased with their decision to go this route.
  • These numbers are not representative of Sprint's Family Plans, 450 minute plans, or anything of the sort. They are a single phone on a single line Sprint Truly Unlimited plan numbers, which are $109.99 before taxes and fees. That's ~$130 :) . I didn't make the plans, I just found the numbers on their own websites. As I've clearly pointed out, these are the unlimited plans from all the carriers, and 2GB-3GB plans selected on VZW and AT&T (which is normal for most users). Its a fair fight, and at that unlimited tier, Sprint is the most expensive. That's just how they've structured their plans. Selecting the 450 minute plan on Sprint while choosing the unlimited minute plans on AT&T and Verizon gives an unfair assessment of the true cost of unlimited on Sprint.
  • I'm pretty sure Sprints unlimited everything (talk, text and data) is $99. I pay $64 after taxes for unlimited everything except my 450 landline minutes after my corporate discount. Never worry about by bill.
  • It is but if you want a smart phone it's 10 extra a month.
  • Sprint's Truly Unlimited plan is $109.99 in the cart, plus sales taxes and regulatory fees puts it up over $130 :) .
  • the point was you were paying too much for your service. 80 dollars on Sprint is still twice as much as straight Talk.
  • I have Sprint's Everything Data 450 plan and there was an offer about a year ago that I was able to get another 300 anytime minutes put on. My girlfriend just switched her office land line to a cell and other than her home phone, I don't think I have a single friend I don't call exclusively on a cell. With my 23% work discount, I'm paying $78/mo. with TEP and taxes. Here's my usage in the past month: Anytime Minutes 0
    Any Mobile, Anytime 161
    Bonus Anytime 24
    Text Unlimited 275
    Night & Weekend 253
    Sprint 3G Data 1,456,510
    Sprint 3G Data Roaming 1,193
    Sprint 4G Data 24,770 The problem: Sprint's abysmal data speeds and patchy areas in the Metro Detroit area where I can feel the phone (GS2E4GT) heating up while trying to get data through a coffee stirrer-sized straw. A smartphone without data is a phone and if Verizon wasn't so freaking $$$$$$$$$$$$$$, I'd probably jump, especially since I'm more likely to get a three-way going with Anne Hathaway and Charlize Theron before Sprint lights up LTE in Motown.
  • Not everyone can use plans from Sprint. These carrier signals are not equal in all parts of the US. Verizon is excellent , but a weak connection to AT7T . None from Sprint and T-Mobile. So here in my area , it is Verizon.
  • I tried all weekend to get Straight Talk hooked up. They say Walmart offers it. Nope. Not the simm by itself... yet. Maybe October I am told. Oh, you want to buy a phone with the simm in it... we can help you there. I don't necessarily blame Walmart for going this route. Can't be much profit in a $14.99 simm card. But Straight Talk could be a little more informative about it. Oh, and will my phone work ok with it? Unlocked Atrix 4G. Well, not sure.... have to try it and see. And oh, by the way, no refunds on simm or plan if it does not work.
  • Info Atrix 4G will work fine. AT&T will even get 4g where aviable but T-Mobile is limited to 3g. How to buy a sim at straight talk.
  • I'm not an expert, but like it says in the article, it's just a matter of knowing if the device you want supports the frequencies for your phone. ST's website lets you choose the SIM you want to buy. So, if you have an AT&T phone, you'd buy their AT&T SIM. If you have a T-Mobile phone, you'd buy the T-Mobile SIM. If you're shopping for a new device to put on ST, I'd say your best bet would be to check both AT&T and T-Mobile coverage maps, see which is best, and limit your purchase to a phone for that network, or something that you research and know supports both carriers, it should be easy info to find.
  • Just order the sim from the website, and yes unlocked Atrix will work (just bought one for my girlfriend and it works like a charm). Only issue you have is changing the APN settings but there are a ton of walkthroughs on the web. Pull the trigger and never look back, it's a hell of a toboggan ride.
  • I put a Straight Talk SIM (purchased online) in an LG Thrill (ATT unlocked phone). I called ATT for the unlock code and it was easy. Voice, MMS/Pic MMS, and Data work like a charm. On the iPhone 3g, the voice and text worked, but not the data and Apple makes it difficult or impossible to change the settings around to accommodate the new sim. I think the Atrix will work perfectly, I am super happy the Thrill I used. True on the no refunds but we lived happily ever after.
  • Sprints plan is the cheapest, how does it end up being higher than VZW or ATT?
    After taxes it ends up 90$ no where near 100-130..
  • thats what i thought too... but go look. they got expensive.
  • I sell Sprint ATT and Verizon...
    80 Sprint Unlimited everything, essentially.
    90 ATT Same only with 3gb of data.(if they let you not use the data share plan)
    90 VZW 450 minutes, unlimited text, 2gb data (if they let you use the old plan)
    With the share plans on vzw and att, it jumps to 100$ and you get less data.
    2 lines although will run you 150, same as sprint, with the share plan.
  • I just left Sprint and I was paying $100 after taxes for unlimited everything. I think he is off on his figures with Sprint but his overall point is correct.
  • No they didn't he's comparing Apples and Oranges. He's taking the Sprint Family Plans and the AT&T and Verizon Single Plans.
  • I was gonna say, that REALLY looks off. there is no way on earth the Sprint single plan is that much. I should know, I have Sprint and my FAMILY plan is that much. With research that sloppy it called into serious question everything else about this article.
  • I'm pretty sure he took the price from Sprint's own website: If you can't research something that easy then you have no right to call this guy's article into question. It took my two clicks to find that. And to everyone else out there - this article is spot on. I am using an unlocked Galaxy Nexus on T-Mobile's monthly $30 plan and it is freaking amazing. With my corporate discount on Sprint with an Evo 3D I was paying about $85 a month. So I'm saving $55 a month with faster data speeds and better coverage in my area. I couldn't be happier.
  • Thanks :) . Good link. Like you, I used my Galaxy Nexus on the $30 T-Mobile plan for just shy of 8 months and it was absolutely great, never had any issues. I just needed the slightly better coverage and more minutes offered by Straight Talk.
  • All of the numbers are from their own corporate websites for individual plans. Went through the buying process as if I was starting a new single line with each carrier.
  • Funny cause I'm with AT&T and my bill is exactly $90 a month for everything.
  • when I was on sprint w/bb 8330, I had the unlimited 450 minute plan. After the double taxation (which is illegal) my bill came to $95-$97 every month! Got a zte warp (dont personally like the phone) with boost unlimited android option for 8 months now; my bill is $54.00 insurance, taxes included. prior to the $5 off every 6 months it was $59.00. The numbers don't lie
  • Sprint's truly unlimited plan is $109.99 + taxes + fees = ~$130. This is not their 450minute plan, which is not unlimited.
  • It's fun listening to people try to say you did this wrong.
  • Be careful what you say, Bishounen will come scream at you for doing poor research. lol. What an idiot.
  • good read!! WOW.. sprint has changed in the last 5 months since i moved from them! I even wen to their site cause i "was sure the numbers were off" but WOW they got expensive fast! I was paying $130 a month for 2 phones unlimited data and unlimited mobile to mobile!! Looks like they needed to pay for some network improvements! lol
  • Sprint has two lines for 150..a third for 180..thats 60$/month each line.
  • Wow, excellent and informative article. I've been on Verizon forever and my 2-year contract is up at the end of the year. The T-Mobile $30 looks really enticing. I haven't wanted to switch from Verizon because I have unlimited data, but if I could get 4GB of 4G data for $30 I would definitely do it. 100 minutes is plenty for me. Edit: Can someone explain what type of 4G T-Mobile has? Is it HSPA+ or LTE?
  • hspa+
  • Just so you know, it's actually 5GB:)
  • I have T-Mobile's $30 100/unlim text/unlim data plan. It's actually the Walmart plan, and when it was first released, it was a real pain to sign up for it. But now that I have it, I love it. Tmobile has HSPA+ "4G" (or faux-G as some people have labled it). But to be honest, in NYC/Brooklyn where I live, I never get less than 14 Mbps down/2 Mbps up. That's pretty damn good. Also, T-Mo isn't a douche about tethering your other devices, which is another plus for me. As for the 100 minutes, T-Mobile allows you to add minutes to your phone via its website, or simply by sending a text from your phone. And any minutes that you don't use are put into a pool that can be used when you run out of plan minutes.
  • In what world do you live in where a sprint plan costs $120/month? Even with the premium data add on, 450 minutes with unlimited everything else is $80. Tack on insurance, and it is $86. That is if you have no institutional discounts, which many people have. Even verizon for the new 2gb data shared plan is $100/month, and the cost goes down with each added line (though the data does too, which sucks). You still make a good case, but you ruin the whole point by comparing unlimited plans from pre-paid companies to prepaid. EDIT: $86 x 12 x 2 = $2,064 + 200 = 2,264
    30 x 12 x 2 = 720 + 500 (for equally spec'd phone) = $1,220 Still $1,000 savings
  • For ease of comparison, I selected the completely unlimited plans from each carrier. These prepaid plans are all unlimited minutes, so I chose the postpaid carrier's unlimited plans too. On Sprint, that's about $130/mo after taxes and fees.
  • Regarding Sprint Where do you come up with your numbers? Lets assume smartphones. Using the website: Totally Everything including unlimited data (speeds notwithstanding) is 109.99 + your 10% you refrenced in the article for taxes/fees. So $121. Your $9 off on completely unlimited. But no one takes that plan that dosent have to call unlimted to landlines.
    So unlimited Data 450 $79.99 + 10% taxes/fees = $87 This is not including the 20%ish discount that just about everyone gets based on where they or anyone in their family gets for where they work. I get your overall point, prepaid is cheaper, And your right. But your numbers are bad and you should feel bad. So no your charts don't "speak for themselves"
  • $87 plus at LEAST $10 in taxes and fees , prepaid includes those fees in the monthly price
  • I already added those: See above: 79.99 + 10% taxes/Fees? = $87
  • sorry i thought you were adding for insurance (which by the way is now up to $11 per month for higher end phones) but i was getting a 25% discount (which is only 25% of the base $69) so it was $17.25 off, my bill was $83 every month including $7 insurance. that brings the total without discount to $100, or $93 w/o insurance... that's $13 in taxes and fees that i don't have to worry about on my $30/month TOTAL prepaid plan
  • 10% tax + Sprint's fees (and local fees). Easily $130. On the prepaid carriers, you often only pay sales tax on your refills (sometimes not even tax). These prices are all pulled directly from the carrier websites. Of course in different states the prices are slightly different because of the fee structure, but it's all pretty darn close. I'm never going to calculate based on any discounts that some and not others can get, these prices will be what anyone could get by walking into a carrier store today and starting a new line. Anyone can also get these low prepaid costs without any hassle and have unlimited everything. The easiest way to compare these carriers is unlimited vs unlimited. That's what I've done. Numbers speak for themselves. I think the saddest thing about it is that even if you do compare the 450min Sprint plan, it'll come out to about $90+/month (remember the $10 premium data addon), which is double the cost of the prepaid plan that offers more than 450min.
  • I'm not trying to argue that prepaid is not cheaper, because it is. What I'm trying to point out is that you are making Sprint the highest priced postpaid carrier which is simply not the case. Your graph is biased. You say you want to compare "unlimited" well AT&T/Verizon don't have true unlimited, you can't compare this way. Also I took the number you estimated in taxes and fees in your article (10%) and applied it to $109.99 this is still less than $130. An economics major should know better.
  • Nearly all prepaid plans come with unlimited minutes, so I'm simply pointing out what you'd have to pay on a postpaid carrier in order to get the same experience. On Sprint, completely unlimited minutes, text and data is $109.99 + taxes and fees. On Verizon and AT&T, unlimited minutes texts and 2GB-3GB of data is about $110 + taxes and fees. Add another $10 each if you want another GB. You've got to realize that on the prepaid plans all you add is tax because there are no fees. You're simply buying a refill card. On postpaid, there are a whole host of other fees. Try to slice the numbers any way you want, but I'm simply comparing apples to apples. Same plans same features all around, except where Verizon/AT&T don't offer unlimited data. I'm not giving an advantage or disadvantage to anyone, and obviously I can't split it the 1000 different ways you could configure the plans and phones. I'm comparing unlimited to unlimited, and in that situation, Sprint is the most expensive carrier, Verizon and AT&T close behind, and prepaid carriers drastically less expensive. You say its not fair to use Sprint's unlimited plan, I say its not fair to use Sprint's 450 minute plan. It's not actually unlimited, so I'm not going to do it.
  • You are being wildly reactive regarding your flawed Sprint assumption here, sir. The value of Sprint's truly unlimited data well outstrips the value of any additional minutes over 450; the unlimited data, 450 minute plan is the stock Sprint plan, and is the most honest comparison with no-contract arrangements. The fact that it's $43 cheaper ($130 - $87) than the plan you chose to represent hurts your argument, and you are being slimy and defensive about it, with all due respect. Do you seriously think that representing the most overpriced plan from Sprint, one that even their reps tell you is a ripoff, is intellectually honest? The central point you're making is a good one, but it hurts your credibility when you make silly comparisons.
  • Well said. And you're dead on about where the rational value is. Further, as a prepaid apologist, I suspect this is why Andrew is beating his chest over minutes. In postpaid land, data's the hot commodity for most, but general-use minutes aren't a concern. This is particularly true on Sprint where evenings start the earliest and you can call for free to *any* other domestic mobile phone. The difference between 450 and unlimited quickly blurs. To break it down, I use over 1200 minutes per month making long phone calls to people back home, but only use about 15 "minutes" per month. In prepaid land I'm sure one gets to obsessing over time and not data as none of that free air time is available. So yes, it was a poor choice for making any sort of value comparison, IMHO. Just goes to show, everyone has to suss out the best value from a mountain of options that meets their needs.
  • And BTW 79.99 for 450 data is with the $10 add on. Non smartphone is 69.99. So still using your numbers (10%) 79.99 would we 87.99. Not "over $90" you can't play with your numbers like that and have any credibility.
  • Anyone who has paid a postpaid cell phone bill knows that there are other charges than simply sales tax. There are state and federal fees, access fees, etc. that all get added on. Ask anyone with the $109.99 Sprint unlimited plan, they'll tell you their bill is about $130 :) .
  • @Andrew:
    I have Sprint's 450min plan with the Epic 4G and my monthly bill is ~$91. This includes $11 for the device insurance, Sprint's $10 smartphone tax (aka the non-existing "4G tax"), and I have a total of $4 in courtesy discounts. So lets do some math: $91.00 - $11.00 + $4.00 = ~$84.00/month. This includes all supplementary taxes (such as 911, etc) and my state and county/parish sales tax in Louisiana. Looking back at Sprint's new pricing structure, it looks like they jumped new contracts for my plan up by $10, so let's assume I would pay ~$94/month without insurance and the discounts. As neither AT&T nor Verizon have a proper unlimited plans, then you really cannot use Sprint's full unlimited plan (base price of $109.99) as your reference point for Sprint. AT&T & Verizon have a ceiling on data usage before they charge you per MB or GB over the cap. (Ignoring the fact that Sprint's network is rather crap, and Tmobile's data throttling) The closest comparison for all carriers would be the base plan of ~$80. -Sam
  • You're basing your numbers on Sprint's 450 minute plan, which is not their unlimited plan. Sprint's unlimited plan has a base price of $109.99 :) .
  • and then you would add tax...
  • Plus taxes and fees, i was paying $83/month on sprint AFTER a 25% discount and including insurance... I switched to tmobile and pay $30 now with all those fees included
  • Plus you think America has it bad, try Canada. Not only do we pay more for our devices, but it's also on a 3-year contract. We don't have ANY unlimited data plans. I think if you wanted a 6gb plan, with about 200 minutes, early evenings and weekends, unlimited texts, it's around $80-ish. Owning a device like an iPhone in Canada is the most costly out of all the developed nations. I'd love to be able to pay say $90-ish and get unlimited everything in Canada
  • Like triangle, I've got Sprint and pay way less than I did on Verizon, so I'm not sure about that chart up there. That being said, my Sprint service is still way more expensive than $45/mo. :-) Well done article.
  • My issue is that I need Verizon's network, as nobody else has reception worth a damn around my home, and I'm not aware of any prepaid vendor using Verizon's cell towers. Am I mistaken?
  • I think page plus uses Verizon towers.
  • PagePlus. They allow you to bring your verizon phone too.
  • Page Plus is the only one I'm aware of using Verizon's towers, but I'm sure there are othe