To say that navigating U.S. carriers’ family plans is a trial is the understatement of the century. Although carriers’ websites have improved and plans have become more transparent, it’s still an exercise in frustration trying to figure out which network offers the best deal for your family. Luckily, we’ve compiled this comprehensive guide on how to choose the family plan that best suits your needs — and saves you the most cash.
What are installment plans?
Two-year contracts used to be the industry standard for carriers. Ever since T-Mobile eliminated contracts, the other three big carriers in the U.S. have introduced phone installment plans like the ones T-Mobile offers. As of January 2016, all four of the major U.S. carriers had eliminated two-year contracts for new customers. At this point, only existing customers can have two-year contracts. New subscribers have to sign up for phone installment plans instead.
The downside of contract-free plans is that you’ll have to pay the full, unsubsidized price of the smartphone of you buy. Sprint, Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile let you pay installments on the device, typically $20 to $30 a month over a period of 24 months. The two-year contract option gives you the benefit of a nice discount on your new smartphone right from the get go. However, depending on which smartphone you buy and how often you like to upgrade, the contract-less plan can end up being less expensive in the long run than your traditional two-year contract plan was.
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Installment plans also offer you more flexibility, because you’ll be able to switch carriers at any time. If you currently have a two-year contract and want to switch, you’ll have to pay an early termination fee (ETF). At Verizon, ETFs cost as much as $350 and at AT&T, you’ll have to pay up to $325. Luckily, most carriers offer deals that will help you pay off those ETFs.
How much do phone installments cost?
The price of smartphones varies widely from $200 for a decent budget phone all the way to $1,000+ for a high-end phone with extra storage onboard. Now that you have to pay the full cost of your device, you may experience some sticker shock. We’ve added a breakdown of the installment plan pricing for the most popular devices on AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile. You’ll find the prices in each carrier’s section.