Apple recently announced that devotees like me are now able to get a new iPhone every year — without being tied to a mobile carrier.
Their iPhone Upgrade Program allows you to purchase an iPhone with monthly installments. The phones are unlocked, so you can use them with any carrier.
The timing couldn’t be better for me: I’m currently with Verizon, and my two-year contract is up this fall. I’m ready for a new iPhone.
With all these new options, what is the best way to buy a new iPhone 6S?
A number of sites have put together hasty comparisons with glancing overviews of the new offers. But what none of these explains is… which is the best plan for me?
So I did the research myself. And hopefully, my analysis will help you decide whether any of these options is right for you.
What I Need in a Cell Phone Plan
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of these competing deals, but there’s a lot more to consider than what’s on the sales page. Few people use the basic, out-of-the-box plan advertised, because everyone’s cell phone needs are different.
When you get to the store and actually start to build a plan to fit your life, you may suddenly find you’re not getting the deal you expected.
For example, my partner and I share a cell phone plan, so I have to consider the cost of two new phones and a family plan that meets our mobile phone and data needs. I want to be prepared before heading to the store, because sales reps are awfully convincing when you’re not well-informed.
To choose the phone and service plan that works best for us, we’re considering these questions:
- How many lines will be on our plan? We need two, and we’d like a family plan.
- What kind of phone do we want? Between music, apps and photos, we’re looking for more storage than the standard 16GB iPhone. We each want the new iPhone 6S with 64GB storage.
- Will we purchase hardware insurance? Yes, for both phones.
- Will we need software/tech support? No. (But for the purposes of comparison with Apple’s offer, I’ll include this in my research.)
- How many minutes/texts do we use per month? About 900 texts and 200 minutes together.
- How much data do we use per month? Between 8 and 12GB.
- What special needs do we have (mobile hotspot, family safeguards, international use, etc.)? We travel frequently in the U.S. and often end up with unreliable Internet access. Having LTE access and a mobile hotspot are musts for us to work on the road, as is at least 10GB of data.
Which Cell Phone Provider Is Best for Us?
First, let’s look at what the iPhone Upgrade Program offers:
- Lease an iPhone for 24 months
- No down payment
- Turn in your phone after 12 months for an upgrade
- AppleCare+ (a $129 insurance package that offers software support, two years of hardware repairs and two incidents of accidental damage coverage)
To get my new 64GB iPhone 6S with this program, I’ll pay $36.58 per month — that’s $73.16 per month for the two of us — just for the phones. We’ll have to purchase a service plan on top of that.
Would it be cheaper to buy the phone through a carrier? Let’s look at some options.
In response to Apple’s announcement, T-Mobile launched JUMP! on Demand. This limited-time deal offers the iPhone 6S for $20 per month for 18 months, with an upgrade up to three times per year.
(That sounds exciting until you realize new iPhones simply don’t come out that often. This could, however, come in handy if you want to jump ship to Android after giving Apple a shot.)
The monthly payments are the same, regardless of the iPhone’s capacity, but for the 64GB, I’d pay $99 upfront (a 16GB phone has no upfront payment).
To match the AppleCare+ support Apple’s offering, I’d also purchase hardware insurance and software support. Premium Handset Protection is $8 per month, and Lookout Mobile Security Premium insurance is $4 per month, so that’s an extra $12 per month per device.
- $40 for two iPhone 6S 64GB
- $16 for two Premium Handset Protection
- $8 for two Mobile Security Premium
= $64 per month, plus $198 upfront, to buy our phones through T-Mobile
To get the service we need from T-Mobile, we’ll sign up for the Simple Choice Plan, with two lines. T-Mobile is unique in letting you build your family plan based on the amount of data each line will use, so you can get just what you need.
For 5GB of 4G LTE data each, the first line will cost us $70. The second will cost $50, but after 1GB, data speeds are reduced.
Unlimited Talk & Text and WiFi tethering are included, and there’s no additional line access fee. There’s also no activation fee, regardless of the source of the phone.
All told, service from T-Mobile will cost $120 per month. Add that to the payments for our phones and insurance, and buying phones and service through T-Mobile will cost us $184 per month, plus $198 upfront.
If we purchase our iPhones through Apple and sign up for T-Mobile service, we’ll pay $193.16 per month, and nothing upfront.
Sprint’s offer, iPhone Forever, is available through December 31. Through this program, you trade in your old smartphone and get a new iPhone 6S for $15 per month for 22 months. (Without the trade-in, the monthly price is $22.)
You can upgrade whenever a new iPhone comes out, regardless of how long you’ve been paying for the plan. Plus, it sounds like you can trade in any smartphone — so my shall-remain-nameless colleague who’s still rocking a 3GS is in luck.
To get a 64GB iPhone 6S, trading in my 5C, I’ll pay $19.77 per month, with no upfront payment. (That’s with “good credit.” When I selected “building credit” on Sprint’s Pre-order tool, it told me I’d pay $225 down and only $9.32 monthly.) Through Sprint, I can also purchase AppleCare+ for $129.
- $39.54 for two 64GB iPhone 6S
- $129 upfront for AppleCare+
= $39.54 per month, plus $129 upfront, to buy our phones through Sprint
Now let’s add service.
For 10GB shared data, unlimited talk and text and mobile hotspot on Sprint’s Family Share Pack plan, we’ll pay $100 per month. That’s with $0 in line access fees, plus a $36 activation fee per line.
Add service costs to the payments for our phones, and we’ll pay $139.54 per month getting both from Sprint.
If we purchase our iPhones through Apple and sign up for Sprint service, we’ll pay $173.16 per month.
It’s No $200 iPhone, But $330 Isn’t Bad
Note that both Sprint and T-Mobile’s installment plans offer the iPhone at a reduced price.
Through T-Mobile, you can pay $24 per month for 18 months, then pay $164 if you want to keep the phone. That brings the price of the iPhone 6S to $524, $125 less than Apple’s retail price.
Through Sprint’s limited-time-offer, the iPhone 6S will only run you $330, plus the trade-in of your current iPhone.
To stay in the game, AT&T rolled out AT&T Next this month, an installment plan that allows you to pay full retail price for a phone over a period of 20, 24 or 30 months, with early upgrade options.
- $50 for two 64GB iPhone 6S
- $13.98 for mobile insurance on two phones
= $63.98 per month to buy our phones through AT&T
With AT&T’s No Annual Service Contract plan option (a service plan for phones purchased through AT&T Next, full upfront payment or a third party), we’ll get Unlimited Talk & Text and 15GB data (with rollover) for $100. They also charge a $15 access fee for each line.
- $100 15GB family plan
- $30 for two lines
= $130 per month for AT&T service
- $63.98 per month for our phones and insurance
= $193.98 per month to buy our phones and service through AT&T
If we purchase our phones through Apple and sign up for AT&T service, we’ll pay $203.16 per month.
I’m sort of biased going in, because I’m already with Verizon. I like their network and customer service, and I’m less impressed by what I’ve seen and heard from other carriers.
But the $201.60 I pay each month? Not as great. If these other plans can compete, I’m open to change.
First, I could simply renew my current MORE Everything Plan and pay the subsidized price for a new iPhone. While contract plans are no longer available to new customers, Verizon wants to make sure existing customers know they can stick with their current plans if they want.
Switching to the new plan, simply called The Verizon Plan, will be cheaper. But does Verizon’s monthly installment plan make more sense than buying my iPhone from Apple?
My 64GB iPhone 6S from Verizon will run $31.24 per month over 24 months. Comprehensive insurance is $11 per month, per device.
- $62.48 for two 64GB iPhone 6S
- $22 for insurance for two phones
= $84.48 per month to buy for our phones from Verizon
On its new plans, Verizon has actually boosted the value for service. I currently pay $80 per month for 10GB of data; on the new Verizon Plan, I’d pay the same amount for 12GB.
Plus, we’ll pay a line access fee of $20 per phone.
- $80 for 12GB Verizon Plan
- $40 access fee for two lines
= $120 per month for Verizon service
- $84.48 per month for our phones and insurance
= $204.48 per month to buy our phones and service through Verizon
In the end, Verizon is the only carrier Apple actually beats when it comes to the price of buying our phones.
If we buy our iPhones through Apple and sign up for Verizon service, we’ll pay $193.16.
On top of that, Verizon’s monthly installment plan offers no option for an early upgrade like its competitors do. Even without a service contract, I would likely wait two years for my next iPhone.
Where to Get the iPhone 6S
So, what will I do?
The numbers definitely show Sprint to be our best option. Using their limited-time iPhone Forever offer, we can both upgrade to the iPhone 6S 64G with no upfront payment and save more than $60 on our monthly cell phone bill.
Armed with this information, I think we’re ready to make the switch!
Your Turn: Are you planning to buy a new iPhone or other smartphone this year? Will you take advantage of one of these new installment plans?
Dana Sitar is a Staff Writer at The Penny Hoarder. She also writes about writing, work, life and love for blogs and books, and sometimes things people care about, like Huffington Post and that one time she had an article published in The Onion. Follow along on Twitter: @danasitar.