The iPhone 12 is now on sale, with a starting price of $799 in the US. (It's pretty great, too: Read our.) The is available for preorder, starting at $699. There are , 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.
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;. 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 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.
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