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Do You Need a Credit History to Get a Cell Phone?

As many of the regulars know, I didn’t have a credit history until recently. It wasn’t a bad one, more like a blank slate. When I first got a cell phone they told me “We’re sorry, but you don’t have any credit.”

I was worried. Until then, I’d held off on getting a cell phone, but my mom was in the hospital and I was at college without any easy way to call or, more importantly, to get calls.

Fortunately, they had a solution. Pay $120 up front and get it back in a year (applied to my bill). I didn’t have the cash on me and wasn’t sure if I had enough in my checking account. So I went to an ATM and made a savings withdrawal. I remember crying, because I was so tired, stressed, worried, and frustrated. And for a college student $120 is a lot.*

Once I gave them the $120, I was able to sign the contract.

So the moral of the story is…you don’t need a credit history to get a cell phone. At least not with Verizon Wireless in 2004. But you need to plan ahead because they may ask for a deposit upfront.

If you keep paying your cell phone bills, are generally responsible, etc, you’ll get the deposit back after the specified amount of time. Check with them when you’re setting it up. Ask how you’ll get it back, in my case it was applied to the cell bill.

Set up a reminder using Google Calendar,, or whatever your reminder system of choice for that period and then for a month after. If, a month later, you don’t see it showing up however you were supposed to get it (prepaid card, no bill, etc) then call customer service to talk about it.

It worked out just fine for me, they entered it in their system and it showed up automagically. But don’t let your deposit get lost in the cracks, that’s over a month of cell payments, perhaps more than 2 depending on your plan.

And, if you really need a cell phone and can’t find money for the deposit you can always get try a prepaid one.

*One of the great things about being a financially responsible college student is actually having enough savings that I didn’t have to borrow the money from my parents. I was also fortunate to have scholarships etc…I know some smart people end up in less fortunate situations, like one of my roomies. But I still think a large part was financial responsibility.

{ 2 trackbacks }

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Michelle May 4, 2008 at 10:14 pm

At my husband’s job, they sell cell phones for Sprint and AT&T (Cingular). He says that they do run credit reports on each customer, unless they are existing customers. If the customer has good credit, they do not have to pay a deposit. If they have not-so-good credit to really bad credit, they do have a deposit that is paid upfront. He has told me that some customers have had their deposit come back as much as $1000. Believe it or not, he says that some have actually paid. According to him, Sprint has more lenient credit requirements than does AT&T. AT&T usually has

Michelle May 4, 2008 at 10:17 pm

Oops…phone rang and forgot to complete my sentence.

Continuing…AT&T usually has much higher deposits based on credit worthiness.

Vered - MomGrind May 4, 2008 at 10:42 pm

When I came to the United States, from Israel, 10 years ago, I didn’t have any credit history either, and that’s exactly how I was able to get a cell phone. It does work. Glad you found a solution!

Dad May 5, 2008 at 12:47 am

There are also pay as you go plans. This neither requires nor helps your credit report but it is a way to get started with cell phone service. It tends to be more expensive unless you use it lightly.

Trent Hamm May 5, 2008 at 8:43 am

There are a lot of typical purchases like these that are difficult with bad credit. Auto insurance is another one.

Mrs Micah's Mom May 5, 2008 at 10:10 am

When I had my first job in the US, long before cell phones, I had to pay a deposit to get a landline. It was repaid separately from my bill and included 7% interest on the deposit. I was delighted, but they wouldn’t take any more deposits. I should have bought their stock, but I wasn’t as savvy about finances are you all are.

Eden May 5, 2008 at 10:58 am

Well, I don’t have great credit, but I assume it’s good enough for a cell phone.

That being said, I opted for a prepaid cell phone plan simply because I rarely use my cell phone and this was far less expensive for me. I don’t believe they did a credit check for the prepaid plan (wouldn’t make much sense to me), but I guess it is possible.

BTW- paying less than $200 per *year* for my cell phone has been great!

Heidi May 5, 2008 at 11:17 am

My maternal grandfather, who pays cash for everthing (including his brand new house) couldn’t get a mobile phone without a co-signer.

He didn’t have bad credit, he had no credit, much like Mrs. Micah. It just blew my mind that a man with a net worth of over $2 million couldn’t get a plan on his own.

SavingDiva May 5, 2008 at 12:54 pm

I opened up a student credit card my freshman year of college because my parents recommended it. I didn’t actually use it until my junior year. 🙁

Keith Lauren May 7, 2008 at 4:24 pm

Yea, your credit has to be pretty bad to not get a phone. I think they look at what type or credit good / bad you have more than a credit score because my brother who has terrible credit was able to get a Cingular phone with no deposit.

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