Is it possible to cut your cellphone bill in half by going pre-paid?

TULSA - Pre-paid plans promise talk, text and data for $30 to $50 a month, easily slicing most customer's monthly bills in half or more, all without a contract.

With an eye toward saving you money we enlisted the help of some viewers to see if pre-paid cellphone offers can cut your bill in half.

Straight Talk customer Raymond Carusone is a believer.  

"Never got it shut off, never lost a call," said Carusone. 
    
Straight Talk is a service from Tracfone and is marketed by Walmart.

Jack Stallings was ready to try out Straight Talk for us.

He's paying $160 a month under a two-year contract with US Cellular.    

"Then I started reading and I didn't even take the plunge," said Stallings.

The hang-up for Jack?  Straight Talk's 30 pages of terms and conditions.  

Stalings' career: IT specialist.  He ran down a few of the terms he thinks could be a problem for some cellphone users.  

These are some of the items from the terms and conditions:   

Certain mobile phone features may not be available throughout the entire network or their functionality may be limited.  Their contract states specifically we may remotely change your wireless phone software, applications or programing without notice.  At our sole discretion to anyone, for any reason, at any time.

Our repeated efforts to reach a Straight Talk representative for comment went unanswered , but their website promises nationwide coverage and you can use their service on your current phone.

Stallings says tried out the service on a friend's phone and didn't hit any snags other than what he says was slow Web access.

Dana Fusco also wanted to help look into pre-paid options.   

"It's going to be a good opportunity for me to see what's going to be my best savings," said Fusco.

She's currently on a pre-paid plan with Cricket but was intrigued by the offerings on Boost Mobile 's website, including shrinking monthly payments and more phone options than she saw through Straight Talk.  

Fusco then found something she says she didn't like.

"With Boost Mobile, I was never able to get through to a live person," she said.  "I tried several times.  Went through menu options, about five, and I finally just got very frustrated and gave up.  They want you to do all of your business online and I don't care for that."

We reached out to Boost Mobile and a representative got back to us immediately with this statement:

We are proud of our customer service and regret any customer having concerns or a bad experience.  We're not perfect but continue to take strides to enhance our customer service: in addition to our customer care toll-free number 1-866-402-7366, Boost has FAQs available on our website and a special team of care representatives monitoring and responding on our Facebook page and Twitter pages.  Boost Mobile products are available nationwide at nearly 20,000 major retail stores, including Best Buy, RadioShack, Target, Family Dollar, Walgreens and Walmart, Sprint retail stores and independent wireless dealer locations where sales staff is trained to answer and help consumers with their wireless needs.

Boost also now offers 4G service on some plans and shrinking monthly payments that could take a customer's bill from $50 to $40 dollars per month in 18 months if all payments are made on time.

Despite drawbacks found by some of our viewers , many people are making the switch from contracts and monthly billing to pre-paid plans.

Because of increasing popularity AT&T , Verizon and Sprint all now offer unlimited prepaid services for $50 dollars a month.

Stallings says pre-paid may be fine for basic needs.

"If you just made phone calls, checked emails and sent text you would probably be OK," he said.  "But for somebody who uses a device heavily and relies on especially the Internet or streaming or multimedia capabilities of a phone it's not a good deal."

Fusco plans on sticking with her Cricket service -- phone, text and data for $45 a month.

We found the phones offered through pre-paid sites tend to be more expensive than buying a device when you sign a two-year contract, but if you cut your overall bill in half and stay with pre-paid for at least six months you'll generally more than make up for that initial expense.

A newcomer to the pre-paid cellphone service arena is Solavei which launched in September of this year.  It uses T-Mobile's infrastructure and its web site promises unlimited 4G, voice, text, data without a contract for $49 per month.  Rather than spending a lot of advertising dollars promoting its service Solavei relies on its own customers to recruit friends and family.   Offering discounts on monthly bills to referral fees to income depending on how many people customers refer to sign up with Solavei.   The company also claims if customers bring their own "qualified" phones to use Solavei's service they'll provide a free SIM card.


We also found websites, BillShrink.com and MyRatePlan.com , where you can enter your current plan and the sites

offer to compare it against pre-paid plans to find the one that works best for you.

In addition to Fusco and Stallings, several other viewers weighed in via email and Facebook with their thoughts on pre-paid plans and the comparison websites.

Here's what they had to say:

Ric York writes:
After viewing the websites for these prepaid phones I don't find them to be a good deal.   The up-front costs are where they are really making their money.  Phones are generally priced between $69.99 and $329.99.  

With my Sprint account I'm running two iPhones and two Androids, all of which cost me nothing.  My Sprint bill runs $203, taxes and all.  That includes unlimited text and data and 1500 "anytime" minutes.  But one must remember I get free mobile-to-mobile calls (any network) and free calls 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. weekdays and all weekend.   My "anytime minutes" will renew in eight days and between the four lines we've used 56 minutes.   So there's no way I'm going to have to pay "overage" minutes.  Yes.  $203 for unlimited text and data, plus 1500 anytime minutes.


Heidi Priddy shares:
I like the Smart Talk plan ($45 per month unlimited everything) but unfortunately right where my house is it is a dead zone (1-2 bars of signal strength). Another dead zone is right by the hospital.  

Now my husband did get a new phone on the same SmartTalk plan and got the new Samsung Galaxy.  He has no problems getting a signal.  There are quite a few phones available on that plan and I have never heard of losing your phone number.  They simply shut it off until you pay up again and they don't charge a fee for re-hooking back up.

The newer phone my husband just got actually has a roaming feature that picks up the nearest tower and will switch to a different network in order to get a signal.  He can even go in our tin roofed music studio and get a signal while mine dies as soon as I go through the door.   Now he can run his entire business no matter where he is whether it be banking, checking orders, posting on eBay or Facebook, you name it.


Sean Johnston says:
I would not go with billshrink.com because I am leery of giving out my personal information when I don't think it's necessary.  When that gets asked, or I can't go further to what I want because I won't give that, that doesn't go over well with me.  At all.

Myrateplan.com , on the other hand, looks a mess organizationally, on first blush, but it's actually relatively useful and didn't ask me for my personal info, which I think is very respectful.
I've also had a look at the other plans.  Boost seems like it would be a good one.  Pretty good phones, clear, simple plans, a fair amount of data (which is a key for me).  I would not be attracted to Straigh Talk.  I'm not too impressed with the phone on offer through them nor the plans nor particularly the website.   AT&T prepaid would be a good option as well once I am out of my contract if I wanted to go with an Android phone.   Another alternative would be to just add a basic flip phone from AT&T for pretty cheap as a backup phone or something to hold one over on a trip if you lose your regular phone.

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