Edit: I made an arithmetic mistake in the original article that inflated the savings of the new AT&T Next plans.
AT&T rolled out its new no contract payment plan called AT&T Next. In this model AT&T no longer subsidizes the cost of the phone in exchange for a 2 year contract. Now, consumers will have to pay the full price of the phone. I am going to tell you why that is a good thing.
AT&T will let you pay for your new phone in monthly installments added directly to you bill. There is no down payment, activation fee, upgrade fee, or financing fee (interest). The total cost of the phone divided by the number on months financed is added to you bill.
There are two AT&T Next options—Next 12 and Next 18. With Next 12 the cost of the phone is spit over 20 months with the option to upgrade again at 12 months. After 12 months you have two options for upgrading. Firstly, you can trade in your current working phone for the next phone you want to upgrade to. Or you can pay off the balance on your current phone and upgrade to the next phone. Then the process starts again and you’re paying on a new phone. There is also the Next 18 which has allows for an upgrade at 18 months and the cost of the phone is split over 24 months.
Of course, you don’t have to upgrade. After your phone is paid in full, you are capable of going month to month on your payments while maintaining full ownership of your phone.
I talked to an AT&T representative about this, and his response indicated that it is up to the particular AT&T representative if your phone is in good enough condition to be traded in. However, he did mention that if it powers on and is not cracked then it should be accepted. Dents, scuffs, and general wear and tear are acceptable.
At this point you must be thinking “Why would I want to pay full price for my phone that I was getting at a subsidized price?” AT&T thought the same thing and now offers a $15 monthly discount for data plans less than 10GB and a $25 monthly discount for data plans above 10GB. This monthly discount, subsidy, is why the new AT&T Next is good for you and your wallet. Let me explain. (Assumption: you like having a relatively new phone as often as you can afford it. If you still have a Motorola Razr or Nokia brick, then you’re probably not reading this article anyways.)
With the old 2 year contract plan you could buy a phone at a subsidized price, pay an activation fee and be on your way. After 20 months you are eligible for a phone upgrade if you sign another 2 year contract. You get a subsidized phone price, but you can only get that price once every 20 months. In the table below, you can see the associated cost comparisons for old 2 year contract model and the new Next 12 and 18 models.
Firstly, let us look at the first month’s costs for each of the plans. With the old 2 year contract model you would be required to pay for the cost of the phone and activation fee. For the new flagship phones (i.e. Samsung Galaxy or iPhone) the cost was typically $200. The activation fee is approximately $45. The first month’s costs for 2 year contract are approximately $245 plus any other fees and taxes. The first month’s (net) costs for AT&T Next are $17.50 and $12.08 for Next 12 and Next 18 respectively plus taxes. For the first month of your new Next plan you are going to pay approximately $230 less than your old 2 year contract.
Now let us look at the monthly costs (after the first month) of each of the plans. For the Next 12 you pay $17.50 more each month and for the Next 18 you pay $12.08 more each month than the 2 year contract plan. If you keep your phone until it is paid off you will pay $105 more for Next 12 and $45 more for Next 18. However, if you take advantage of the 12 and 18 month trade-in, you will come out $35 and $27.56 in the black for Next 12 and 18 respectively.
This isn’t a lot of savings. In fact, if you wait too long to trade in your phone you will end up paying more than you would have on the old 2 year contract model.
There are some perks that will have ranging subjective values for different people. For starters, there is not large down payment. You can get your new phone today without a down payment and without any financings fees or interest. When money is tight people tend to avoid spending a lot or money at once. It is pleasant to not be charged more because you can’t pay in full up front. Finally, there is the value of being able to upgrade every 12 months. If you are a savvy at selling things online, you could sell last year’s model and turn a profit.
The new AT&T Next plans will save you a couple bucks. But how does AT&T benefit from this model. Simple, AT&T is no longer subsidizing the other $450 of your new iPhone or Samsung which is more than the $15 a month they give. And if you trade in the phone on your next upgrade, they can sell that as a refurbished phone.
In summary, the new AT&T Next plans can save you up to $35 a year if you upgrade to a new phone every 12 months. It can also cost you as much as $105 over 20 months if you choose not to upgrade. It isn’t a lot, but every dollar counts. With T-Mobile’s Jump and AT&T’s Next installment plans, we might be seeing the start of a shift in how we buy phones.