Free cell phone service has been a subject on the Clark Howard Show for years. But after some early stumbles, there are finally a few viable options out there!
Here’s a rundown of what’s free and what’s cheap in the cell phone world.
Free cell phone plan options
With Ring Plus, you’re allowed to bring your own compatible device such as the Moto E ($39 to $49) and pop in their SIM card. One of the best no-contract plans is called Ice Cream. It requires a $10 auto top-up deposit to a credit card to get started — but there are no other monthly fees. For the price of free, you get 1,000 talk minutes, 1,000 texts and 1,000 MB of LTE data! Ring Plus runs on the Sprint network.
FreedomPop was one of the first no-contract free phone services to come onto people’s radar. To get started, you can either bring your own device or buy a cheapo Android phone for around $89 from the company. Then you get 200 talk minutes, 500 texts and 500 MB of data free each month. The service reportedly runs on the backbone of the Sprint network.
Cheap cell phone plan options
With Ting, you only pay for the minutes, texts and data you use. Several members on our Clark.com forums have reported great experiences with Ting, which runs on the Sprint network. Here’s poster YellowRock sharing his experience with Ting:
You only pay $6 per month for each phone and then only pay for what you use. My family has 4 android smart phones and we use the phones for calling and for texting and occasionally internet search and the 4 phones together is less than $40 for all for phones total including taxes per month…There is no contract and you bring your own phones with a large list of phones they already accept. We are in the country and get better service with this company than we did with AT & T or Verizon.
Republic Wireless plans start at $10 a month for unlimited talk and text and you can buy cell data as needed. If you want to pay $17.50/month, you’ll get a base of 500 MB data thrown in. But here’s the thing: Republic is designed to be used on wifi and will pay you back for the data you don’t use each month.
Read more: Clark’s review of Republic Wireless
That means the average user paid just $13.83 (excluding taxes and fees) in April 2016, according to Republic’s own numbers. That’s a great price! As for the phone, you can buy a Moto E or Moto G, plus several other high-end phones.
Projfect Fi is Google’s foray into the wireless world. You buy the phone at a full unsubsidized price. Then you pay $20 per month for unlimited talk and text, and you buy whatever data you want at $10 per gigabyte.
Much like Republic Wireless, this no-contract service will pay you for unused data at a rate of about one penny for each unused megabyte. So let’s say you buy 2 GBs, but only end up using 1 GB. Your account will be credited with $10 at the end of that month.
Read more: Clark’s review of Project Fi
With Consumer Cellular, plans start at $17.50 for 250 minutes, 300 texts and 30MB of data.
Much like with Ting, several members on our forums have reported good experiences with Consumer Celluar. Here’s what user randy165 had to say:
We changed over to Consumer Cellular (AT&T network) over six years ago and I won’t ever change to anyone else.
We pay about 33.00 a month for two phones (one line each) and use the best Motorola smart phones….and share minutes, text & data and always have some left over. We are not high service users but we connect to our wifi when at home and that helps save data.
No contracts, monthly billing and great US customer service and free changes to your service at any time you want and as many changes as you want during each month.
Page Plus offers on of the oddest low dollar price points for cell phone service: $12.
With their ‘The 12’ plan, you get 250 minutes, 250 texts and 10 MB of data for $12 a month. But note this well: This is a 3G-only plan. You cannot activate a 4G device on this plan.
Two easy ways to reduce your data consumption
Opera Mini is a mobile browser that reduces data consumption by 90%, which allows you to dramatically stretch your data plan with your carrier. It’s available as a free download for Android and Apple. Because it only sips data, you may even be able to stay on a lower data plan when you’re using it.
Another option for you to try would be Onavo, a free app that compresses data on your smartphone and saves you money. The compression process that happens to your data is much like how cable and satellite TV companies compress the signal versus traditional over-the-air broadcast signals. Onavo is a free download for both Android and Apple.
Read more: This cell phone feature could save your life