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The Best Cell Phone Plan for Your Child

posted by Suzanne Kantra on August 10, 2011 in Family and Parenting, Phones and Mobile, Phone Accessories, Cell Phones, Kids, Guides & Reviews, Money Savers :: 18 comments

girl with cell phoneSelecting a cell phone service for your child is a bit more complicated than choosing one for yourself. Cost is still important, of course, and both prepaid plans and adding a second line can work out to be a cost effective way of keeping your kids in touch. But parents should strongly consider what parental controls are available with each type of service before making a decision.

Do you want to ensure your child can reach you even if he or she has gone over the allotted number of minutes? Are you interested in making sure your child isn't texting under the covers until 2:00 AM? Or do you have concerns about your child encountering mature content? You can manage all of these things with parental controls when you set up a second line on your account, but not with a prepaid phone.

Costs: Prepaid vs. Second Line

Your first instinct may be to go pre-paid—it is the best way to ensure your extra-chatty teenager doesn't give you a nasty surprise at the end of the month by going over their minutes. However, it may cost less to add a line to your existing account, depending on how your child will use the phone.

Take this example from AT&T using their lowest cost plans:

AT&T 550 Family (if you assign the extra 100 minutes you get when moving from the 450 minute individual plan)
What you get: $10 for 100 minutes per month, $10 per month for the second line
Best for: Kids who use all their minutes and want the flexibility of using the phone any time

AT&T $2 Daily Unlimited Talk and Text
What you get: $2 for unlimited talk and text every day you use the phone
Best for: Kids who talk occasionally

AT&T Simple Plan (flat $0.25 rate for calls)
What you get: $25 for 100 minutes
Best for: Kids who need an emergency-only phone

Data vs. No-Data

Even most basic phones can send and receive email and photos, browse the web, stream music and run a limited number of apps. So if you plan on letting your child use these services, you'll need a data plan for your child's phone too. In which case, a Family Plan is the best way to go.

AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile treat data the same for basic phones and smartphones, letting you choose a 200MB plan for either. Verizon has a 75MB data plan for $10 per month that's only available for basic phones, while its entry level smartphone plan costs $30 for 2GB.

If you eliminate data, you'll save between $5 and $30 per month.

Read: Should You Buy Your Kid a Smartphone

Comparing the Plans

These charts of rates from AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile (Sprint doesn’t offer daily plans) let you compare rates to see what will make the most sense for you. Monthly prepaid plans offer little savings over a family plan and don't provide parental controls, so aren't the best option for kids. Pay special attention to the expiration dates on prepaid cards. Lower priced plans expire in as little 30 days, and any unused minutes will be lost.

Prepaid Daily Calling Plans

 Carrier Plan Daily Access Fee Per Minute Rate Text Message Rate Mobile to Mobile
Within Carrier
AT&T $2 Unlimited Talk and Text $2 Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited
AT&T $0.10 per minute Plan None $0.10 $0.20 text/ $0.20 pictures $0.10
T-Mobile Pay as You Go None $0.10-$0.33 $0.10 text/ $0.25 pictures $0.10-$0.33
Verizon $1.99/Day $1.99 Unlimited $0.02 text/ $0.25 pictures Unlimited
Verizon $0.99/Day $0.99 $0.10 $0.10 text/ $0.25 pictures Unlimited
Verizon $0.00/Day None $0.25 $0.20 text/ $0.25 pictures $0.25

 

Family Plans

  Carrier Plan type Minutes Messages Data Monthly Fee
AT&T Talk, Text & Data 550 1000 200 MB $84.99
  Talk & Text 550 1000 none $69.99
  Talk 550 none none $59.99
Sprint Talk, Text & Data 1500 unlimited unlimited $129.99
  Talk & Text 1500 unlimited none $99.99
  Talk 700 none none $69.99
T-Mobile Talk, Text & Data 1000 unlimited 200 MB $99.99
  Talk & Text 1000 unlimited none $79.99
  Talk 1000 none none $59.99
Verizon Talk, Text & Data 700 unlimited 75 MB (basic phone) / 2GB (smartphone) $84.99 / $104.99
  Talk & Text 700 250 none $74.99
  Talk 700 none none $69.99

 

Parental Controls for Second Lines

A huge benefit of adding a second line for your child on your account is that you can take control of how and when your child uses his or her phone; helping cut down on costs while keeping your child focused on schoolwork.

Parental controls also provide a measure of safety for your child. You can stop bullies from contacting your child by blocking their calls and texts; ensure that your child isn't exposed to mature content in online stores or while browsing the Internet; and even do a quick location check to ensure your latch-key kid has arrived safely home.

Control isn't free. Most of these parental control features come at a price of $5 per month and an additional fee for location tracking. Even if you don't subscribe initially, it's good to know what options are available should the need arise.

Keeping Track of Your Kids

Of the four major carriers we looked at, three let you track the actual location of your child: AT&T, Sprint and Verizon. Verizon's Chaperone service and Sprint’s Family Locator use GPS to pinpoint your child's location (which means you need a GPS-enabled phone), and even let you set up zones where your child is allowed to go—giving you an automatic alert (to either your cell phone or computer) if they leave that zone. AT&T’s FamilyMap service will use GPS, if it’s available, or triangulation based on the location of cell phone tower. The latter isn’t quite as accurate, but works better indoors.

Talk Time

T-Mobile and Verizon let you put a cap on minutes. And AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon let you limit phone use to specific times or days. Of course, your child can still make 911 calls to emergency services at any time, and T-Mobile lets you add up to ten always allowed numbers that your child can dial, even if he or she is over the limit on minutes.

Text Messaging

While text messaging is all the rage with kids (as well as adults), there are a few good reasons for restricting this kind of communication. For starters, it can be a terrific time waster and, if you don't get a plan with unlimited text messaging or a message plan, the costs can really add up. But beyond that, you can protect your child from unwanted messages with number blocking. AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon let you put a cap on the number of messages and Sprint lets you block the messaging feature. All let you block texts from specific numbers.

Entertainment

Entertainment on a mobile phone can be anything from games to music to ring tones to video. Downloading new content to a phone can cost extra on a pay-as-you-go service plan, so again, you need to put a cap on things or establish limits with your child. While Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile make a big deal out of their entertainment offerings, they will let you set a spending cap. Sprint only allows you to turn this feature on or off. All have content filters that prevent your child from viewing mature content.

Parental Controls by Carrier

  AT&T Smart Controls Sprint Account Controls T-Mobile Family Allowances Verizon Usage Controls
Cost  $4.99 per month  Free $4.99 per month  $4.99 per month
Child Locator Service  $9.99 per month for 2 people $5 per month for 4 phones  Not Available $9.99 per month per phone
Talk Time Cap No  No  Yes  Yes
Texting Cap Yes Block only, block picture texts  Yes  Yes
Downloadable Purchases Yes Block only  Yes  Yes
Content Filter Yes Yes  Unlimited Unlimited
Time/Day Control Yes, just outbound activity No Yes Yes
Call Control Yes Yes Yes, limit of 10 always allowed and 10 blocked numbers Yes, limit of 20 blocked numbers

 

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Discussion loading

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You didn't mention kajeet.

From Haley on August 11, 2011 :: 11:50 am

You didn’t mention kajeet.  They offer NO CONTRACT cell phone service for kids with unlimited, free parental controls.  Prices are very competitive ($14.99 Unlimited texting!!) and I can control when the phone can be used, inbound and outbound calls and texts, etc. Read more here: http://www.kajeet.com/1015

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Kajeet

From L on February 06, 2012 :: 11:12 am

We love Kajeet, but the phones are a bit pricey.

Reply

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Limited options...

From Emma Braughin on August 24, 2011 :: 10:18 am

I’m researching prepaid plans for my son and I’m surprised that a few options I’ve been considering for him aren’t here. I didn’t even consider any of the big carriers for service for him because they were still high priced than the prepaid ones and I felt more limited. I’ve been considering Tracfone and I wonder why its not listed here—finding information about their networks has been difficult. I think the article should be expanded to include aircard based companies like Tracfone that offer service for 3 motnhs with one card rather than day-to-pay.

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This is only for Parental Controled plans

From MomOfFour on January 25, 2012 :: 12:39 pm

I see some people are asking why Tracfone isn’t on here.  Tracfone doesn’t offer any Parental Controls.  This article is looking at plans that offer parents control of their child’s cell phone.  We currently have a Tracfone for our kids but will be adding a line to our AT&T plan with AT&T’s Smart Limits.  We are dealing with some kids/people who are calling our kids harassing them and there is no way to control this with Tracfone.  Plus we can locate the kids via the GPS if, Heaven forbid, we need to.

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Personal attention is best

From Megan B on January 30, 2012 :: 4:55 pm

We’ve found that the best ‘parental controls’ are just to be aware all the time of what is going on. Our kids know that their phones (both tracfones) are conditional to us being able to look at their phones at any time. We also have strict rules as to the when and where they may use them. I think this personal type of control (i like the term ‘guidance’ wink more) keeps them out of trouble more than any automated controls could.

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We do pay attention to

From MOMOFFOUR on February 06, 2012 :: 1:37 pm

We do pay attention to our kids.  HOWEVER there is no way to keep people from calling and bullying/harassing them on the tracfone.  This way we can block these people from contacting our kids.  I hope you never experience that situation.

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Totally agree

From Nathan on March 22, 2012 :: 1:08 am

WTG Megan! I whole heartedly agree with you and your “guidance” skills. Having four teens ourselves, all with tracfones, and most likely the same conditions, I haven’t had any problems either. We made it clear to them that this is a communication device between us and them and not a toy.  We have even made sure to sidestep the dreaded incoming bullying/harassing calls by stating if they don’t know the number they don’t answer it, and that they are not allowed to give their number out ever w/o permission. As I’ve always said putting an aftermarket autopilot button on your parenting is a dangerously bad idea.

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Prepaid is the way to go

From Felix on August 31, 2011 :: 9:29 pm

The best value out there is tracfone.  It’s by far less expensive than contract phones and its even competitive against most prepaid plans.  On top of that its on a national network so for my college student in PA (we are in NY) its the obvious choice.

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Tight on Cash

From Johnna on October 31, 2011 :: 6:27 pm

I just moved here from Aruba and me and my sister are really tight on cash.  I didn’t even know there were options for cell phones where you dont have to sign a contract but turns out prepaid phone companies here are really cheap and good.  I decided on tracfone and so far its been good.  Now i just need to cut back on my shopping LOL!

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turn any android phone into a kids phone

From Jake on February 19, 2012 :: 8:42 pm

My team and I are working on a new kind of service - an app that takes over any Android phone and turns it into a kid-friendly smartphone with GPS location and full parental control from the web.

If you’ve been thinking of giving your child a phone but are hesitating and think you’d like to have some control over how your child uses their phone, our service might be right for you.

If you’re interested, please email me at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) and we’ll get you set up in under 5 minutes.

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Interested in new service for Android

From Elizabeth on February 21, 2012 :: 5:49 pm

I’m interested in learning more about your new service for Android phones. Am in the market for phones for my kids, but am still researching all the options for limiting minutes/access as well as monitoring. I have JavaScript enabled, but still can’t see your email address. Can you point me at your website instead?

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mintues phones

From jordan davis on June 26, 2012 :: 9:48 am

mintues phones are cool you can do watever you want do with it

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I would like to get

From Gloria Turner on July 18, 2012 :: 8:34 pm

I would like to get her phone for use on prepaid service such as boost.  thanks

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Can't be with your kids 24-7

From christy v on October 15, 2012 :: 1:45 pm

no matter what parents think or how great a parent you are you can not be with your kid 24 hours a day. Granted you give them rules and provide structure kids are kids though. They are going to try to take a little extra and see how far they can go with it
So parental controls are just a little extra security for our minds.

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Kajeet phones

From Julie on March 18, 2013 :: 9:34 pm

Kajeet is the best value, I agree.  For 14.99, you get phone, unlimited texting and free parental controls.  You can use your own phone, no need to buy one from them, and there’s no contract.  Why pay 50.00 and waste money?  This article should have had a little more research and been a little more prepared.  I didn’t even bother to check AT&T, us cellular, or any of those big names.  I use virgin mobile for our phones which is 25.00 a month with unlimited texting, data, and 300 minutes…..which I have never run out of minutes.

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GPS

From christy v on March 18, 2013 :: 9:58 pm

I love the fact that we have unlimited GPS locator especially for my children and when we can not find their phones it is pretty accurate

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Stay away from kajeet

From Scott on April 19, 2013 :: 9:53 pm

Stay far away from kajeet.  By far the worst customer service of any cell phone carrier and VERY bad phones.

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Kajeet

From Alison on May 15, 2013 :: 1:09 pm

We purchased a phone from Kajeet for our son on a recommendation from friends who love the service, plus we liked the plans, price and parental controls. We have to use a signal booster in our home as service is really spotty, and Kajeet phones unfortunately can not work when a signal booster is present.  When we turn the signal booster off, the phone is not able to connect to the network, so we are likely going to have to go in a new direction. Kajeet customer service was VERY responsive and helpful, especially Augustine who worked extensively with us. I regret that we can’t use their service.

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