I can has buy used phone?
August 6, 2009 6:27 AM   Subscribe

Where can one get a used/cheap cell phone?

I am a social worker in Minneapolis/St. Paul and clients are inquiring about getting cell phones. Many cannot afford traditional new contract = cheap phone plans. (My clients generally also have non-existent or bad credit and are leery of contracts because of not being documented or getting burned before.) Will carriers connect used phones purchased, say, online or at sketchy cell phone stores on the corner? Or are pay-as-you go phones a better option?
posted by ShadePlant to Technology (12 answers total)
Not much money + bad credit = ideal customer for prepaid. I have fine credit and income and use it, just b/c it's the most cost effective option for my use. I hate the "predict how much time you'll need and pay accordingly" pricing model of traditional phones. It's absurd.
posted by Steve3 at 6:42 AM on August 6, 2009

I'd say prepaid may be a good option, but you have to choose the right plan if the phones are going to be used all the time. I have a T-Mobile prepaid pay as you go plan phone, which works for me because I use maybe 20 minutes per week.

I think Boost Mobile has a plan for $50 a month which may work for heavy users.
posted by reenum at 6:45 AM on August 6, 2009

A new pay-as-you-go phone can cost as little as $20 (e.g. Radio Shack), which is not much more than you'll pay for a sim on its own. Pay-as-you-go sims arewidely available in the UK and Europe, but I'm not so sure about the US.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 6:48 AM on August 6, 2009

I know for Sprint at least, when you buy used phones on Ebay or elsewhere, there's a risk that the phone won't be able to be activated if it's been reported as stolen. To get around this, you can get the IMEI number (basically a manufacturer's ID number associated with the phone) before you buy, and check that it's available to be activated by calling Sprint and talking to customer service. I'd assume a similar situation can occur with other carriers, though I'm not sure of the sim-card based ones.

As far as your question, there's a government-sponsored program called SafeLink that provides free cell phones for low income people, but it is currently only available in certain states (from the web page, parts of Alabama, Connecticut, D. of Columbia, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin).

Otherwise I'd think their best deal is probably a prepaid mobile, ie. Tracfone/Virgin/Boost or similar.
posted by reptile at 6:48 AM on August 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

..by which I meant to say 'free pay-as-you-go sims'
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 6:49 AM on August 6, 2009

I have a Virgin Mobile phone that I bought at Radio Shack for less than $20. I don't use it very often, so I pay the minimum to maintain the service: $20 every three months.

How much phone time is this? I *think* the rate is $0.20/minute, so that would be 100 minutes - up to (an average of) 33 minutes per month, paying the minimum, and of course you can add more minutes if needed.
posted by amtho at 6:57 AM on August 6, 2009

Re: pay-as-you-go SIMs - I have purchased and used a T-Mobile SIM (about $20, maybe less, then per-minute charges comparable to Virgin Mobile). It was for an expensive phone, though.

Apparently, some European companies offer free SIM cards (e.g. Orange in the U.K.).
posted by amtho at 6:59 AM on August 6, 2009

PAYG phones are probably a great option. Virgin right now has a phone for $10 that comes with $10 worth of airtime. You can get unlimited calls for $50 a month, no contract or credit check. Lesser call volumes are even less. I use them specifically so I could avoid any sort of credit check or binding contract, and I've been perfectly happy.
posted by pupdog at 7:24 AM on August 6, 2009

Perhaps look into AT&T's gophone. Just a couple weeks ago, I walked into an AT&T store and put $15 onto a new account and received a SIM card for about $16. Unfortunately, the minutes are a little expensive; either 25 cents a minute or a dollar per day of use plus 10 cents a minute. There's another gophone account style ("Pick your plan," I believe) which is a recurring monthly fee. You must give them a credit card number for the automatic billing, though there are no contracts or credit checks, and the cheapest plan is $29.99 a month for 200 minutes.

One must make sure that the used phone purchased online or elsewhere is either unlocked or locked to the particular service of interest. Unlocking most phones is possible through sites, but it's difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff in the same way that it's hard to use google to find hotel information. I used GSMPhoneSource to unlock my motorola phone to great success, and it was much cheaper and faster (and less scammy feeling; I called the phone number on the site and talked to a real person before sending any money) than most other services I found.
posted by msbrauer at 7:26 AM on August 6, 2009

I bought a prepaid phone from Virgin Mobile USA online for $10, including shipping, and pay $60 a year to keep it going. I haven't seen any better deals than that anywhere (in the US).

The unlimited calling plans are vastly more expensive. $50 a month? That's $600 a year! I can't afford that.
posted by Ery at 7:39 AM on August 6, 2009

I switched from tmobile (contract plan) to virgin mobile (monthly plan) and have been happy with the service. No more late fees--just a reminder to add more money to my account at the end of the month (via credit card online or purchasing a phone card at the store) and I ended up paying 10 dollars/month less than what tmobile was costing me at the time. When looking for a pay as you go phone provider, I ended up with virgin because they had the best/cheapest phone options. This, of course, means that my phone is fairly basic and is not something I would use for more than calling/texting and taking the occasional crappy picture.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 9:44 AM on August 6, 2009

We just bought a T-Mobile To Go phone to house our T-Mobile contract SIM card and it was $20 at Target. If we were to use it as a prepaid phone, we'd have used the 30 minutes it came with.

Checked Wal-Mart first and they had $15 Tracfones (not compatible alas) that were made by Motorola and looked a bit like RAZRs. They come with 20 units/60 days coverage. My father uses Tracfone and does some deal where he he buys a year's worth of service and any additional minutes purchased are doubled. That base service runs hime a hundred bucks a year, I believe.
posted by codswallop at 6:47 AM on August 7, 2009

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