How to Get Cell Phone Service for $5/Mo — and Bring Your Own Phone

A woman looks into the camera as she text messages on her phone.
Carmen Mandato/ The Penny Hoarder
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Have you got money to burn? Just all kinds of extra cash lying around? Heck no.

So here’s a reality check: You’re almost certainly paying too much for cell phone service. The average cell phone bill has climbed to $157 a month, according to a J.D. Power study. Holy cow, that’s nearly $1,900 per year!

It doesn’t have to be that way. We’ve found a cool discount wireless carrier where you can pay a lot less, and you can even build yourself a custom plan that fits your needs to a T.

Best of all, Tello makes it super easy. It’s quick and simple to choose a wireless plan based on how many minutes and how much data you want. Monthly rates range from $5 to $39. 

Check to See How It’ll Work for You

Tello is a relative newcomer to the world of discount wireless carriers and prepaid, no-contract cell phone service. 

It operates on Sprint’s nationwide network, which covers more than 282 million people in the U.S. Tello provides state-of-the-art, full-speed 4G LTE data everywhere that Sprint does.

Signing up is simple, and transferring your current phone number isn’t a problem, either. Before signing up, it’s easy to check on how good Tello’s coverage is in your area. Use Tello’s coverage tool to see how strong its network is where you live.

It’s also easy to see if your phone will work with Tello. Just use its compatibility checker. Tello works with any Sprint-compatible phone, including iPhones from 5S to SE; Nexus 5 to 6P; or any unlocked CDMA phone.

All of Tello’s plans include unlimited texting, mobile hotspot (so you can have internet access for other devices anywhere you have phone service) and tethering for no additional charge. You can also use your minutes to make international calls to Canada, Mexico and China for no extra charge.

You can supply your own phone or buy one of about 20 new or refurbished phones that Tello sells. Prices range from $25 to $429, with several phones on sale for less than $100.

Here’s why trying Tello is risk-free. There are no early termination fees or activation fees or any of that garbage. There are no contracts, no lock-ins, no phone-exclusive plans, no fine print, no trap doors, no quicksand, no tricks of any kind. 

If you decide you don’t like it, you can always just change your mind. You’re not going to get stuck with something you don’t want.

And Tello wants to make sure you won’t be sorry for switching. The company offers 24/7 customer support via phone, email or the My Tello app, which is available for iOS or Android. You can also use the app to see how much data you have left for the month, among other things.

The Bottom Line 

Ultimately, Tello’s calling cards are its affordability and flexibility. Low cost doesn’t have to mean low quality. As proof, Tello points to its more than 5,000 mostly positive customer reviews on Trustpilot.

In an age of rising costs, Tello has actually lowered its rates. This most recently happened on June 11, 2019, when it unveiled lower prices. On that day, 85% of Tello’s existing customers automatically got a plan upgrade. For the price they were already paying, they suddenly got more minutes, more data or both.

Parents, if you’ve got kids who are asking for phones, Tello is an astonishingly affordable way to get them cellular service.  

And you can make your own wireless plan. Whether you choose to pay $5 per month, $39 per month or somewhere in between, it’s way, way less expensive than what you’re probably paying now.

Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He’s got little kids who want their own cell phones.