Why You Should Avoid These Free Offers From Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile

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You may have seen the advertisements about free cell phones from Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile. Money expert Clark Howard says you probably should let these offers pass you by.

Clark loves free things, but as the old adage goes, the devil’s in the details. 

Free Phone Offer? Read the Fine Print

Clark says AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile are all fighting for your cell phone dollar.

“These three are so fighting each other for market share that it’s nuts,” Clark says.

The latest way these carriers are doing that is by enticing customers with the word “free.” “What they now say is ‘Free iPhone! You can get a free iPhone 13 on us!’ That seems to be the biggest lure,” Clark says. “Or it’s a credit toward a new phone for X number of dollars,” he says.

“That free phone is so expensive you can’t believe it. How can a free phone be expensive?” Clark says. “Because what it does is it ties you to them, because they don’t give you a free phone straight out. You have to be with them for a period of time and earn out that free phone.”

Let’s see if we can find the very big catches that come with the “free” phones sold by AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile.

The Truth About the AT&T Deal

Free phone from AT&T
Screenshot via Att.com

AT&T’s offer stipulates that you have to trade in your old phone. Here’s what it says about the “free” Galaxy Z Flip4.

“Purchase an eligible smartphone on a qualifying installment agreement, including taxes on full retail price (up front) and $30 activation/upgrade fee. Activate/keep postpaid eligible unlimited wireless service (min. $75/mo. for new unlimited customers before discounts). AT&T may temporarily slow data speeds if the network is busy,” it says.

The Truth About the Verizon Deal

Free phones at Verizon
Screenshot via Verizon.com

Verizon’s free phone offers are displayed prominently on the carrier’s website, which features some of the latest iPhone models.

In the case of the Apple iPhone 13 Mini, the details of the promotion read as follows:


“$999.99 purchase on device payment or at retail price required. New line required. Less $699.99 promo credit applied to account over 36 mos; promo credit ends if eligibility requirements are no longer met; 0% APR. Specific plans required. Taxes & fees may apply.”

The Truth About the T-Mobile Deal

REVVL Series 6 free phone from T-Mobile
Screenshot via Tmobile.com

As we mentioned, even T-Mobile is getting in on the “free” phone fanfare. In the case of the REVVL 6 Series, T-Mobile is offering a BOGO, buy one, get one free deal. Or is it?

The deal is applicable “via 24 monthly bill credits. If you cancel before 24 credits, credits stop & balance on required finance agreement may be due; contact us. For well-qualified customers; plus tax.”

It goes on to say: “Tax on pre-credit price due at sale. Limited-time offer; subject to change. Qualifying credit & service required. If you’ve cancelled lines in past 90 days you may need to reactivate them first. In stores & on customer service calls, $35 assisted or upgrade support charge may be required. Up to $219.99 via bill credits; must be active and in good standing to receive credits, allow 2 bill cycles. Max 12/account. May not be combinable with some offers or discounts.”

Here’s the Catch With ‘Free’ AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile Phones

  • AT&T: This free offer is good only when you trade in a Galaxy phone. If you cancel your service, you’ll owe the remaining balance of the phone.
  • Verizon: The company’s “free” offer is paired with a “promo credit” applied over 36 months. Plus, a new line is required.
  • T-Mobile: To get a free phone with your new line, the company binds you to a 24-month bill credit agreement.

Clark says what these “free” offers are really doing is “obligating you almost like the old-fashioned contracts: handcuffing you to them with supposedly free phones that only become free if you stay with them for the two- or three-year period.”

Bottom Line

Clark says when it comes to no-cost offers from the major wireless phone providers, “The free is not really free. The free is a tease to obligate you to them.”

Clark knows that some customers are loyal to certain brands to a fault — even to the detriment of their wallets. In that case, here’s his advice.

“Maybe you love Verizon or AT&T, and you couldn’t imagine switching. In that case, yeah, take the free phone, but know that that phone has a very, very high cost.”

Looking for a phone for less? Read our guide on the best cell phone plans and deals.