Switching to Straight Talk from AT&T - an easy way to cut your smartphone bill in half

Ever since I switched from T-Mobile to AT&T to get the iPhone 5 I've loved my phone but hated the $100 monthly bill.  Like many smartphone users, I use my iPhone more for web browsing and iMessage than actually talking and texting but AT&T and other carriers try to force us into expensive unlimited calling and texting plans.

After months of dreading my bill, I finally just woke up one day and decided I would try switching to Straight Talk. My initial hesitation in trying a prepaid carrier was that my phone was locked to AT&T and I was still under contract for a year, so I wasn’t sure how easy the process would be to switch carriers and keep my current phone number.  However, Straight Talk has a plan that run on AT&T's network and works with phones locked to AT&T, making the process much easier.

A little background on Straight Talk

Straight Talk is a joint venture between Walmart and TracFone Wireless.  They have plans that run on the AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and Sprint Networks.  Phones, SIM cards, and refill cards are offered exclusively by Walmart online and in stores and the Straight Talk website.  Their basic smartphone plan is $45 per month for unlimited calling and texting and 2.5GB of 4G/LTE data, after which you'll have unlimited data at 2G speeds until the next billing cycle begins.  There are minimal additional taxes and fees (compared to a  contract plan).  They also have a $60 plan with international calling and a $30 plan with minimal data.  Straight Talk officially supports the newest iPhones, and you can even buy an iPhone directly from them at full price ($650 for the 5s, $550 for the 5c, or $450 for the 4s). Their selection of newer Android and Windows phones is lacking, but there's nothing stopping you from bringing your old phone or buying a new one unlocked.  You can buy refill cards at Walmart in store or online, or you can manage your account online and set up autopay so you're never without service.  You can even save a few more dollars per month by buying a 3/6/12-month card.

Switching to Straight Talk with a locked iPhone

I was happy with my iPhone 5 and wanted to use that after switching to Straight Talk.  I went to Walmart and bought a “Bring Your Own Phone Activation Kit” for $60.  This particular kit includes SIM cards of various sizes for GSM phones or a code for CDMA phones, and a voucher for one month of service with the $45 smartphone plan mentioned above.  You can also order a SIM card or CDMA code from Walmart online or Straight Talk's website and use that to activate your phone.  The iPhone 5 and newer models use the small nano SIM, which was included in the activation kit I bought.  If you don't have a phone or want to get a new one, you can buy a phone directly from Walmart or from the Straight Talk website.

If you're activating an unlocked GSM phone you'll have your choice of a plan that runs on AT&T or T-Mobile.  AT&T typically has better LTE and overall cell coverage than T-Mobile, but pick whichever is best in your area.

Setting up my phone with Straight Talk was simple. Go to the activation site, select the appropriate option (in my case, “Activate my Straight Talk service with a number from another company”), and input the required information. If you choose to port over your current phone number, you will need to provide the account number and other details from your current service provider. After that information is entered you will enter the serial number for the new SIM card, your zip code, and the service card pin number. At this point you are finished, and will be required to set up an account if you do not already have one.

Once your new account is processed through, you should be good to go; just ensure your new SIM is inserted, and restart your phone (the actual phone number porting process may take a few hours). The network and carrier will show up as TFW (TracFone Wireless).  As I was setting up my account, I had an error with the confirmation page loading. My phone showed the new information for TFW and seemed to be working, but wasn’t able to make or receive calls. I called customer service just to make sure my account was actually activated; the customer service representative was very helpful and was able to confirm that all of my information was processed, and that after a couple hours the porting should be complete and I would have full service again. Almost exactly two hours later, the service popped up, I restarted my phone, and everything was working.

The day after I activated with Straight Talk I made an online request to AT&T to unlock my phone.  They approved it and sent me the steps to unlock my iPhone with my computer and iTunes.  I never had to speak to anyone or go to the store.  Now my iPhone is unlocked and I can switch to another GSM carrier at any time if I choose.

A month with Straight Talk

I've been using my iPhone on this plan for over a month now and my only regret is not switching to Straight Talk earlier.  The only difference I have found is the lack of visual voicemail. I don’t consider this much of a loss, since I don't receive a ton of calls and it is just as easy to check voicemail the old fashion way.  There are some workarounds to this that I may try, as detailed by CNET.  I've found 2.5GB of high-speed data to be more than enough for constantly listening to podcasts/music, emailing, surfing the web, playing some games, and messing around on social media sites. Unless you never have access to Wi-Fi, I don’t think the size of the data plan will be an issue for typical smartphone users.

I could not be happier with Straight Talk; it feels fantastic to be contract free, and I am honestly not missing out on anything. I have the same great LTE coverage of AT&T, just now at a much better price. If you have been considering doing something to significantly cut your monthly cell phone bill, my advice is to stop thinking and start doing.  I’m sure you won’t be sorry, I know I’m not.

Editor's Note: This article was written by friend of the site Megan Flaherty in return for convincing her to save lots of money by switching to Straight Talk.