Consumer Cellular aims its wireless service at seniors who prefer low monthly cellphone bills to high data allotments. But don't let age be a barrier to finding a compelling deal: turning to Consumer Cellular for your wireless needs can definitely lower your bill, especially with new rates giving you more data and texting for your dollar.
Here's what you need to know about Consumer Cellular and its wireless service.
What network does Consumer Cellular use?
Consumer Cellular piggybacks on two GSM-based networks: AT&T and T-Mobile. That gives the carrier nationwide reach and fairly dependable service, as both AT&T and T-Mobile rated highly in our recent survey of network speed tests. Consumer Cellular offers full LTE speeds, so your data won't be slowed. Should you use more than 20GB of data in a given month — that's the upper limit of Consumer Cellular's data plans — you will see your speed throttled, though that's not an uncommon practice for carriers.
What phones can you use with Consumer Cellular?
On its website, Consumer Cellular offers 21 phones, including both low-cost flip phones and smartphones. One of those flip phones, the Doro PhoneEasy 7050, promises well-spaced buttons and a dedicated emergency call button — features that are targeted to Consumer Cellular's senior-skewing market.
You'll find the latest flagships from both Apple and Samsung — including the iPhone XS and Galaxy Note 9. Apple's selection dates back to the iPhone 6s, while you can also grab 2017's Galaxy S8; there's also a host of budget devices, including the Moto E5 Play.
For more expensive phones, Consumer Cellular offers interest-free financing, which is a rarity among discount carriers. If you balk at paying the iPhone XS's $999 price tag, for example, you can make an upfront payment of $400 at Consumer Cellular, paying off the balance with monthly payments of $25 over the next two years. (For context, T-Mobile charges you $20.84 per month, but that's over 36 months, though you make a smaller down payment of $249.99.)
If you're not impressed by the phones that Consumer Cellular offers, you can bring your own unlocked device, as long as it's a GSM phone. Consumer Cellular doesn't charge you for a SIM card.
What are the best Consumer Cellular plans?
Consumer Cellular splits its plans in two. Talk plans cover talk time, while Connect plans handle your texts and web data. You can mix and match the two components to come up with a plan that best serves how you plan to use your phone.
Talk plans options have been pared down to two choices. You can either get 250 minutes of talk time for $15 a month. Or if you plan on making more phone calls, you can get unlimited talk for $20 a month.
Connect Plans have changed, too, and for the better — each option now includes unlimited texting. Data allotments start at 250MB of data for $5 a month. If you use a typical amount of data — say, 3GB each month — the $20 Connect plan and its 5GB of data will probably suit you. Consumer Cellular's most expensive Connect plan — 20GB of data and unlimited texts — costs $40 a month.
Consumer Cellular Connect Plans
|Connect Plan Data||250MB||2GB||5GB||10GB||20GB|
To calculate your monthly bill, you'd combine Talk and Connect plans. A combined plan with 250 minutes of talk time plus unlimited texts and 2GB of data would run you $25 a month.
The mix-and-match approach works particularly well if you place low limits on either your Talk or Connect plans (or even better, both), but become less compelling if you need a lot of either. Opting for the 10GB data plan with unlimited texting, for example, already will cost you $30 a month before you even add a talk plan. Opt for unlimited talk, and you're looking at a $50 a month bill. In contrast, T-Mobile offers plan for customers 55 and older that delivers unlimited talk, text and data for just $10 more — and T-Mobile's One Unlimited 55+ plan covers two phone lines.
Consumer Cellular is noteworthy for letting you change plans during a billing cycle if you find you're not going to use as much of your Talk or Connect plans as you thought. If you go over your limit, Consumer Cellular offers an automatic upgrade, in which it will move you to the next tier of Talk or Connect plan to reflect your overage.
What special features does Consumer Cellular offer?
Consumer Cellular offers several discounts for AARP members. (The carrier has been an AARP partner since 2008.) AARP members can save 5 percent on their monthly bill; they also get a 30 percent discount on select accessories.
Consumer Cellular lets you try out its service for 30 days, 300 minutes, 300 texts or 300MB of data — whichever comes first. You can cancel at any time without any strings attached. AARP members get an expanded 45-day trial or 450 minutes.
You can pay $15 per line to add a second line. (You can add more than two lines at Consumer Cellular, but that requires a phone call to the carrier's customer service line.) Just be aware that everyone on that plan will be drawing from the same pool of talk, text and data allotments.
You can call international numbers with Consumer Cellular, but additional rates may apply. The carrier doesn't offer coverage when you travel internationally.
What do customers say about Consumer Cellular?
Consumer Cellular got an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau, though customer reviews are less flattering. The reviews on Yelp are also critical, where the carrier has a 2-star rating out of 5. BestCompany.com gives Consumer Cellular a 6.8 score out of 10, praising its low rates and installment-plan options while suggesting that heavy smartphone users may find Consumer Cellular's plans too limiting.
In online reviews on those sites, users said they like Consumer Cellular's low rates, and they generally praised its customer service. However, some users complained about long hold times with customer service, and not everyone liked that the carrier upgraded them to a new tier when they reached their limits on talk, text or data.
There's plenty to like about Consumer Cellular, starting with its use of two far-reaching GSM networks. The carrier has a good selection of phones, and its monthly payment option means you can still get a top-of-the-line phone while keeping your monthly costs in check. Special features, such as the ability to downgrade your plan or bump up to a different tier if your monthly needs change, can come in handy, too.
Still, Consumer Cellular's big savings appear only if you keep your cellphone use low, especially now that Sprint and T-Mobile are trying to attract seniors with their aggressively priced unlimited plan. To really save money with Consumer Cellular, you need to limit your talk time as well as your texting and data use. The good news is if you're not checking your smartphone regularly for the latest news or text messages, Consumer Cellular's low-cost plans may fit your needs.