In a world where prepaid is no longer taboo, have you switched?Anna Scantlin - Contributing Editor
When I check in on mobile news, it's not uncommon to come across an article about some new prepaid phone service popping up. Not only that, but people get pretty psyched about them, too. It's somewhat strange to me, becuase when I first became interested in cell phones, prepaid was my only option at age 14. Let me tell you, it was nothing to be excited about. I remember going to the store and looking through all of the prepaid carriers (there were like, 4 worth looking at) and trying to find the best plan for me. I ended up going with a Verizon prepaid plan at first, but it didn't take me long to realize that the whole prepaid deal was going to end up costing me an arm and a leg compared to what postpaid carriers were costing at the time.
There was also somewhat of a social stigma around what carrier you used. Along with what phone you used, at least in my town, what carrier you used also mattered. If you were on a plan on Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile or Sprint then you were fine. But when you used a prepaid carrier, then people pretty much automatically assumed you were poor or had bad credit. It also might have been the fact that I was in high school, and everybody knows that teenagers are ruthless creatures that are lacking in the soul department, but yeah. If it was obvious enough that you were using a prepaid carrier, you could go ahead and just take 50 cool points off of your social board. You couldn't even partake in the whining contests that entitled students would get to participate in.
"Uuuuggghh, I hate AT&T. My phone is being so lame right now. It's been trying to send this text message like, eight times."
"Girl, please. Sprint doesn't even give me any bars."
And I'm just sitting over here with a Net10 phone. It seems stupid, but people around here were vicious. Yes, I really did get made fun of for using a prepaid carrier more than once. It didn't help that I was carrying this precious little gem around with me at the time.
That's another thing. At the time, you really didn't have much of a selection when it came to phones from prepaid carriers. You got devices like the Nokia brick, or if you really felt like shelling out some big money, you could get something with a QWERTY keyboard. But nothing cool was ever available on prepaid. Ever. If you went the prepaid route, you just knew that you were going to be settling for some rinky dink device. But honestly, when you're desperate for a phone and have nowhere else to turn (my parents would most certainly not sign me up for service with one of the big four) you have no room to be picky. I was going to go prepaid and like it.
Time passed and eventually I was able to get on an employee line with Sprint through my best friend's mom. That was pretty sweet, and it didn't cost me hardly anything compared to what I had been used to paying - and I got way more. In retrospect, this probably spoiled me to begin with when it comes to my first experience with a postpaid carrier, but even when I look back on it I would spend upwards of $90 a month on a prepaid service simply because I ran out of minutes or texts too quickly and would need a "refill" or two before the month was over. Even now I spend less than that.
But a few years down the line, I ditched the employee line because it was time to branch out on my own and discover what it was like to be an independent adult. And as a freshly baby-faced adult out in the big world, it wasn't surprising that signing up for a line on one of the big four wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. I had no credit to my name, and therefore nobody wanted to deal with me unless I had some hefty amounts of cold hard cash to put down. I didn't at first. So it was back to the drawing board, and back to prepaid I went.
This time around, I went with Virgin Mobile. This is when I noticed that prepaid carriers had started doing some work in the right direction. I remember looking at Virgin Mobile's plans before, and they didn't look nearly as convenient as they did now - and they even offered some decent phones. I went ahead and went for it. The price was probably the most convenient thing about it. I did experience some problems here and there, and there is something worth noting about prepaid carriers that hadn't changed at that point, and that was customer service. It was awful. At some point I did end up signing up with T-Mobile, and then when I was hired by Sprint I got my own line for free so... well, that's how that happened.
And now we're here. I still use Sprint, but I see so many prepaid carriers now, many of them worth looking at. Not only do they have great prices, but they also have really good plans and a good selection of phones. The fact that Boost Mobile is picking up the iPhone 5s and 5c just two months after the phones were even announced is a pretty big deal to me, because back in my day (which was like, yesterday) smartphones weren't even an option, much less the latest and greatest! It's insane to me.
Prepaid carriers have seriously bridged a huge gap in what made them so much less desirable than carriers that require contracts. Companies like Virgin Mobile, Boost Mobile, Simple Mobile and Straight Talk all offer compelling plans that make you think twice about picking up that pen and signing a contract. So I have to wonder, with the way that prepaid has turned around, have you switched?