That enticing free phone offer is a 3-year contract

We like to let you know about offers on smartphones or tablets or smartwatches that can get you a device for a cheaper price than you would normally pay. We also like it when the word free is attached to a potential promo, but those often include at least one rather large asterisk that you should be aware of. Since I saw a couple of mentions of 3-year deals today, I thought it worth reminding everyone that you need to be prepared for what’s to come if your carrier says they have something you might like for free.

About a year ago, we noticed that we had entered the era of 3-year wireless contracts. At the time, Verizon had gone all-in on 3-year device payment plans, as had AT&T. The only carrier that offered 2-year deals was T-Mobile and still is today, though we mustn’t forget that they were the first to test the waters of the 3-year deal.

So the 3-year contract is what customers are offered when they try to buy a new phone from carriers like Verizon or AT&T. Each will give you the option to buy a phone at full price or through a device payment plan. That device payment plan is the contract, as it spreads the cost of the phone over 3 years to get you to pay for wireless service for 3 years or 36 months.

This option helps bring the monthly price down for a high-end phone, making it more affordable for people who don’t want to (or can’t) spend $1,000 upfront. For many, it’s an option that makes sense if they’ve been with a carrier for a long time and don’t see themselves changing anytime soon. It also opens up the opportunity for carriers to offer discounts if you don’t mind sticking around for a while.

Free iPhones, Samsung devices, and tablets are 3-year contracts

And that’s where today’s reminder comes in. 3 years from now can be a long time, so understand what’s going on. I noticed a couple of threads in the Verizon subreddit where one asked for confirmation that the text message for a free iPhone 14 Pro was legit and if there were any catches. I also noticed another thread where someone was asking how to get out of the 3 year tablet deal they signed, because they didn’t like the tablet anymore.

If we start with the iPhone 14 Pro deal, that seems like a pretty straightforward upgrade offer for someone likely out of another contract or who has an older phone. The deal says they have one LAST CHANCE! to trade in an eligible device that will give them a 128GB iPhone 14 Pro at up to $1,000 off with credits applied for 36 months. This is just a 3 year deal where Verizon gives them a discount on the phone if they trade in their current phone while spreading that cost.

The only problems here are that it locks you out for 3 years, and you’re not likely to get the full $1,000 discount unless you have a premium device to trade in. You could still grab a deal like this, get a hefty discount on an iPhone 14 Pro, and then see monthly bill credits for 36 months while enjoying a new high-end phone at a discount. Just know that if you end up leaving Verizon for some reason, you owe them an unpaid balance left over the phone.

As for the tablet deal, this is where we tell you to be very careful. This person claims to have bought a Galaxy S23 Ultra and added a Galaxy Tab S7 FE as a bonus giveaway. Of course, since this is Verizon, it wasn’t exactly free and instead required you to pay for monthly data access on your tablet for 36 months. They no longer like the tablet and want to get rid of it, but even if they do, they’ll still have to pay for the tablet line for that whole 3 years or they could see charges for the tablet.

The example above is for a tablet, but you might be tempted by a similar deal for a connected smartwatch like a Pixel Watch or an Apple Watch, you should tread carefully if offered. Buying a high-end phone and locking it up for 3 years is one thing because phones are so good these days and companies support them well enough that they should still be good in 3 years. Doing it with a smartwatch or tablet that can age quickly is another situation. I’m not sure I would tell anyone to hire a smartwatch under contract.

To recap, there are free offers from your favorite wireless carrier. These offers are almost always tied to a multi-year contract that locks you into a service plan for 2-3 years. If it’s a high-end phone, it might not be a horrible game if you plan on sticking around for a while. When it comes to tablets or smartwatches, I’d be careful. Most people don’t need a data connection all the time on their watch or tablet, and you’ll end up paying for a service you may not really need.

This post was last edited on June 28, 2023 at 12:28pm

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