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iPhone 12 is expensive, thankfully these carriers aren't

You paid a lot for the phone, but service for it doesn't have to break the bank. Check out these affordable options.

Rick Broida Senior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
Rick Broida
4 min read

The iPhone 12 is now on sale, with a starting price of $799 in the US. (It's pretty great, too: Read our iPhone 12 review.) The iPhone 12 Mini is available for preorder, starting at $699. There are lots of ways to buy Apple's latest, but many of them involve financing the phone with a carrier that locks you into two or more years of comparatively pricey service.

At Verizon, for example, you can get the iPhone 12 for a reasonable-sounding $15 a month for 24 months -- but that's with an eligible trade-in, and you have to choose a Verizon Unlimited service plan. Those start at $70 a month for a single line. At minimum, then, you'd be paying around $85 monthly for two years, for a total of $2,040. No thanks.

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My advice: Consider buying your iPhone 12 unlocked, then taking it to a carrier that offers cheaper rates. You don't even have to pay the full amount up front; Apple will finance it for you free of charge. So, for example, the iPhone 12 with 64GB would cost you $34.54 monthly. If you then hooked up with, say, Boost Mobile (see below), your monthly service charge would be $10. Total spent after two years: $1,069, a savings of nearly $1,000. (I'm not saying the plans are equal, merely that you have more and cheaper options available.)


The iPhone 12 is here. Don't overpay for service.

Patrick Holland/CNET

The elephant in this particular room: 5G. Your new iPhone may support it, but not all low-cost carriers do -- yet. Most are planning to roll it out soon, however.

Below are some of the most affordable carriers and plans for the budget-minded iPhone user. (Of course, these are suitable for most other phones as well.)

Are you an Optimum or Suddenlink cable subscriber? You qualify for an extra $10 savings each month, meaning you can get service for as little as $12. Unfortunately, while Altice (which runs on AT&T and Sprint networks) already supports 5G, the carrier's unlimited plan runs $40 a month. It was previously $20.

Even if you're not with one of those two cable systems, a $22 monthly bill isn't bad.

Boost's plans start at just $10, and for a limited time the carrier is doubling the normal amount of data that's included at that tier: 2GB instead of 1GB. You can also get 4GB (regularly 2GB) on the $15 plan. But that benefit is available only for three months; after that, you're back to 1GB or 2GB at the same price. 

Even so, the option to operate your iPhone 12 for as little as $10 a month is pretty amazing. Boost operates on T-Mobile's network and will soon offer 5G.

Mint takes the notion of "prepaid" cell service to the next level: You get price breaks when you pay for three, six or 12 months in advance. So, for example, a payment of $45 would net you three months on the carrier's 3GB plan. 

The deals get better as you go up the tiers, however. Prepay $360, for example (which works out to $30 a month), and you get 12 months of fully unlimited service. Mint relies on T-Mobile's network and offers both 4G and 5G: "Whichever is strongest" based on where you're located.

Although US Mobile doesn't yet offer 5G service (surprising given that it runs on T-Mobile and Verizon networks), it does offer service plans for just about every conceivable budget. That's because you can choose from fixed plans or build a custom one. One standout is the $15 plan, which includes unlimited calls and texts and 2.5GB of high-speed data. Bump that to 10GB for $30 a month.

Visible is for the iPhone user who doesn't want to sacrifice unlimited service. Although 5G isn't in the mix yet, the carrier's one and only plan -- which runs $40 a month -- includes unlimited data on Verizon's network.

However, there's an easy way to get it for even less: Sign up for Visible's Party Pay option, which can bring the monthly rate to as low as $25 per person. This isn't a traditional family plan; you can do this with friends, co-workers, even strangers you meet on Reddit.

There are other inexpensive options out there, but these rank among my favorites. If you've found a low-cost iPhone plan you like better, tell me about it in the comments!

This is an update of an older post to reflect new iPhones and carrier pricing.

Watch this: Our in-depth review of the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro

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