While The Cheat Sheet recommends that you buy your new iPhone outright rather than through an installment plan, that’s not realistic for everyone. We realize that $650 (or more) is quite a bit of money to come up with all at once. Thus it’s important that you take a look at what everyone is offering out there, and make the decision that works best for you.
Pricing is generally the same across most of the installment plans with a few notable exceptions. Some offer better exchange programs, while others like Apple bundle insurance with the monthly cost. What we’ll take a look at is the benefits of iPhone installment plans from the four major carriers and Apple itself along with our concerns about each plan, and give our recommendation for the best overall deal at the end.
Again, we’d recommend you purchase the phone and then sell it each year in order to upgrade to get the best deal. But you’re likely here because you can’t, so let’s get started at comparing what’s out there. To limit confusion, we’re only dealing here with the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus.
AT&T offers iPhones on monthly payments through its AT&T Next program, and there are four ways to do it. The first three require no money down and will split payments into 20, 24, and 30 equal installments. With these plans you can trade in your device and upgrade in 12, 18, or 24 months respectively.
There is a catch though: early upgrades before the minimum amount of months require not only the trade in but the remaining minimum payments in full before you can get your new phone. For some the fourth and final option may be necessary, which requires a 30% down payment. The rest of the payments are spread across 28 months, with the ability to upgrade after 12 months. That can make a new iPhone quite expensive.
Depending on the size and upgrade term, you’ll pay anywhere from $21.67 to $32.50 monthly for the iPhone 6S 16GB, $25-$35 per month for the 64GB, and $28.34 to $42.50 for the 128GB. For the iPhone 6S Plus, those ranges are $25-$37.50 for the 16GB, $28.34 to $42.50 for the 64GB, and $31.67 to $47.50 for the 128GB.
Sprint offers iPhones a little differently than AT&T. They have a plan called “iPhone Forever” that allows you to upgrade any time Apple releases a new phone. You do not own the device however, and are instead leasing it from Sprint. But for those with good credit, prices are certainly cheaper. For the iPhone 6S, the 16GB is $15 per month, the 64GB $19.77 per month, and the 128GB $24.53 monthly. If you choose the iPhone 6S Plus, monthly fees are $26.00 for the 16GB, $30.77 for the 64GB, and $35.53 for the 128GB.
We noticed that depending on how your structure the installment plan, for the 6S Sprint by far beats AT&T. With the 6S Plus it is much closer, however to get the yearly upgrade you’d need to upgrade to every new iPhone with AT&T, Sprint still is on top by a few bucks.
This all said, Sprint’s network definitely works against it. Surveys have shown that its network still lags its competitors by a significant margin. That should always play a part in your buying decisions.
T-Mobile’s iPhone installment plans are simple: one monthly price depending on either model. The iPhone 6S is $27.08 per month, and the 6S Plus $31.25 per month across 24 months. Wait, how did they do this? By requiring a down payment. While the 16GB models will have no money down, for the 64GB you will need $99 up front and $199 for the 128GB.
We did a little quick math and over the course of the installment plan for larger devices T-Mobile runs cheaper than AT&T, but a little more expensive than Sprint. Of course, if you’d rather take advantage of T-Mobile’s JUMP! Upgrade plan, by far T-Mobile is the better deal, with only $20 per month for the iPhone 6S and $24 for the 6S Plus.
But remember, here again you don’t own the phone at all, and if you cancel before the 18-month period required for JUMP!, all payments are due.
Verizon claims to have the best network, which to some degree has been backed up by recent studies. But for that great network you pay a premium price, and that shows in the carriers prices for its iPhone payment plans.
The iPhone 6S 16GB is $27.08 per month, with the 64GB $31.24 monthly, and the 128GB $35.40. For the length of contract (24 months), that is the highest of any of the “big four” carriers. The 6S Plus is no different: 16GB sets you back $31.24 monthly, the 64GB $35.40, and the 128GB $39.58 per month.
We did cover Verizon’s recent plan changes here on The Cheat Sheet not too long ago. The news was generally not favorable to frequent upgraders: If you want to upgrade early, you need to pay off the device in full. From what we can tell, you can’t trade the phone in either, which also stinks. Out of the big four, Verizon is dead last in our book for iPhones.
Last but not least, let’s take a look at Apple. The company’s own iPhone Upgrade Program is not tied to any single carrier, and like a majority of the above mentioned plans we’ve talked about here is aimed at allowing you to upgrade to a new phone every year.
There’s a few neat things to mention. The device is unlocked, meaning you’re free to use it on any carrier that supports the iPhone (and switch if your heart desires). It also includes the company’s AppleCare warranty, just in case the worst happens.
For these added benefits there is a cost difference. The iPhone 6S 16GB will set you back $32.41 per month, far higher than any of the carriers. The 64GB and 128GB are the same story, at $36.58 and $40.75 per month. For the 6S Plus, the prices are $36.58, $40.75, and $44.91 per month respectively.
With AppleCare costing $129 a year, we’d say here for the sake of argument that is adding $10.75 per month to the monthly cost of your device. If you look at it that way, Apple’s prices actually are more in line. The bad thing is that your device payment is separate from your phone bill, so those of us that don’t care to add yet another bill to worry about might not find this a convenient option.
It’s always tough to make a recommendation on carriers and wireless phones because there is no one-size-fits-all plan and device. Two of these plans do jump out at us as the best.
For those of you that are accident prone, we can’t help but recommend Apple’s own payment plan. AppleCare is nice and offers some good benefits especially on repairs. When we made our recommendation to actually buy the phone outright, we did note for those who couldn’t afford to do so, the inclusion of insurance actually makes it comparable to what you’d spend on buying the device outright over two years anyway.
But if paying the premium — no pun intended — for the added insurance isn’t worth it, then Apple’s installment plan isn’t a good deal for you. We’d actually recommend considering T-Mobile instead, especially for those close to major cities. Sprint is indeed cheaper, but the carrier’s network is still an issue. T-Mobile — while not too much better — has the benefit of a better network (and the fastest LTE data speeds, according to network testing firm OpenSignal) and still decent monthly installment fees.
If you can deal with some spotty rural coverage, especially west of the Mississippi, T-Mobile ends up being the best deal. If you can’t, you may be better off paying the higher prices of AT&T or Verizon.
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