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What Is Consumer Cellular, and Is It Worth It?

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.

Credit: Consumer Cellular

(Image credit: Consumer Cellular)

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.

MORE: Unlocked or Carrier? How You Should Buy Your Next Phone

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
Monthly Price
$5
$10
$20
$30
$40

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.

Consumer CellularView Deal

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.

MORE: Best and Worst Phone Carriers

Bottom line

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.

  • ismlbd
    Do not trust this company! They are a complete scam, I ordered a phone, with an unlimited plan. as soon as I got the phone I realized that their "unlimited" plan DOES NOT INCLUDE TEXT! As soon as I realized this, I called and cancelled my order, and said that I wanted to return the phone. They said that I could return it, so I packaged it right up and sent it back. The phone was in mint brand new condition. They then sent the phone back to me, and refused to accept it. They said the phone was damaged. The phone is perfectly fine. It looks like they just took a little razor blade and just made a tiny little scratch on the bottom of the phone, and now they refuse to return it! That scratch was not there when I sent it back. I never dropped it or anything! I never even used it! I just tried to send a text and then I put it back in the box to send it back. If there is a scratch on it it was either there when I got it or they put it there!
    Reply
  • keithsowul
    I would NEVER,NEVER use CON Cellular !!!! After installing their sim card in my iPhone they screwed up my coverage from my prior carrier, T-Mobile. Then CON Cellular couldn't get my account straighten out. Soooo, this holiday weekend I have no coverage. CON Celluar screwed up my phone. DONT GET CONNED BY CON CELLULAR
    Reply
  • mss627
    Great rates sabotaged by really crappy signal coverage.
    Reply
  • ajb483
    I was almost sold on Consumer Cellular, partly because of AARP's promotion and partly by this review. Then I thought to check them out on Yelp: https://www.yelp.com/biz/consumer-cellular-tigard. Read for yourself, then decide.
    Reply
  • HolgateJ77
    Disclosure: I've worked for Consumer Cellular in the past, and my wife currently works there.

    It's really too bad that, in general, people only give negative reviews, when they are a small minority. Whether it's specific sites like this one, Facebook, Yelp, etc. it is a known fact that if someone has a negative experience, there is a very high likelihood that they will post a negative review (even though those cases are relatively rare.) Whereas if someone has a positive experience, or are indifferent, they will rarely write a review.

    So I'm going to take my time and clear up some of the issues brought up in these reviews:

    "Unlimited"
    The graphic above clearly shows what Unlimited services Consumer Cellular offers: Unlimited Talk ($20 a month) and Unlimited Text with ANY Data Plan; minimum of $5 a month.) So, for $25 a month, you can get Unlimited Talk and Text (if you don't plan on using Data, and are getting a smartphone, I would encourage you to have them disable the Data feature on your account.) A further point, nowhere do they pretend to offer Unlimited Data.) On the off chance you think the above graphic is made up, here's a link to their plans:
    https://www.consumercellular.com/Plans

    I can't speak to the supposed damaged phone issue and their refusal to accept its return, but this is not a shady company. They are not going to damage a phone, just to say it can't be returned. I personally know people in the returns department. There is no motivation for this. Chances are, the customer damaged the phone themselves.

    "screwed up... coverage... T-Mobile"
    Without any real solid technical info to go on, all I can do is make an educated guess as to what happened. It sounds like the customer had an iPhone with T-Mobile. They switched to CCell (transferring their phone number, called Porting in cell phone industry parlance,) and it didn't work. There are numerous reasons how this could have happened. The most common reason is the Port didn't go through automatically. Telecom companies don't want to lose customers, so when a customer switches from one service provider to another (and wants to keep their phone number,) the former company often drags their feet releasing the phone number. If the former account is in good standing (not behind on their bill, out of contract period, etc.) then it should be as simple as having someone at the latter company (in this case CCell,) "Push" the Port through. My wife and I actually had to do this when we switched from Qwest to CCell.) It's not uncommon. The other possibility is that the customer was still under contract with T-Mobile and so their phone was Locked, and that's why they didn't have service. That's pretty unlikely, since part of the questioning for Customer Service Reps is specifically asking about that.

    "Signal Coverage"
    This one is pretty simple and straightforward: Check out the coverage maps for AT&T and T-Mobile (which I will list below.) Smartphones are actually notorious for poorer cell signal strength in certain circumstances (inside buildings with primarily brick or metal materials, etc.) I didn't believe this until I started experiencing it for myself. It's interesting to me that smartphones aren't designed with a retractable antenna. I know that sounds stupid, but I'm surprised at how much of a difference that can make. Back when we were with Qwest, I had a flip phone with a retractable antenna. Qwest used Sprint towers. At the time, my dad and his then wife lived in a small town off Highway 126 at the base of the Cascade Mountain Range. Basically no carrier had coverage there ((they still don't) combination of being too far outside the coverage area of Eugene, OR and the physical geography of the mountains interfering with cell towers in general.) But that specific phone had coverage. (I later bought a bar-style phone that did not.) At the time, I joked about how I could probably get a signal from an underground bunker. As far as CCell goes, when it comes to coverage, it's within the top four carriers (again, as stated in the article.) It covers roughly 99% of the country. If you're not within the coverage area of Verizon, AT&T, Sprint or T-Mobile, then consider yourself a part of the 1%. And maybe look into getting a satellite phone.
    AT&T Coverage Map:
    https://www.att.com/maps/wireless-coverage.html
    T-Mobile Coverage Map:
    https://www.t-mobile.com/coverage/coverage-map?icid=WMM_TMNG_Q317NETWOR_U93HOR6MPAX9955

    Conclusion:
    Don't pay attention to customer reviews. Especially when a company or product is highly regarded by a reputable site (such as this.) More often than not, it's a knee-jerk reaction to a negative experience (which are rare, and in most cases can be fully resolved if the customer is patient and willing to actually communicate.) CCell has many (millions) of satisfied customers. If just 1% took the time to write reviews, sites like this would be flooded. They have received top awards from Consumer Reports for several years, as well as top awards from J.D. Power and Associates for a handful of years.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consumer_Cellular#cite_note-WABC2010-6

    Read for yourself? Yeah. And you will find out this is a great cell phone provider.
    Reply
  • jerzeycate
    Well, Tom is obviously another Consumer Cellular Reviewer who has never been at their mercy as a customer. Our Saga, though relatively short took me closer to the edge than anything in recent history. With a quoted cost of "Under $50 for phone service for both my husband and I, it seemed like an offer too good to pass up--when in fact, passing it by is the most sane decision one will ever make. By the second month the bill wa already escalating. I was on the phone with CS every other week advising them that I did NOT WANT ANY automatic upgrades to be taken. "Yes, Mrs. BAndy, we will take care of that." Not.

    By month three I completely cancelled the data and text message services. My husband had used the data to play a card game twice while we were waiting in a doctos office. I did not turn my phone on the entire month as I remain partial to the dinosaur house phone and hadn't been anywhere without the hubby. BTW my husband is severely dyslexic so he does not text. He barely types on his laptop. Well, Imagine my surprise when the bill arrived and once again their was an automatic "upgrade" in data and text services "because you ahd gone over your limit. Well, imagine the surprise of the CSR when, as she explaiined to me all of the text chareges that were made to my phone, I asked her to check and see how much actual time the phone had been used that month. "Uhh, Uhhh, Uhhh." My point exactly. As for my husbands two hands of Solitaire taking up nearly 1 GB of Data well. So, I told them I wanted to Cancel the Text and Data functions immediately. Once the CRS told me she understood, "and I've taken careof that Mrs. Bandy;" she became quite nasty when I asked her to read me back my instructions and the actions she had taken;.

    Well.... Month Four the Bill Arrives.... and it is once again nearly $100. Now, I knew that was literally impossible. With the data and text disconnected, there was no way the charges for voice service only, on two phones could be nearly $100.

    Well... I look at the Bill and nearly Stroked Out. There, in front of me, were charges on both phones for Data and Text Services.

    After I got myself down from the ceiling I prepared a stiff drink and sat down to once again spend the night with the CSR Folks at Consumer Cellular.

    I refused to speak with anyone but a Supervisor. Escalation they call it... Apparently she was not the brightes bulb in the closet. After reading through our file, which apparently was as thick as my file on Consumer Cellular had grown in those few months, she agreed that I had "in fact requested that the text and data functions be disconnected at your phones." And then she said it... "But," she said. "Nowhere in the conversation did you request that the billing for these services be cancelled."

    Well, as I said to her, in my Irish Whisper I can see how you might understand that. Afterall most people who cancel services like to continue paying for the cancelled services. I'm sure you enjoy that in your life...

    At that moment I said CANCEL IT ALL. RIGHT THIS MOMENT.... And, the Audacity of these people... In order to cancel my account they required that it be "Paid in Full." Well I was only too glad to do ti and be done with them...

    However, it seems you are never done with them... Turns out they kept billing me. They have now locked my husbands telephone out of service and are referring my "delinquencey" to Collections. GOOD. Maybe someone there will have some sense. As for his phone. Hell get a new one before I let him pay them even 1 red cent..

    How dare the people, these companies, these organizations continue with these glowing (paid for) reports regarding Consumer Cellular when they know there are tens of thousands of stories like our out there every year...

    I will haunt them until I'm ten feet under.
    Reply
  • dennismastin3
    we have had C.C. for 3 + years. have never experienced any problems like some describe. you basically custom fit your own plan. as for the auto update, that actually saves you money. when you exceed your plans limits, it puts you in the next tier for that billing cycle. that is cheaper than paying a la carte, so to speak. you can stay at that tier or go back if you choose. what is so wrong with that? (good feature) C.C. seems to upgrade plans.. such as add more data, at no charge, to compete . that's good.

    the only hitch we have had is signal at times. especially my wife's phone. though that may be related to storage space and having the basic moto smart phone.
    Reply
  • rgd1101
    it is at&t or tmobile.
    Reply
  • NoConsumerCellular
    "Service" on AT&T tower but not ... Not "AT&T service".....signal strength/allocation is different and no one will talk yet...this is all pre FOIA...So it is still early
    Reply
  • rgd1101
    try https://downdetector.com/status/att/map/ outage report for your location?
    Reply