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Cheap phone service: Visible Party Pay is one of the best deals out there

New updates, including 5G and referral credits, make it even better. You get Verizon-level service for as little as $25 a month. There's still one weird catch, though.

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Start or join a quartet -- friends, roommates, even total strangers -- to score big savings from Visible.

Giuseppe Elio Cammarata/EyeEm/Getty Images

When is a family plan not a family plan? When it comes from Visible, a Verizon-powered prepaid carrier that offers unlimited phone service at reasonable rates. How reasonable? Individuals pay $40 a month. But groups can get service for as little as $25 per person by signing up for Party Pay. Notice, however, that I said "groups," not "families."

That's because Party Pay really isn't intended for people who live under the same roof (unless we're talking about, say, college roommates sharing an apartment). Instead, each person gets billed separately; you actually don't have the option of letting a single person pay for all the lines, which is how a traditional family plan works.

CNET's John Falcone learned that firsthand last year when he set up a "party" consisting of himself and his mother. (That would bring the rate down to $35 per person per month. With three people it drops to $30; with four or more, $25.) Although she has a separate residence, he wanted to cover the bill for both lines. But he couldn't put them on the same credit card; Visible requires separate billing. The workaround was to use two different cards.

Strangers with benefits

So what happens if you can't enlist friends into your party? Believe it or not, you can do this with strangers as well. In fact, there's an entire community on Reddit devoted to helping people find Party Pay parties. That's where CNET's Mike Sorrentino turned in hopes of getting that $25 rate -- and it worked. He's been in a group with total strangers for the past several months. "So far, so good," he reports. (Your mileage may vary.) There's also a new Visible Community portal where strangers can connect for this same purpose.

If you're the one starting the group, there's surprisingly little risk. Each person not only gets billed separately, but also gets their own account with unlimited calls, text messages, data and mobile hotspot. There's no overlap, no possibility of interference. Someone might suddenly decide to bail on the group, however, leaving you with a higher monthly rate until you're able to find a replacement.

Meanwhile, if you're a joiner, the main account holder could decide to boot you at any time, with no warning or explanation. (In fact, party members have no direct way to communicate with one another, according to Sorrentino.) In an ideal world, your party would consist of people you know, the better to reduce any "flake" risks.

One recent update worth noting: Visible no longer caps parties at four members; you can bring an unlimited number of people into your circle. And whenever someone signs up using your referral code (whether you're part of a party or not), your next month of service drops to just $5. In theory, you could repeat this indefinitely.

Other things you should know about Visible

Party Pay isn't the only thing that distinguishes Visible from other carriers. One important difference: If you need help, there's no physical storefront you can visit or even a customer-service number to call. Instead, every bit of Visible business -- billing, tech support -- is handled via the Visible app. That could be a tough pill to swallow for some.

On the plus side, Visible isn't a traditional MVNO; the carrier "sits on top of the Verizon network," according to a company representative. That means you get the exact same network coverage as Verizon customers, and now there's support for eSIM-capable devices as well (meaning you don't have to wait for a SIM card to arrive by mail).

But do you also get the same performance? Visible now offers 5G where available (and on compatible phones), though with a 200 megabit per second speed cap. (That's still extremely fast.) Also new to the service: calling to Canada, Mexico, the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.  

Check here to make sure your phone is compatible, unless you're planning to buy a new one from the carrier. Right now, you can get a $100 prepaid Mastercard when you bring your own phone and up to a $200 card with the purchase of select models.

It's weird that Visible doesn't make Party Pay more accessible to those living under the same roof. In fact, it's borderline hostile to families in that respect. But for groups of friends, co-workers, even strangers you meet on the interwebs, Visible's group plan is one of the best deals out there.

Your thoughts?

Read more: The best phones of 2021


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