In the past few months each of the Big Four US carriers has introduced some kind of new service plan. So to help you figure out which plan gets you the most bang for your buck, I’m breaking down each carrier’s pricing for an iPhone 7 with a 3GB per month data plan — the average amount used by most smartphone owners, according to the NPD Group.
(Update: A previous version of this article indicated that Verizon charged $5 per month for its Safety Mode. The company, however, now offers the feature for free across its plans.)
I’m also including the cost of a 4-line plan with 3GB of data each for all of you family types, as well as the number of cities in which each carrier offers 4G LTE data speeds.
After digging through each carrier’s website and the various purchasing processes, I found that Sprint (S) came out with the least expensive monthly plans for single people followed by AT&T (T), Verizon (VZ) and T-Mobile (TMUS). If you’ve got a family of four, T-Mobile offers the cheapest plan, while prices increase with Sprint, Verizon and AT&T.
But a carrier’s worth isn’t just about its price. You’re also going to want to take into account its coverage. Sprint might be the least expensive carrier, but it only covers close to 300 million people. T-Mobile, meanwhile, covers 312 million and Verizon covers 314 million. AT&T, according to its own numbers, covers the most people at 325 million.
Monthly cost when buying phone: $650 for phone, $60 per month for data
Monthly cost with phone installments: $127 for the first month, $87 each subsequent month
Family monthly cost when buying phone: $2,600 for phones, $170 per month for data
Family cost with phone installments: $358 for first month, $278 each subsequent month
AT&T’s Mobile Share Advantage plan gives you the option to either purchase your phone outright, or sign up for a 24-month plan. There’s a 30-month plan, as well, but we’re going with the 24-month for this exercise.
A single person
If you decide to pay full-price for your 32GB iPhone 7, you’ll fork over $650 for the device and $60 a month for 3GB of data. That includes a $20 per month device access charge. You’ll also be charged a one-time $20 activation fee, because carriers love money.
All told, you’ll pay $1,460 over the course of two years including the $20 activation fee. Throw in the price of the iPhone 7, and you’re looking at a total of $2,130. The benefit of paying for your phone outright is that you can then leave your carrier at any time.
Opt for AT&T’s Next Every Year plan, and you’ll enter into a 24-month agreement with the carrier that ensures you’ll be able to upgrade to a new handset when you pay off 50% of your iPhone 7’s price, which takes about 12 months. Under that plan, the price of the iPhone 7 breaks down into monthly payments of $27.09.
So you’re looking at $60 per month for 3GB of data and $27.09 per month for your handset and a $20 one-time activation fee. That means you’ll end up forking over $87.09 a month ($127.09 the first month). Over two years, that’ll cost you $2,130.16. And while that’s about the same amount you’d pay if you bought your phone outright, you don’t actually own the handset until you pay it off. That means you can’t leave for another carrier until then.
A family of four
If you’ve got a family of four and are looking to purchase your handsets outright, you’ll pay $2,600 for the phones plus a one-time $80 activation fee and $170 per month for a 16GB plan ($70 for the plan and a $20 access charge for each line), which is the closest to 3GB per person per month that AT&T offers. That’s $6,760 over a two-year period.
If you’re going to pay for your phones in installments, AT&T’s 24-month Next Every Year plan will set you back $170 per month. Add to that $108.36 per month for your phones and $80 in activation fees and you’re looking at $358.36 for the first month and $278.36 for every following month. Together that works out to $6,760.64.
So essentially, you’re going to pay the same price over two years whether you buy your phone in one lump sum or pay for it in installments. The reason you’d want to buy the phone outright, though, is that you wouldn’t be tied to your carrier for two years and could take the handset to another carrier whenever you want.
Monthly cost when buying phone: $650 for phone, $70 per month for data
Monthly cost with phone installments: $97 per month
Family monthly cost when buying phone: $2,600 for phones, $160 per month for data
Family cost with phone installments: $268 per month
Verizon recently revamped its data offerings across the board. It now sells packages ranging from Small (2GB for $35 per month) to XXL (24GB for $110 per month). The company also now allows you to carry over your unused data to the next month and provides a Safety Mode, which automatically slows your data speeds to 2G when you hit your limit to prevent you from having to pay overages.
A single person
If you’re a single person buying an iPhone 7 on the nation’s largest network, you have the option of purchasing your handset or signing up for a two-year plan. The phone itself will cost you $650. Since Verizon doesn’t offer a 3GB plan, you’ll have to go with the next closest option, a $70 per month 4GB plan ($50 a month for the plan and a $20 monthly access charge).
Over the course of two years, that works out to $2,330. That’s $220 more than AT&T, though the Verizon plan does include an extra gigabyte of data per month.
Go for a two-year agreement, and you’ll pay $70 per month for the 4GB data plan and $27.08 a month for your iPhone 7. That comes out to $2,329.92, which is more expensive than the competing AT&T plan — though it does give you more data. The two-year plan might sound appealing since you don’t have to pay for your phone in one lump sum. But it also means you can’t take your phone to another carrier until your two-year contract ends.
A family of four
Got a family of four and want to pay for your phones right away? Then expect to pay $2,600 today and $160 per month for a 12GB monthly play ($80 for the plan and $80 for access fees) that gets 3GB for each family member. That equals $6,440 over the course of two years, or $320 less than AT&T’s offer.
If you go for a two-year plan, you’ll pay $108.32 a month for your four phones, $80 for a 12GB data plan and $80 in line access fees, for a total of $268.32 per month. Over the course of your two-year plan, that works out to $6,439.68. That’s a hair cheaper than buying your phones, but limits you to Verizon for two years.
Like AT&T’s plans, you’re going to pay the same price whether you purchase your iPhone or pay for it in installments. But that smaller monthly bill is worth paying up front.
Monthly cost when buying phone: $650 for phone, $50 per month for data
Monthly cost with phone installments: $77 per month
Family monthly cost when buying phone: $2,600 for phones, $140 per month for data
Family cost with phone installments: $348 per month
Want to join Sprint? Then you’ve got a boatload of options for how to buy your iPhone ranging from buying it directly to leasing it to paying for it in installments. But we’re going to stick with buying a phone directly and paying for it in installments.
A single person
If you buy your $650 iPhone 7 through Sprint you’ll want to go with the carrier’s Small plan, which offers 3GB of data for $50 per month ($30 per month plus a $20 per month access charge). Over two years that equates to $1,850. That’s far less expensive than both AT&T and Verizon.
A two-year installment plan will cost $50 per month for the 3GB plan and $27.09 for the iPhone. That works out to $1,850.16.
A family of four
Buying for a family of four? If you’re paying for your iPhones today you’ll pay $2,600 for the handsets. Add to that $140 per month for a 12GB data plan ($60 per month plus $80 per month in access fees) and you’re looking at $5,690.
If you’re going to pay for all of your phones in installments of $27.09, you’ll end up with a monthly bill of $248.36 — $108.36 for the phones and $140 for the data. Over two years, that’ll cost $5,960.64, which is the same price as if you paid for the phones all at once. But again, buying the phone ensures you don’t have to stick with one carrier for two years.
Monthly cost when buying phone: $650 for phone, $90 first month, $70 each subsequent month
Monthly cost with phone installments: $117 for the first month, $97 each subsequent month
Family monthly cost when buying phone: $2,600 for phones, $190 first month. $110 each subsequent month
Family cost with phone installments: $288 for first month, $218 each subsequent month
T-Mobile and its CEO John Legere fancy themselves as mavericks in the smartphone world, and that’s true in the sense that the carrier has helped move folks away from the standard two-year contract agreement.
When you buy a phone through T-Mobile, you purchase it based on a monthly payment plan that breaks down the cost of the phone over two years. You can then choose any plan you want from month to month. But for the sake of argument, let’s say you’re choosing the same data plan each month.
As far as plans go, the company now offers a single $70 per month unlimited plan.
A single person
Want to purchase your iPhone? Then you’ll pay $670 today for the phone and $20 for a SIM card. Add to that your $70 per month for data and you’re looking at a final two-year price of $2,350.
If you get your iPhone on an installment plan, you’ll pay $27.09 a month. Add that to your $70 per month data plan, and your monthly bill comes to $97.09. Over two years that works out to $2,328. Add on that $20 SIM card fee and you’re going to pay $2,350 for that phone.
A family of four
Opt for purchasing all of your phones, and you’ll pay $2600 for the handsets and $80 for the SIM cards plus $110 per month for the plans. That’s $5,320 over two years.
A nuclear family in need of some iPhones can sign up for T-Mobile’s One plan, which works out to about $110 per month, plus the cost of four iPhones ($108.36) and you end up paying $218.36 per month. Over two years that comes to $5,240.36. Add in $80 for your SIM cards and your grand total is $5,320.64.
In both instances, it eventually works out to the same price over two years if you pay for your phone in installments rather than purchase it outright. Still, it makes more sense to buy your phone right away, since your monthly bill will be cheaper and if you want to leave T-Mobile, you’ll be able to at anytime.
Disclosure: Verizon has made a bid to acquire Yahoo Finance’s parent company, Yahoo.
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