What’s the cheapest carrier for your expensive new iPhone?


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Virgin’s Inner Circle will give you a year of iPhone service for just a buck!

Josh Miller/CNET

You’ve heard of being “house-poor”? That’s when you spend all your money on a house and then can’t afford to furnish it.

If you’re planning to order a new iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus or iPhone X, you’ll probably end up feeling a little “phone-poor.” After that big expense, can you afford to “furnish” the phone with actual service?

You can if you’re willing to switch carriers. Let’s take a look at some dirt-cheap plans for your pricey new precious.

The cheapest single-line options

If you’re looking for a single line of service, right now there are two pretty unbeatable options:

Sprint’s promotion was originally slated to end in June, but as of now the promo page simply states “limited-time offer.” Assuming you purchased an unlocked iPhone and you have a phone number you’re transferring from another carrier, your only initial cost is $2.99 for a SIM card and $10 for shipping. From there you’ll pay a few bucks per month for various fees — and you need to sign up for eBill and auto-pay, otherwise those fees will jump to $7.99.

Amazingly, this plan includes not only unlimited everything, but also mobile hotspot. And after the first year, you’re free to cancel and shop elsewhere.

As for Virgin, same basic deal: Transfer your number, buy a SIM card and pay nominal monthly fees; the service is effectively free for the first year. And this “Inner Circle” membership affords other benefits as well, including discounts on air travel and hotels. However, you don’t get the mobile-hotspot option, so between the two I definitely prefer the Sprint plan.

If Sprint coverage isn’t good in your area, or you just prefer a GSM (as opposed to CDMA) carrier, you’ll need to look elsewhere — and potentially give up on the idea of unlimited data (which the majority of users don’t need). A few solid options:

  • MetroPCS: This T-Mobile MVNO has single-line plans starting at $30 per month, a price that includes 2GB of 4G LTE data and mobile hotspot. At $40 per month you get 6GB of high-speed data.
  • Mint SIM: Another T-Mobile-powered carrier, Mint SIM requires you to pay up front for three, six or 12 months of service. Obviously that’s not ideal if you raided the piggy bank to buy your iPhone, but if there’s money left, the amortized rates are nearly unbeatable. For example, for the annual rate of $180 (which works out to just $15/month), you get unlimited calls and texts and 2GB of high-speed data. At the top end, a $300 payment (equivalent to $25/month) nets you 10GB of high-speed data.
  • Ting: Every time I write about cheap phone plans, readers come out of the woodwork to champion Ting. The big draw: You pay only for the service you use. And that works out beautifully for many customers, who cite bills of as low as $10-20 per month.

The cheapest family-plan options

Many, if not most, mobile carriers offer discounts for multiple lines of service. MetroPCS, for example, tacks on just $25 for each additional line, meaning you’d pay a total of $65 per month for the aforementioned 6GB plan. Four lines would bring your monthly total to $115 — or $28.75 per line.

However, you can do a little better with Cricket, which will give you five lines of service for $100. That’s the plan I’ve got for my family of four (plus one mother-in-law), and although each line gets “just” 4GB of high-speed data per month, only my two kids come anywhere close to using that much.

If you have a big family, it’s hard to beat an effective cost of $20 per person per month. And Cricket relies on AT&T’s network, which, in my area at least, offers excellent coverage.

Have you found a single-line or family plan that beats the options I’ve listed here? Tell me about it in the comments! 

Apple Sept. 12 iPhone event live coverage: Read about the event on CNET’s live blog.

iPhone X, iPhone 8: Everything we know about Apple‘s new iPhones.

Everything Apple just announced: New iPhones, Apple TV 4K, wireless charging and more.

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