How many times have you gotten an offer for a free cell phone? They come from everywhere—in your mail, via television commercials, at the mall. Unless you’ve been living far off the grid, you probably hear about free cell phone offers a few times a week. But have you ever stopped to investigate whether the phones in these offers are actually free?
Zero Down Isn’t Free
Many so-called free phone offers are really $0 down offers, meaning that you don’t have to pay anything right now for the phone—but you will later. In your contract there is an agreement to pay a certain amount every month for up to two years. These are called installment plans, and there is nothing free about them. Some vendors haven’t limited this tactic to phones, but also do this with supposedly free tablets.
Free with Contract
The other type of “free” phone you can get is one that comes with a long, expensive wireless contract. These contracts often offer more services than you actually need or will use, thereby needlessly raising your monthly fee. The free phone is also often a refurbished model, not a brand new one. The contracts usually feature hefty early termination fees as well as restocking fees.
Free Phones for Seniors
Recently, free phone ads have been targeting seniors who want to have the safety that cell phones give. These campaigns offer simpler phones designed especially for seniors. What many don’t realize is that these offers require an activation fee of $100 or more and after the initial free minutes are used up, newly purchased minutes are prohibitively expensive.
When you’re offered something that seems too good to be true, do your due diligence. Ask lots of questions and do some online research to see what other shoppers’ experiences have been. Ultimately, remember that companies are out to make a profit, so they aren’t going to give free stuff away unless it somehow leads to increased revenue for them. There’s nothing wrong with this, as long as you understand the fine print, caveats and details.