How You Can Afford an iPhone: Prepaid Carriers


It’s a fact: Smartphones are everywhere and more useful than ever.

Forget phone calls–phones today are an iPod, camera, computer, personal trainer, GPS, weekly planner and nutritionist all rolled into one.

But as any smartphone user knows, when it comes to financing these gadgets, things get expensive. The phones themselves can cost hundreds of dollars, and monthly plans add a hefty additional expense.

Lucky for us, someone may have finally created an affordable smartphone package: prepaid mobile providers. As The New York Times reported last week, two of the country’s largest prepaid phone carriers—Cricket and Virgin Mobile—will soon begin offering plans for iPhones.

These options come with a clear trade-off: The initial purchase of the phone itself receives no subsidy and therefore is much more expensive than in a traditional plan. According to The Wall Street Journal, Virgin Mobile’s iPhone starts at $649, while Cricket bills it at $500.

On the flip side, monthly plans for these carriers cost significantly less than traditional plans—as WSJ notes, plans at Virgin Mobile start at $30/month, compared to the $90-120 offered by AT&T and Verizon. In the long term, the magazine suggests, buyers could save $400 in the first year of using a prepaid plan and around $1,200 in the second.

Check out this price comparison chart from The Wall Street Journal:

Image courtesy of the Wall Street Journal

Prepaid plans might not be for everyone—some plans involve a data cap, which can be an inconvenience, and regardless of monthly savings, $500 is no small investment. But with smartphones becoming more and more the norm among adults and even teens, its helpful to know your options. Cricket will reportedly begin its offering on June 22nd and Virgin Mobile has stated that it will begin offering plans on June 29th.

Image courtesy of Yutaka Tsutano via Flickr.

Update: This article has been updated to reflect the fact that Cricket will begin its prepaid offerings on June 22 and Virgin Mobile on June 29th.

  • Rebecca G.

    Thanks for this article, I was recently talking about this with a friend. I have an iPhone with Verizon and don’t even use 1/2 of my minutes on the lowest text + data plan. I got an unlimited data plan before they were discontinued.

    However the 2 carriers Virgin & Cricket that you mentioned haven’t started their offerings just yet. Way to get my hopes up ;)

    • LibbyKane

      Hi Rebecca: You’re right! Cricket will begin its offering on June 22nd (this Friday) and Virgin Mobile on June 29th. We’ve updated the article to avoid clarify … and avoid any falsely-raised hopes!

      • LibbyKane

        … and by “avoid clarify,” I mean “clarify.”

  • Molly Ayre-Svingen

    Any tips on switching over my existing iPhone to pre-paid from AT&T since I’m finally out of my expensive contract with them? :)