For a First Phone, Consider Prepaid
Summer vacation is often the forum for kids to plead their case for their first cell phone — no doubt loaded with features such as Internet access or the ability to shoot video.
Consumer Reports electronics editor Paul Reynolds recommends instead that for a child’s first phone, parents get “a cheap, simple phone with a prepaid plan and see how things go.” He gives these five reasons:
1 Satisfaction with prepaid service is good. In Consumer Reports’ latest survey of cell-phone service, the fairly small percentage of readers who used prepaid service were fairly happy with it.
2 Kids tend to lose, or destroy, handheld gadgets. A basic prepaid phone can cost as little as $10, and $20 to $40 is typical. If that first phone gets lost or crushed, you can buy another at the same price.
3 There’s little or no commitment involved. The absence of any contractual commitment is a major plus if you’re buying for a kid. The phone your child wants or needs now is likely to change in less than the two-year term of a typical cell-phone contract.
4 Basic may be better in a first phone. It’s often unclear how much, and in what way, a child will use her first phone — or how much you’ll want her to use it beyond basic safety and security. Most prepaid phones aim to be little more than voice-call and texting devices, which limits their usage. And that, in turn, limits monthly costs.
5 Lower costs. Getting your child a prepaid phone can moderate monthly bills. The minimum monthly amount you’ll pay for a prepaid phone can be much lower than even modest contract plans. For example, one plan offers 60 minutes a month — or 150 or so texts, or a mixture of talk and text — for $9.99. You can add extra minutes too.
Some prepaid phones offer a text-only prepaid plan. If your child primarily wants a phone to exchange text messages with friends, you don’t have to buy a voice plan with added texting.
Prepaid carriers include MetroPCS, TracFone, Virgin Mobile, AT&T, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile and Verizon. The phones can be purchased directly from the carriers and from Best Buy, Walmart, Target and other retailers. You can buy minutes online or over the prepaid phone with a credit card.
For more info on prepaid phones, visit www.consumerreports.org
Stanley Thomas is a local freelance writer.