While carrier ads might make it seem like anyone can pop into a store and walk out with a shiny new smartphone and great rates, the reality is less pleasant. Unless your credit is pristine, there’s a good chance you’ll walk in and face a hefty deposit--if you qualify for a monthly plan at all.
Speaking with CNN Money in 2015, T-Mobile noted, “half of Americans don't have sufficiently good credit to qualify for the company's best wireless plans.”
So what do you do if you have bad credit and need a mobile phone? Before you pay that deposit, consider these no credit check phone plans and alternative ways to get a phone without having to empty your piggy bank!
In this guide...
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated for 2020
In the last year, carriers realized that many people simply could no longer afford their services. By the time you consider the deposit, the phone costs and monthly service, you’re potentially talking about thousands of dollars per year.
To get more subscribers, a few carriers now offer monthly plans without credit checks. While many have less features than the standard monthly plan--and most don’t include device subsidies--they are a great option for basic service.
NOTE: Device subsidies are the discounts many carriers offer in exchange for a contract agreement. New flagship smartphones can exceed $500 or more when purchased upfront! Unless you own a phone already--or don’t mind using something from the last generation or two--you might not a save at all on a new mid-to-high-end phone versus paying a deposit.
Major carriers with monthly plans that don’t require credit checks include:
If you’re willing to look at smaller providers, options improve. While you might not recognize many of these carriers, most operate on the same networks as the major companies. Depending on your needs, you might even find them cheaper than the plans the big names offer as well!
For most of these, you’ll must bring your own device or purchase one upfront. However, most carrier stores include a few affordable options--especially when compared to the deposit fees you might face at bigger carriers.
Popular alternative carriers without credit checks include:
If you spend much of your time in range of a Wi-Fi network--or need little mobile data--Republic Wireless’ no credit check plans are a great option. However, because of differences in how they provide service, you must use one of their phones. If you already have a device, this carrier might not be a good fit for you.
A few years ago, hearing the word prepaid triggered thoughts of crazy per-minute rates, horrible coverage and crappy phones. Today, service quality and device options through prepaid carriers are great!
Whether you’re looking for a prepaid carrier with monthly service cards or a pay-as-you-go option for occasional use, these options offer reliable service and won’t hold a lack of credit or bad credit against you:
Tracfone (or one of it’s MANY siblings)
Tracfone was one of the first major prepaid providers in the United States. Since then, they’ve expanded in a big way. In fact, many of of the prepaid providers you’ve heard of are probably owned by Tracfone. These include NET10 Wireless, Total Wireless, Straight Talk and SafeLink Wireless!
Carrier Prepaid Options
Most of the major carriers either offer prepaid services directly or have a separate brand where they do so. While you won’t find phone financing or family plans with most of these carriers, you’ll find that rates are comparable--if not cheaper--than similar monthly options. Popular choices include AT&T’s GoPhone or Cricket Wireless as well as Sprint’s Boost Mobile. You’ll also find options through Verizon and T-Mobile.
If you have a friend or family member with an old phone from any of the major carriers, there’s a good chance you can use it on their prepaid services. This means no hassles with unlocking and you might save over buying a new phone!
If you’d prefer to have service through a major carrier and skip the prepaid options, many will let a friend or family member co-sign on your new service agreement.
How this impacts your service differs between carriers. For most, the account will be in the co-signer’s name and you’ll have rights to change plan features or settings.
Keep in mind, while this gets you up and running with ease, the fact that the account is under someone else’s name means you won’t see the benefits of a recurring monthly payment on your credit report.
Additionally, should something go wrong, the co-signer’s credit will take a hit and they might find debt collectors hunting them down. Not exactly ideal for keeping a happy relationship.
This option has the same pitfalls as the co-signer option. However, the person who’s plan you’re joining can potentially reap rewards.
Most major carriers now offer a family plan. As lines are added, the per-line cost typically decreases. This means if you and your friends all pay equal parts of the bill, you’ll all pay less!
However, with the shift to multi-line plans, many carriers also shifted to shared data and minute pools. Before finding a group plan, make sure you’re intended or typical usage won’t put them over limits and incur additional charges.
With deposits ranging from $100 to $1000+ dollars depending on your needs, they’re not always easy to fit into your budget. However, most carriers will refund the deposit--many with interest--once you’ve met certain conditions. In most cases, this means maintaining service and making payments on-time for 12 to 24 months.
While you’re paying for your monthly service, you’re also working to improve your credit and establish a history of payments with the carrier. This might lead to better offers in the future and eliminate the need for deposits with other business!
Many carriers issue the refund as a credit to your bill or in-store gift card instead of check. Most will also limit the amount of the refund or cancel it entirely if you’re late even once on a bill. This can cause issues if you’re planning to apply that boost of cash to something else and it never arrives.
With the tips in this guide, you should be able to find a quality cell phone carrier that offers the service you need.
Did we miss anything you’ve use to find no credit check phone plans in the past? Have a question we missed or have a different experience finding a no credit check plan? Leave the details in the comments below!
P.S. Most carriers that don’t require credit checks either meter your data usage or offer lower caps that the major carriers. If you’re looking to keep your bills low and get the most from your mobile data plan, our Data Savings Guide offers tips to help!
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