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Cell Phone Cost

How Much Does a Cell Phone Cost?

low costSmartphone with Contract: Freeaverage costBasic Pre-Paid Cell Phone: $10-$20high costPre-Paid Smartphone: $100-$450
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The first step in selecting a cell phone plan is to decide on a carrier, ideally one that offers the best coverage in the area the phone will most often be used. Check the cell phone reception coverage maps for the carriers available. Customers interested in smartphones and accompanying data plans can read How Much Does a Smartphone Cost.

Typical costs:

  • Basic text and talk phone plans generally cost $40-$60 a month. Basic plans typically have a restricted number of talk minutes (often less than 500) and unlimited texting. Basic plans also often include free mobile-to-mobile calls to lines on the same carrier and free nights and weekends. For example, AT&T[1] charges $40 for 450 minutes per month and $20 for unlimited texting. T-Mobile offers an unlimited talk, text and web plan starting at $50 a month that is unique because most basic plans don't include web access.
  • Plans with greater amounts of talk-time minutes cost more. For example, Sprint[2] offers plans with 900 minutes for $60-$110 per month.
  • Verizon[3] offers unlimited talk and text plans that also include limited data plans that start at $80-$90, depending on the type of phone used. Unlimited talk plans through AT&T[4] start at $70 per month.
  • Pre-paid cell phone plans typically cost $30-$100 per month, depending on usage needs. Basic talk and text plans are less expensive than plans that include data or unlimited talk time. For example, Sprint[5] has unlimited pre-paid phone plans from $50-$70 per month. Virgin Mobile[6] has plans for $35-$55 per month.
  • Family plans allow share allotments of talk, text and data and generally cost less than multiple individual plans. For example, Verizon[7] has "share everything" plans that cost $30 per basic phone, $40 per smartphone and $50-$100 for unlimited talk, text and tiered data allowances. Family plans from T-Mobile start at $80 for two lines, $90 for three lines, $100 for four lines and $110 for five lines. Additional data allowances cost more.
Related articles: Cell Phone Plan, Smartphone, Text Messaging, Internet Phone Service, Long Distance Phone Calls

What should be included:
  • Most cell phone plans include voicemail and caller ID.
  • Many cell phone plans allow for free mobile-to-mobile calls on the same network. Many plans also offer free evenings (typically after 7 p.m. or 9 p.m.).
Additional costs:
  • There are typically $30-$40 activation fees for new phones and contracts.
  • Additional minutes usually cost extra.
  • On some plans, roaming outside of the local region can cost extra.
  • Breaking a cell phone contract early will entail a sizeable penalty. It varies by phone and by carrier, but typically the fines are between $175-$350.
  • Depending on the plan, text, IM (Instant Messaging), picture and video messaging can also cost extra. Unlimited text messaging typically costs $20 per month. See: How Much Does Text Messaging Cost.
  • There are state and local taxes on monthly plans, but these are generally minimal.
  • When consumers agree to a new two-year contract the cost of the phone is often heavily discounted. Many phones are available for free or less than $1 with an agreement for a two-year contract.
  • When a cell phone contract term is up, users can renegotiate with the carrier and may get better terms or a new phone.
  • Some national companies offer discount plans for employees.
Shopping for a cell phone:
  • Shop around. Different retailers will offer different incentive plans for signing up for a contract, which can include free activation, free or discounted phones, or other promotions.
  • TopTenReviews evaluates cell phone plans, coverage and features[8] .
  • Consumer Reports has a cell phone service buying guide[9] .
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