In the past few months, I've used very, very little cellular data. Yet my family has paid around $200 per month for our five-member unlimited-data family plan on AT&T. That seems … silly, to put it nicely. If you've thought the same, well, you have a few options.
First, you can suspend your phone service. It lets the carrier hold onto your phone number and account, and while you still pay a small monthly fee, it's a way to save a little money month to month. In this climate, every dollar counts. The downside? You lose cellular data connectivity, and you cannot make or receive phone calls or texts.
But your phone will be able to connect to Wi-Fi networks, like the one you might have in your home, allowing you to use almost all your usual apps. To get around the SMS and calling issue, you could use an instant-messaging app like iMessage or WhatsApp as well as audio- or video-calling apps like FaceTime and Google Duo over Wi-Fi. For less-drastic options, we have a few alternative and affordable carriers for you to consider.
Suspending Service vs. Shutting off Data
We have instructions below on how to suspend your data plan if you're on one of the major US networks. If you use another carrier, like US Cellular, check the company's support pages (or ask a customer representative) if there's a way to suspend your service.
Most carriers also have an option to shut off data to one of your phone lines on the account. That is not the same as suspending service. By shutting off data, you'll still be charged your plan's monthly rate. It's more a measure for when you want to stop your kid from watching too much Riverdale.
Suspending service means your phone will no longer connect to your carrier's network, and you cannot make any calls or send texts. It's not a permanent solution as most carriers limit the length of suspension to a few months, after which service resumes automatically and you're back to being charged your full rate.
For Verizon Subscribers
If you have trouble paying your Verizon wireless bill, contact customer service. The carrier says it will not terminate service or charge late fees if you can't pay bills due to "disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic." This will stay in effect until June 30, 2020.
If you still need to suspend service, you can easily do it through Verizon's website or the My Verizon app.
Verizon offers three types of suspension: reduced-rate billing, without billing, or suspended with billing. You can suspend your line without billing only if you have lost your device or if you are in the military. For a reduced rate, you'll need to suspend your service using the Other Reason option, which is typically used for travel or illness and hospitalization.
Go with the reduced-rate billing, but know that Verizon will still charge you $10 per month for up to 90 days during a 12-month period. If you are paying for a device in monthly installments, you'll still get charged for it. Your contract and upgrade eligibility dates will be extended for the length of time your service is suspended.
In the My Verizon app, the one you use to check and pay your monthly bill, head to Devices > Manage > Controls > Suspend Device > Vacation or other reason, and choose Reduced Rate. On the web, choose the line you want to suspend, click on Other Reason, choose Reduced Rate, and tap Suspend Selected Line.
You can find more information in this FAQ, and there's a helpful video that includes details on how to reconnect. (Go to this website to reconnect or follow the same instructions you used for suspending a line above and just click Resume Service.)
For AT&T Subscribers
AT&T's process is very similar to Verizon's, though the language is a little vague. The carrier says the capability to suspend service is available for AT&T Mobile Share and Unlimited postpaid wireless customers. Head to this website to suspend service. You'll need to choose a reason, likely Vacation or Other Reason. Follow the prompts. Do not block your device. (Do that only if it was stolen.)
The carrier doesn't specify this anywhere on its site, but you will still be billed for any device payments you owe. You will be charged a reduced rate of $10 per month, but this is not necessarily guaranteed. Plus, service and billing will resume as normal after six months. You're limited to this option once a year, and your upgrade eligibility dates will be pushed out however long your line was suspended.
Thankfully, AT&T has a specific option for folks struggling to pay bills during the pandemic. You can submit a waiver for late fees and overage charges, but the deadline is June 30. You can find out more details here.
For T-Mobile Subscribers
T-Mobile lets you suspend a line on your account (if you're the primary account holder) twice in a 12-month period for up to 90 days each. From the T-Mobile app, head to the Account tab, select the line you want to suspend, and choose Temporary suspension. Follow the prompts to suspend a line. These steps are the same when you want to restore service.
Any monthly device payments or device protection plans will continue. If you have an individual account, you'll be charged $10 per month instead of the cost of your regular monthly plan, and if you have a family plan, you'll be charged $10 per month for each suspended line. You'll find more details in this handy FAQ.
T-Mobile is offering coronavirus updates here. There are a few perks people can claim, like the ability to add 10 gigabytes of mobile hot spot data, though many of these expire June 30, 2020.
For Sprint Subscribers
Sprint doesn't have a lot of information on its website about suspending service. The carrier had a service called Seasonal Standby that let you pay a lesser rate to maintain your account, but it's no longer available. After searching the app and website to no avail, I asked a customer representative (and a spokesperson) how to suspend service and was told that it's not possible to do it online. You'll need to talk to a customer representative. There will be a reduced monthly fee when you suspend service, but exactly what it is will depend on your plan.
Sprint and T-Mobile have merged, and the Sprint branding is fading away soon, so there's a good chance the T-Mobile instructions will work for existing Sprint subscribers in the not-too-distant future.
Consider a Cheaper Network
If suspending service doesn't sound right for you, it might be a good time to switch carriers. Below are a few options we like. Remember, when switching carriers you can always port your existing cellphone number.
Google Fi: Google charges you $20 per line and $10 per gigabyte (that includes unlimited talk and text). You get charged for the data you use, so if you use only 1 GB in a month, your bill will be $30. Best of all, you can pause service and resume it whenever you want. There's also Bill Protection, so after you use 6 GB, you won't get charged more. That means the max your bill will hit is $80 on a single line. The app is very easy to use, you get access to T-Mobile's network (and other networks if you have a Fi-supported phone), as well as the same data rate abroad.
Mint Mobile: This provider has three-, six-, and 12-month plans. Whichever range you pick, you can decide on one of three data buckets (3 GB, 8 GB, or 12 GB per month). It includes unlimited talk and text, mobile hot spot, and you'll need to bring your own unlocked phone. It uses T-Mobile's LTE network. The most affordable option gets you 3 gigabytes of data per month for three months, all for $45. If you stick with the same plan after the first three months, you'll be charged the regular three-month rate for that data allotment, which is $75 total. Still, that's six months of data for $120.
Visible: Visible is a sub-brand under Verizon, and it has one plan: $40 per month for unlimited data, talk, and text. You can bring your own phone or buy one from Visible. The service piggybacks off Verizon's 4G LTE network, and mobile hot spot access for your laptop or another device is included, but speeds are capped at 5 Mbps. Visible's data plan was originally capped to 5 Mbps as well, but since mid-2019, the cap was removed for a "limited time" and hasn't yet returned.
Ting: Ting is very customizable and affordable. You start by choosing the number of lines you need (1 line is $6), then a certain number of talk minutes and texts (choose no usage if you barely call or text people). Remember, using internet services like Facebook Messenger or FaceTime won't count toward your calling and texting limits. And then you choose your data allotment, ranging from no usage to more than 2 gigabytes. It's meant for people who use very little data, because after 2 GB you'll pay $20 plus $10 per additional gigabyte. There are no contracts or cancellation fees, and you can suspend service if you want.
Metro by T-Mobile: Metro by T-Mobile, as the name suggests, is owned by T-Mobile and uses the carrier's network. Its most affordable option is its $30 plan, which comes with 2 GB of data and unlimited talk and text. Its most expensive plan is still relatively affordable, offering unlimited data, talk, and text, as well as 15 GB of hot spot data for $60 per month. That includes perks like 100 GB of Google One online storage and Amazon Prime.