Skip the Credit Check With a Prepaid Cell Phone Plan

Family plans, co-signers and deposits also can help you get phone service without a credit inquiry.
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Written by Kelsey Sheehy
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Postpaid cellular service — plans for which you're billed after each usage cycle — along with device financing give the big three wireless providers good reason to run a credit check before signing up new customers. But the emergence of prepaid plans and budget carriers that encourage you to bring your own device have made the no-credit-check cell phone plan more common.

Try a prepaid plan or a few other options to get connected without a credit check.

Go with a prepaid plan or carrier

Prepaid cell phone plans don’t require a credit check. That’s because you pay in advance for your service, usually on a monthly basis, so there's no risk for the cell phone provider. The three major carriers — Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T — offer prepaid plans, often for less than their traditional plans.

There's also a growing crop of budget carriers that offer only prepaid service, including Mint Mobile, Visible and Boost Mobile. Their plans are often cheaper, more straightforward and don’t require a credit check since you pay upfront. Some budget providers are owned by a larger carrier (e.g., Verizon owns Visible). Others simply lease and resell wireless service on one or more of the big three networks (e.g., Mint Mobile uses the T-Mobile network).

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Cheaper plans, same networks, no credit check: What’s the catch?

Prepaid carriers have a lot to offer, but they’re infamous for the D-word: deprioritization. It means the network owners (Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T) can slow down data speeds for customers on prepaid plans when the cellular network is particularly busy. For example, Mint Mobile notes in its terms and conditions that T-Mobile may reduce speeds during times of network congestion.

Plan to bring your own device, or consider buying one outright. Note that prepaid carriers may offer installment plans for phones via point-of-sale loans, such as those by Affirm. Be sure to check the details before committing, though. The APR can run as high as 36%, which most consumer advocates view as the limit for being considered “affordable.”

🤓Nerdy Tip

Making consistent plan payments can earn you the ability to finance a new phone or other device without a credit check. T-Mobile’s Smartphone Equality program is one option to look into, but note you must switch to a postpaid plan when you use the benefit.

Other options with no credit check

Join a family plan

Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T each offer multi-line cell phone plans with shared or unlimited data. Although the main account holder must pass a credit check to establish service, those using the additional lines do not. The main account holder is also the one ultimately responsible if you don’t pay your bill, so take care not to miss any payments.

If you do join a family plan, you won’t just bypass a credit check, but may also save some money. A single line on an unlimited plan costs $65 to $100 a month with a traditional carrier, but an unlimited family plan split four ways can run as low as $30 per person, before taxes and fees, with autopay turned on.

Pay a security deposit

You may be able to get a cell phone plan with no credit history if you first pay a deposit. Deposit amounts will vary based on the carrier and your credit score. Each carrier handles deposits differently, so be sure to read the fine print.

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Find a friend to sign up for you

Similar to getting a personal loan with bad credit, you can often get a cell phone plan with bad or no credit if you have a co-signer with good credit. Unlike a personal loan, however, the account would be solely in the co-signer’s name, so that person is on the hook if you don’t pay your bill.

You can arrange with the co-signer to eventually move the account into your name, after you’ve had some time to build your credit. Most carriers will run your credit when you accept transfer, and you may have to pay a deposit. With T-Mobile, for example, you can transfer ownership of the account after 90 days. Just be aware that each carrier handles this process differently.