Picking the right cell phone service for your family can be a real headache, but getting a free cell phone in the process can be a nice benefit.
Free cell phones are a moving target. We have lots of good information below, but it’s always best to check with carriers for their latest offers.
Best Free Cell Phone Deals From the ‘Big 3’ Providers
If you’re in the market for a cell phone, you’re likely keenly aware of the presence of the industry’s “Big 3”: AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and T-Mobile own a major portion of the market share in this space.
That includes an infrastructure of cell phone towers throughout the United States, but it also means these companies have a good deal of influence on the pricing for some of the most popular phones available.
These companies run promotional deals frequently, which makes it both easy to find a deal that seems appealing and confusing to determine which deal is best. Let’s sort through some of the offerings from each provider. These offers are active as of November 2022.
A few months ago, Apple unveiled the new iPhone 14 series and all three of the major carriers are still offering trade-in offers to get the latest device for free.
For example, AT&T is offering the iPhone 14 for free when you buy on a qualifying installment plan with an eligible AT&T unlimited plan and trade in an eligible smartphone.
Here’s what you need to know about AT&T’s free iPhone 14 offer:
- Trade-in of a device in good condition (minimum $130 trade-in value) is required.
- Signing up for a 36-month installment agreement is required.
- Signing up for $75/month minimum eligible unlimited service is required.
- Taxes are due at the time of purchase.
- $35 activation/upgrade fee plus additional fees, taxes and other charges may apply.
In addition to the iPhone 14 deals, AT&T also has a way that you can get a new Samsung Galaxy S22 for free. This deal also requires you to trade in an eligible smartphone in good working condition, but it requires a trade-in value of only $35.
Here are more details from AT&T’s website detailing how to get these deals.
You’ll need to:
- Purchase an eligible smartphone on a qualifying installment agreement, including taxes on full retail price (upfront) and pay a $35 activation/upgrade fee.
- Activate (or keep) postpaid eligible unlimited wireless service (minimum $75 for new unlimited customers before discounts).
- Trade in an eligible smartphone within 30 days of activation.
Then you’ll get:
- Up to $800 in bill credits with eligible smartphone trade-in
According to AT&T’s website, credits will start within three bills after the trade-in is completed. Credits will be applied in equal amounts over the term of the installment agreement.
In addition to the free iPhone 14 devices and the Samsung Galaxy Z Fip4 deal, AT&T is also offering up to $800 off other popular smartphones including the iPhone 14 Pro Max, Google Pixel 7 Pro and the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip4 with an eligible device trade-in.
To get any of these deals, follow the same steps above. However, to get any of the iPhones, though, the eligible device you trade in has to be worth at least $130 to qualify for the full discount. The other deals require a device worth at least $35.
You can check out all of AT&T’s cell phone deals on the company’s website.
Verizon Wireless is offering the iPhone 14 and the Samsung Galaxy S22 for $800 off with an eligible trade-in, which makes these devices free. You can get $700 off the Google Pixel 7 with an eligible trade-in or $1,000 off the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip4 with a new line and eligible trade-in, which makes those devices free as well.
To get this deal, you’ll need to trade in an eligible phone and activate a new line or maintain an existing line on one of Verizon’s select Unlimited plans. When it comes to the eligible device that you’ll need to trade in, Verizon is accepting old or damaged phones. According to Verizon’s website, “For the first time ever, trade in an old or damaged phone free of battery damage (i.e. swelling, leaking or too hot to touch).”
Eligible Unlimited plans begin at $80 per month for one line. You can choose from 5G Do More, 5G Play More, 5G Get More or Verizon’s One Unlimited for iPhone plan, and you’ll get credit on each bill for 36 months to cover the cost of your new device.
Verizon is also offering a $200 eCard to cover the costs of moving to Verizon when you port your number from your current carrier.
As of November 2022, Verizon offered more than 80 different smartphones, and many of them are eligible for trade-in offers. While they won’t all be free, you can easily save several hundred dollars by trading in an old phone. You can check out the full details of any of these offers by visiting Verizon’s website and clicking on the phone you’re interested in.
If you’re not looking to trade in a device for credit, Verizon Wireless also offers several different free cell phones that don’t require one. However, these deals require a 36-month commitment to an unlimited plan on a new phone line:
- Apple iPhone 13 mini
- Apple iPhone 12
- Apple iPhone 12 mini
- Google Pixel 6a
- Samsung Galaxy A03s
- Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G UW
- Motorola edge 5G UW
- Apple iPhone SE (3rd Gen)
- Motorola moto g pure
There are a few other free phones available that are certified pre-owned:
- Apple iPhone 12 Pro
- Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max
- Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G
- Samsung Galaxy S20 5G UW
- Apple iPhone 12
- Apple iPhone 12 mini
- Apple iPhone 11
- Apple iPhone 11 Pro
- Apple iPhone X
- Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max
- Apple iPhone XR
- Apple iPhone 8 Plus
- Apple iPhone XS Max
- Apple iPhone 8
- Apple iPhone XS
The fine print explains how this works, though. You’re actually paying for a phone and then getting credit back on your bill each month: “Purchase on device payment or at retail price required. New line required. Promo credit applied to account over 36 mos; promo credit ends if eligibility requirements are no longer met; 0% APR. Unlimited plan required. Taxes & fees may apply.”
You can check out the full details of each Verizon Wireless deal here. Simply select the phone you’re interested in and click on “See Details” under “Ways to Save.”
If a 36-month commitment is too long, T-Mobile is offering a free iPhone 14 with a 24-month agreement plus tax. To get this deal, you’ll have to trade in an eligible device and activate a new line on an eligible unlimited plan.
T-Mobile offers up to $800 in credit (applied over 24-36 months depending on the deal) on other select devices when you trade in an eligible device and/or activate a new line on an eligible unlimited plan (Magenta MAX for several offers). That makes the following devices free:
- Apple iPhone 14
- Google Pixel 7
- Apple iPhone 13
- Samsung Galaxy S22
- iPhone 13 mini
- iPhone 12
If you’re not interested in trading in a device, you can still get a free phone from T-Mobile when you activate a new line with a 24-month commitment. Here are the eligible smartphones:
- OnePlus Nord N300 5G
- T-Mobile REVVL 6 Pro
- T-Mobile REVVL 6 5G
- Motorola moto g stylus 5G (2022)
- TCL STYLUS 5G
- Motorola moto g 5G (2022)
- OnePlus Nord N20 5G
- Samsung Galaxy A13 5G
- TCL 30 XE 5G
- Nokia X100 5G
- Motorola moto g pure
- OnePlus 10T 5G
- Google Pixel 6a
- Motorola edge 2022
- iPhone SE
- OnePlus 10 Pro 5G
The cost of these phones is offset by a credit on your monthly bill for 24 months. If you don’t keep your service for the full two years, T-Mobile will bill you for the remaining balance on the phone. So it’s actually free only if you stay with T-Mobile for the duration of the deal. Unlike the other deals on the T-Mobile site, there is no trade-in required to get these phones.
Best Free Cell Phone Deals From Select MVNOs
“MVNO” stands for mobile virtual network operator.
These cell phone service providers don’t actually own their own cell towers. Instead, they rely on paid partnerships with the Big 3 providers (Verizon Wireless, AT&T and T-Mobile) to provide a cell signal to customers.
Using one of these companies for your cell phone service can be an opportunity to get a good deal without sacrificing reliability. These providers are also a good place to start if you’re looking for an affordable cell phone plan for two lines. Check the coverage maps for your area closely to ensure the MVNO you are considering will provide adequate connectivity.
Metro by T-Mobile
If you’re looking for a free cell phone without a 24-month commitment, Metro by T-Mobile is one of your best bets right now.
Metro by T-Mobile is offering your choice of one of six free 5G phones right now when you switch. The current selection of free devices includes:
- Samsung Galaxy A13 5G
- Motorola moto g 5G
- REVVL 6 5G
- REVVL 6 Pro 5G
- TCL 30 XE 5G
To get this deal, you’ll have to purchase the phone and activate it on the $40 Metro by T-Mobile monthly plan. You’ll also have to port your old number from your current carrier. This limited-time offer is available in-store only. Selection and availability vary by location, and a $20 per line activation fee may apply.
You can check out the full details here.
Cricket Wireless is also currently offering a free phone when you switch to the service bring your own phone number.
Right now, if you sign up for a plan that costs at least $30 per month, you can get a free TCL 30 Z or Cricket Debut Smart. If you sign up for a plan that costs at least $55 per month, you can get a free Cricket Vision Plus. If you choose a plan that costs at least $60 per month, you can also choose between the Cricket Dream 5G, Samsung Galaxy A03s and Motorola moto g pure.
With these deals, you’ll pay for the first month of service at the point of sale plus the device taxes.
Right now, Visible offers two different devices that you can swap to for free:
- Blade A3 Prime
- Visible Midnight
To get one of these phones for free, create a Visible account and transfer your number to start the process. Choose which device you’d like to swap to, and Visible will mail it to you along with your SIM card and a pre-paid return label. You can then use the label to send in your old device.
Deals on Phones That Don’t Require Carrier Commitment
You may not like the idea of being committed to one carrier for any length of time. After all, freedom of choice without repercussion is a powerful negotiating leverage. The free cell phone game understandably is not for everyone.
For those who want to avoid cell phone commitments, you’re more likely to find a cheap phone deal rather than a free phone.
If you’re willing to invest in a phone that is not the latest model, there are deals to be had. Much like car dealers looking to clear the way for next year’s models, cell phone carriers and manufacturers have to clear inventory on phones that are to be replaced by the annual upgrades.
An important tip for shopping for a phone independent of a carrier: Make sure that you’re buying an unlocked phone.
If you buy an unlocked phone, you should be able to take it with you from carrier to carrier with only the need for a new SIM card (check on this before purchasing). At this point, you’ll truly be free to shop for the best monthly plan knowing your phone is already paid off.
Be sure to check online retailers like Amazon for deals on unlocked phones. For more tips on how to get a better deal, check out our article on the best places to buy an unlocked phone.
Is Taking the Free Cell Phone Worth It?
The answer to this question is maybe. It really depends on your personal situation.
If you need the latest technology but don’t have the cash to pay for the phone upfront, committing to one of these cell phone carriers in exchange for the phone is a viable option.
But keep in mind that the latest and greatest models are not necessarily going to be free even if you sign up for a commitment that earns a bill credit. If you’re not careful, you may end up making a sacrifice on both the quality of the phone and the freedom of choice in your service provider.
If you’re happy using a phone that’s a few generations older, you should be able to find a phone at such a low cost that you probably won’t see the need to commit to a particular service provider.