Phones

What's the cheapest carrier for your expensive new iPhone?

So you blew your savings on the new model. Here's how to afford actually using it.

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Virgin's Inner Circle will give you a year of iPhone service for just a buck!

Josh Miller/CNET

You've heard of being "house-poor"? That's when you spend all your money on a house and then can't afford to furnish it.

If you're planning to order a new iPhone 8 ($699.00 at Apple), iPhone 8 Plus or iPhone X, you'll probably end up feeling a little "phone-poor." After that big expense, can you afford to "furnish" the phone with actual service?

You can if you're willing to switch carriers. Let's take a look at some dirt-cheap plans for your pricey new precious.

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The cheapest single-line options

If you're looking for a single line of service, right now there are two pretty unbeatable options:

Sprint's promotion was originally slated to end in June, but as of now the promo page simply states "limited-time offer." Assuming you purchased an unlocked iPhone and you have a phone number you're transferring from another carrier, your only initial cost is $2.99 for a SIM card and $10 for shipping. From there you'll pay a few bucks per month for various fees -- and you need to sign up for eBill and auto-pay, otherwise those fees will jump to $7.99.

Amazingly, this plan includes not only unlimited everything, but also mobile hotspot. And after the first year, you're free to cancel and shop elsewhere.

As for Virgin, same basic deal: Transfer your number, buy a SIM card and pay nominal monthly fees; the service is effectively free for the first year. And this "Inner Circle" membership affords other benefits as well, including discounts on air travel and hotels. However, you don't get the mobile-hotspot option, so between the two I definitely prefer the Sprint plan.

If Sprint coverage isn't good in your area, or you just prefer a GSM (as opposed to CDMA) carrier, you'll need to look elsewhere -- and potentially give up on the idea of unlimited data (which the majority of users don't need). A few solid options:

  • MetroPCS: This T-Mobile MVNO has single-line plans starting at $30 per month, a price that includes 2GB of 4G LTE data and mobile hotspot. At $40 per month you get 6GB of high-speed data.
  • Mint SIM: Another T-Mobile-powered carrier, Mint SIM requires you to pay up front for three, six or 12 months of service. Obviously that's not ideal if you raided the piggy bank to buy your iPhone, but if there's money left, the amortized rates are nearly unbeatable. For example, for the annual rate of $180 (which works out to just $15/month), you get unlimited calls and texts and 2GB of high-speed data. At the top end, a $300 payment (equivalent to $25/month) nets you 10GB of high-speed data.
  • Ting: Every time I write about cheap phone plans, readers come out of the woodwork to champion Ting. The big draw: You pay only for the service you use. And that works out beautifully for many customers, who cite bills of as low as $10-$20 per month.

The cheapest family-plan options

Many, if not most, mobile carriers offer discounts for multiple lines of service. MetroPCS, for example, tacks on just $25 for each additional line, meaning you'd pay a total of $65 per month for the aforementioned 6GB plan. Four lines would bring your monthly total to $115 -- or $28.75 per line.

However, you can do a little better with Cricket, which will give you five lines of GSM service for $100. That's the plan I've got for my family of four (plus one mother-in-law), and although each line gets "just" 4GB of high-speed data per month, only my two kids come anywhere close to using that much.

If you have a big family, it's hard to beat an effective cost of $20 per person per month. And Cricket relies on AT&T's network, which, in my area at least, offers excellent coverage.

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Sprint's latest family plan beats the pants off the other major carriers, and most MVNOs as well.

Sprint

However, the family plan to beat is a new one from Sprint: 5 unlimited lines of service for $90 per month. (Technically, you're paying $50 for the first line and $40 for the second, and getting three additional lines at no extra charge.) The plan includes unlimited 4G LTE data on each line as well 10GB/month of mobile hotspot data per line.

That is, however, a time-limited rate: At the end of October, 2018, you'll start paying full price for those lines (which works out to $160 per month). What's more, that promotional price is available only to new customers and requires signing up for auto-pay.

If you can handle those two criteria, and Sprint affords decent coverage where you live, this is without question the best five-line deal on the planet (so far).

Have you found a single-line or family plan that beats the options I've listed here? Tell me about it in the comments! 

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Editors' note: This article was originally published on Sept. 12, 2017, and has since been updated with information about Sprint's new plan.