Given the price of flagship smartphones nowadays, it makes sense to purchase a phone on an installment plan. That way, you can pay off your device in smaller, more manageable increments. But which payment plan is best for you? Many MVNOs use third-party financing companies that charge interest, while other carriers have their own leasing programs whereby you pay a relatively low monthly fee and return your phone at the end of your leasing period (or upgrade to a new one).
Keep in mind, there are only a handful of carriers—both small and major—that do not charge interest on their devices. Some examples include AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Credo Mobile, Google Fi, and Consumer Cellular.
On this page, we’ll cover:
- Financing through Affirm
- SmartPay Leasing
- Progressive Leasing with Cricket Wireless
- Sprint Flex Leasing
- Payment plan comparison
Carriers like AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile don’t charge interest on their devices.
Carriers that Use Affirm Financing
Affirm is a consumer finance company that provides loans to consumers so that they can pay off large purchases over a predetermined period of time. They partner with at least 200 businesses across many different categories, including Wayfair, Expedia, Good Year, Travelocity, and Warby Parker. They also partner with cell phone carriers to offer affordable financing plans for their devices. A few popular carriers that use Affirm include:
Unlike an installment plan through a carrier like AT&T, your monthly price is not simply the RRP of the device divided by the number of months you’ll be paying the installments. Affirm charges interest on whichever phone you purchase so by the end of your payment plan—you end up paying more than the total retail price.
The iPhone XS listed price is $999 and with 30% interest over a 24-month period, you end up paying nearly $1,300.
Every carrier differs in the length of time their financing plan may cover. For example, Mint Mobile offers 6-month, 12-month, and 24-month options, while H2O Wireless offers 3-month, 6-month, and 12-month installment plans. If you do decide to go with a carrier that partners with Affirm, you’ll want to take this into consideration.
IMPORTANT: You’re required to have a service plan through that specific carrier for the entire duration that you’re paying your phone off. We commonly get questions from consumers who want to buy the carrier’s phone without also purchasing a service plan.
Affirm’s website states that the interest rate depends on a customer’s credit score but can range anywhere from 0% to 30%. An important caveat is that not all carriers offer 0% interest. For example, H2O Wireless states that their interest rate is between 10% and 30%, so even if you have incredible credit, you’ll still have to pay interest.
It’s free to check your financing plan eligibility through Affirm, and it doesn’t impact your credit score at all. Within a few minutes, you’ll receive an email with your estimated interest rate. An interest rate of 5% or lower won’t impact your spending too much, but 20% to 30% could be a tough cost to swallow and ultimately, not worth it.
Affirm charges up to 30% interest rates for phones bought through their financing program.
SmartPay is a third-party company that works with cell phone companies to provide leasing options for their customers. SmartPay allows you to pay off your phone in affordable installments over a predetermined period of time (just like Affirm), but charges interest on devices. Popular phone carriers that use SmartPay leasing include:
You can apply online and find out if you’re approved for SmartPay within just a few minutes. SmartPay works a little differently than Affirm in that you get approved for a specific loan amount. Their website indicates that you can receive up to $1,500, and you can shop for devices online or in-store. Your total number of payments will depend on your term length, as well as your payment frequency (which could be monthly, twice a month, every other week, etc.).
SmartPay’s website doesn’t clarify how much a consumer’s interest rate will be, but if you go to a direct carrier’s website you can get an idea of how much extra you’ll wind up paying. For example, the iPhone 8 Plus is listed as $699.99 on Total Wireless’ website, and then they have two payment plan options: one for people with excellent payment history and one for people with average payment history (although it’s not clear what qualifies as “excellent” or “average”). With the former, you pay $34.74/month for 24 months, which winds up totaling $833.76. For those with average payment history, the monthly cost is $86.27 for 15 months—which equals a sum of $1,294.05.
If you can afford to pay for a phone upfront, we’d highly recommend doing so in order to avoid paying far more for the device than it’s worth. We recognize that that’s not always possible, so you may want to check out a carrier that doesn’t use a third-party company.
How to Qualify
In order to qualify for a leasing plan through SmartPay, you must:
- Be at least 18 years old
- Have a Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)
- Have a debit or credit card associated with a standard U.S. checking account
- Have a monthly income of at least $1,000, before taxes and deductions
SmartPay doesn’t do credit checks unless you specifically ask them to—if you have a great credit score they may be willing to offer you lower monthly installments or longer-term agreements.
Let’s Talk Tip: Interest-free installment plans are ideal when it comes to purchasing a new device. Both Affirm and SmartPay tout cheaper alternatives for their customers but at the end of the day, you spend more than necessary.
Progressive Leasing with Cricket Wireless
Cricket Wireless, a small carrier that operates on AT&T’s quality network, uses third-party company Progressive Leasing to provide customers with device installment plans. What separates Progressive Leasing from Affirm and SmartPay is that they don’t charge interest on their phones so you can rest assured that you aren’t paying more than the RRP over time.
With Progressive Leasing, you don’t own your device until you’ve made all of the necessary payments. You’re also required to have service with Cricket Wireless for the duration of that phone payment plan. Progressive does offer an early buyout option if that works better for you. Payment frequency can vary, from flexible weekly to biweekly to monthly installment options.
You are permitted to lease up to five devices, one of which must cost $149.99 or more, and up to five accessories. You are required to make an initial down payment of $49.99 at a Cricket Wireless store or online to Progressive. After that, all of your payments are made directly to Progressive Leasing.
In order to qualify for an installment plan through Progressive Leasing, you must provide your:
- Employer zip code and phone number
- Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)
- Government-issued photo ID
- Bank routing and checking account numbers
- Debit or credit card details
You also have to be 18 years old or older to apply. Note that there aren’t any Progressive Leasing lease-to-own programs available in Wisconsin, Wyoming, Vermont, New Jersey, or Minnesota.
Let’s Talk Tip: Progressive Leasing through Cricket Wireless is a better installment option than carriers that use Affirm or SmartPay because Progressive Leasing doesn’t charge you interest. Keep in mind, you have to pay a $50 down payment.
Sprint Flex Lease
Instead of using a third-party, Sprint offers their own leasing program, the Sprint Flex 18-month lease plan. You can finance any of Sprint’s phones through this program, which is great news because Sprint has a broad range of phones for sale. Additionally, they do not charge any interest on their phones. That said, Sprint owns the device you’re leasing. This means that at the end of your 18-month agreement, you can either:
- Return your phone and upgrade to a new device (we recommend this option)
- Own it by buying it in one payment or six monthly installments
- Continue using your same phone on a month-to-month basis, but these payments don’t go toward owning the phone
We don’t know about you, but making 18 monthly installments and then paying to purchase your device doesn’t sound like the best deal around (and it’s actually not an option in some states). If you choose to go with Sprint, it makes the most sense to return your phone at the end of the agreement in exchange for a new one—i.e., upgrade. You may also want to continue using your same smartphone if it’s in good working condition and it’s not important to you to have the latest and greatest devices. That said, you have to be okay with your monthly payments not contributing to owning the phone or paying off the phone.
Like Progressive Leasing with Cricket Wireless, you must have a service plan through Sprint for the entire 18 months that you lease a device. If you leave Sprint early, you must pay off the remaining balance on the lease. Keep in mind there is a $30 activation fee for customers leasing a phone through Sprint.
How to qualify for Sprint Flex Lease:
Unlike the third-party installment options, there are no stipulations to qualifying for a Sprint Flex Lease; all Sprint customers who are adding a new line or upgrading are eligible for this program. Your credit score does impact whether you are charged a “rent charge” or not. A rent charge is a monthly fee you must pay on top of the monthly leasing payment.
Phone Payment Plans Compared
This table compares various financing plans for the iPhone XS. Note: even though Progressive Leasing doesn’t charge you interest, their list price for the phone is higher than the RRP. This may be a way for them to make extra money while still boasting a 0% interest rate. Also, keep in mind that you only end up paying $750 at the end of the Sprint Flex Lease since you aren’t leasing to own.
|iPhone XS||Carrier||Interest Rate||Installment Length||Total Paid|
|Affirm||Mint Mobile||0%-30%||24 months||Up to $1,300|
|SmartPay Leasing||Straight Talk||Up to 82%||15 months||$1,826|
|Progressive Leasing||Cricket Wireless||0%||Flexible||$1,150|
|Sprint Flex Lease||Sprint||0%||18 months||$750|