Smartphone plans for $50 a month or less

If you or anyone in your family has a smartphone, you know that your monthly bill is easily $80 a month, and can top $125 if you are on it a lot. 
   
A new survey finds that 60 percent of iPhone users now pay well over $100 a month. 

Android users like Mindy Wright are also feeling the pinch.

"I hate it, it's horrible," she said. "It's like $150 a month."

But there are plenty of ways to keep that bill under $50 a month, if you know where to look.

A growing number of smartphone users are now fighting back, not by dumping their phones but by dumping their expensive plans. 

Prepaid the Hottest New Trend 
     
A prepaid phone can get you a smartphone at a flip phone price. In some cases, it's uncanny the difference between a prepaid plan and a standard monthly plan. 
     
And of all the prepaid plans, Walmart's Straight Talk is the fastest growing. It's no wonder, as Straight Talk, run by Tracfone, is just at $45 a month, undercutting all the other major plans. 

The Scoop on Straight Talk 

Robert Mallory, of Walmart's phone department, explained that "for $45 a month you get unlimited talk, as many minutes as you want, and unlimited text," without a two-year contract. 
     
Even data is listed as unlimited, though you may find data "throttled," or slowed down, after you hit 2GB, according to Consumer Reports Magazine. 

There is one catch to this and all prepaid, contract-free, plans: You have to buy your smartphone at full price, such as $600 to $650 for an iPhone 5 (the iPhone 4S runs about $200 less). 

Too much? Mallory says there are many cheaper Android phones available for the plan, including a $150 Samsung Galaxy phone and $70 LG phone, their lowest-cost smartphone 

Other Options Expanding 

It seems everyone is now pushing prepaid. Cricket, an early comer, offers prepaid smartphones, also with unlimited data, for $50 a month (it can vary slightly by Cricket location). 

Tracfone (which runs Walmart's Straight Talk) continues to offer non-Walmart plans at similar rates that are offered at Walmart. 

Net 10 Wireless and Boost Mobile both offer a plan, also with unlimited talk, text and data, for $50 a month. 

Virgin Mobile currently offers a deal at just $35 a month for unlimited data, though talk is limited to 300 minutes. So this is a plan for texters and data users, not heavy talkers. 

Cincinnati Bell's i-Wireless prepaid plan is also $50 a month, and offers a generous 4GB of data, along with unlimited talk and text. 

Even more expensive top tier carriers like T-MobileAT&T, and Verizon are jumping in. Sprint was launching one as this story was being written (full details not yet available).

Until now, these plans have been fairly expensive, but Verizon just unveiled a new $60 a month plan for light data users. 

"It gives you unlimited talk, unlimited text, and 500MB of data, for the person who uses Facebook a little bit, browses the web a little bit," Verizon's Jeannette Elson said. 

It's $70 a month to bump up to a more popular 2GB of data: That's not super cheap but is a decent deal from a major carrier.

AT&T also offers unlimited talk and text with 1GB of data for $65. T-Mobile offers a variety of different plans, offering unlimited data and text for as low as $30, as long as you can manage the mere 100 minutes of talk. 

Customers Warming to Prepaid     

With prepaid you either buy a card at the store each month, or get billed in advance, so you don't have to walk into Walmart or the Cricket store every month if you prefer not to. 

Brenda Vinson, who watches every penny at the grocery store and elsewhere, says switching to prepaid has substantially cut her family's phone bill. 

"This way I pay at the time of the month when I can afford to pay for a phone," she said. "I can keep control of my teenage daughter's phone also." 

Best of all, she says, is the fact that she has no contract, and can cancel or change plans any time. 

So if you know where to look, you can still get a smartphone plan for $50 a month, or even less, and it doesn't have to look like a 15-year-old flip phone. 

And that way you don't waste your money. (See a full table of plans below)

Brand

Cost

Talk

Text

Data

Catch?

Virgin Mobile

$35

300 mins

Unlimited

Unlimited

Limited 4G

T-Mobile

$30

100 mins

Unlimited

Unlimited

Low talk

T-Mobile

$30

1500 mins

Unlimited

30MB

Low data

Walmart Straight Talk

$45

Unlimited

Unlimited

Unlimited

Slows after 2GB

Cincinnati Bell

$50

Unlimited

Unlimited

4GB

 

Cricket

$50

Unlimited

Unlimited

Unlimited

Slows after 1GB

Net10 Wireless

$50

Unlimited

Unlimited

Unlimited

 

Boost Mobile

$50

Unlimited

Unlimited

Unlimited

Limited 4G

T-Mobile

$50

Unlimited

Unlimited

100MB

 

Verizon

$60

Unlimited

Unlimited

500MB

 

T-Mobile

$60

Unlimited

Unlimited

2GB

 

AT&T

$65

Unlimited

Unlimited

1GB

 

Verizon

$70

Unlimited

Unlimited

2GB

 

T-Mobile

$70

Unlimited

Unlimited

Unlimited