Cricket, MetroPCS offering phone finance programs to lower upfront costs

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This holiday season, both Cricket and MetroPCS are offering new financing programs to customers that wish to buy expensive smartphones but don't feel comfortable laying out the full cost of the device up front. As noted by FierceWireless, the two prepaid carriers do not normally subsidize devices as traditional postpaid carriers do, which means that a smartphone such as the iPhone will cost a customer $500 or $600 when they purchase it instead of the more palatable $99 or $199 that subsidized plans offer. Both carriers are using a company called Progressive Finance to handle the loans to customers, while MetroPCS says it is also partnering with BillFloat to provide the service.

In the case of Cricket, a customer will be eligible to finance their purchase if they buy at least $200 worth of phones and accessories at one time. The plans are similar sounding to financing options that electronics stores have offered for years, but the carrier does not require a credit check — a customer that wishes to finance a device just needs an active bank account — and only asks that the customer put down ten percent of the value of the device at the time of purchase. A customer will then have 90 days to pay off the remainder of the purchase price without having to pay any interest or fees, and a full nine months to pay the full amount if they are content with paying interest on the loan. This means that a customer could walk out the door of a Cricket store with an iPhone for only $105 down, including their first month's service payment. That's significantly less than the $500 or more up front that Cricket has required in the past. MetroPCS did not reveal details about its financing options, but it's likely that they will be similar to what Cricket is offering.

A customer could walk out the door with a new iPhone for just over $100, without having to sign a contract

Cricket and MetroPCS aren't the only carriers that are giving customers more options with regards to the handling the high cost of smartphones. T-Mobile's Value Plans provide much more transparency about how much a customer is paying for their smartphone over the time that they own it. The carrier has had these plans as an option for some time and will be exclusively offering them in 2013. The Value Plans still require contracts, but they give customers a full 24 months to pay off the cost of their phone, without charging any interest to the customer. As with Cricket and MetroPCS' financing programs, once the subsidy is paid off (within nine months in the case of Cricket, 24 months for T-Mobile), the customer's monthly cost will go down. That's very different than what you get with a traditional subsidy from AT&T, Verizon, or Sprint, which still charge the same monthly fee whether you have paid the subsidy of the device off or not.

Cricket is offering the new financing program in select markets now, and will expand it to other markets next year. It's not clear if MetroPCS will be offering it in all of its stores of if it will be limited to select markets.

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