Cell Service for $20/Month? We Have Some Questions for This Discount Carrier

woman outdoors looking at phone
Carmen Mandato/ The Penny Hoarder
Some of the links in this post are from our sponsors. We provide you with accurate, reliable information. Learn more about how we make money and select our advertising partners.

Like everyone else, I’m attached to my phone.

So you’d think I’d be fairly attached to my provider. You know: the entity that allows me to mindlessly scroll Instagram, listen to true-crime podcasts and annoy my boyfriend via text 24/7.

But I’m not. In fact, I hate it.

Of course I’m going to tell you why…

  1. It’s expensive — well over $200 for three lines. (That includes my mom, my brother and me.)
  1. Negotiating is impossible and the fees are ambiguous.
  1. Each time I leave the brick-and-mortar store, I’m either frustrated out of my mind or near tears. Or both.
  1. Nearly every month, I get one of those “You’ve used all your data! We’ll go ahead and add $15 more” texts. (My mom asked about upping our data plan. Not worth it, a salesperson advised her. Why?!)
  1. I’m currently sitting inside my apartment with two measly service bars. Cool.

And, yeah, I’ve looked into other service providers, but this process has lead to frustrations and and questions. Like: Is this really going to be better and cheaper than what I have going for me now?

Today, I’m going to put my skepticism (and sometimes cynicism) to good use to examine a discount cell phone plan I’ve heard chatter about lately: Pure TalkUSA.

Apparently, plans start at $20 a month, and include unlimited talk and text. And there are zero overage fees. Plus, you can use the code “PENNY” to get 50% off your first month of service.

Too good to be true, I think. So I started asking all the questions to put together a comprehensive Pure TalkUSA review…

1. Service Will Be Shoddy, Right?

Coverage is my first concern.

Remember those AT&T and Verizon commercials with the maps? “See! Everything is red means you’re covered!” they’d say, the map of the U.S. painted red. With smaller discount carriers, I picture a red dot in all major cities. That’s all.

I start poking around to learn about the Pure TalkUSA coverage.

Its site says it operates on the largest 4G LTE GSM network. I Google “GSM,” because what the heck does that mean? It’s a carrier. Apparently Sprint and Verizon operate on the CDMA carrier while AT&T, T-Mobile and most of the rest of the world use GSM.

Pure TalkUSA also provides a map. I’m stoked for the visual. Most of the U.S. is covered in orange, aside from some larger spots out west.

I scroll down to read the “definitions” of the colors. Orange represents “coverage areas that should be sufficient for on-street, in-the-open and some building coverage.” It’s also worth noting the fine print that reads, “The map does not guarantee service availability.”

That makes me slightly wary, but I get it: You’ve got to cover your butt.

I move on and wonder…

2. Will I Be Stuck With One Low-Data Plan Option?

Pure TalkUSA advertises plans starting at $20 a month.

These include unlimited talk and texting. The data is what gets you, though.

That sounds too affordable to be true. How much data am I getting for that? Well, you’ve got options:

  • $20 a month gets you unlimited talk and text plus 500MB of high-speed data. For reference, this equates to 13.5 hours of surfing the internet, 3.5 hours of streaming music or 20 minutes of streaming video.
  • $25 gets you unlimited talk and text plus 1GB of high-speed data. This equates to 27 hours of surfing the internet.
  • $30 gets you unlimited talk and text plus 3GB of high-speed data. This equates to 81 hours of surfing the internet (about .
  • $35 gets you unlimited talk and text plus 5GB of high-speed data. This equates to 135 hours of surfing the internet.
  • $45 gets you unlimited talk and text plus 10GB of high-speed data. This equates to 270 hours of surfing the internet.

I honestly have no concept of how much I use the internet on my phone, so I check in with my current plan. For three lines, we have 20GB of data. Based on that, I assume 10GB would be plenty for me.

This leads to my next, perhaps most pressing question…

3. What If I Use All My Data?

This is perhaps the most important question of them all. I don’t want to be charged $15 each time I go over my data allowance. That already happens. And I hate it.

So we’ve established Pure TalkUSA plans come with unlimited talk and text (including picture texts). But what about the data?

The carrier assures users it won’t simply turn off your data when you max out. Or even charge you overage fees. Instead, once you hit capacity in a month’s time, you’ll be throttled to 128 kbps (which is a kilobit per second).

I looked this one up. Apparently, 128 kbps isn’t the worst. You can watch this guy use his phone on 128 kbps for some context. (Spoiler: YouTube isn’t really functional at this rate.)

Once your month resets, you’ll get all your data again!

4. Can I Keep Fam in My Plan?

This is a big yes! Actually, the more family you add to your plan, the bigger discount you can snag.

For example, when you add a second line, you’ll get 10% off your total bill. Add a third line and get 15% off. Add a fourth line — or more — and you’ll see 20% shaved off your bill.

For example, if three of you have the $30 plan, that would be about $90 a month. But you’ll get 15% off now, which leaves you paying $25.50 per line.

Hey, any little bit helps.

5. Will I Need to Buy a New Phone and Get a New Number?

Nope! This is a BYOP plan. (Bring Your Own Phone… I just made that up.) This means you can keep your existing phone number, too.

Of course, you can shop phones through Pure TalkUSA. But if you have a perfectly good iPhone or Android, check to see if it’s compatible (or unlocked).

Do note, you cannot switch from these carriers if your phone is locked to the network:

  • Verizon/Alltel
  • Boost
  • Sprint/Nextel
  • MetroPCS
  • Virgin Mobile
  • Page Plus

This, I realize, will weed a lot of folks out. You can, however, transfer to Pure TalkUSA from plans with these carriers:

  • AT&T
  • T-Mobile
  • Cingular
  • TracFone
  • Net10
  • Any other GSM providers

With all networks, you’ll have to make sure your phone is unlocked. (Here’s a guide to unlocking your phone courtesy of Digital Trends.)

6. How Do I Make the Switch?

Perhaps the most beautiful part of Pure TalkUSA is you don’t even have to go to a store to switch; it all happens online.

Pure TalkUSA talks you through the sign-up process:

  1. Pick your plan. (Take a look at all the ones I mentioned above.)
  1. Choose a phone — or bring your own as long as it’s compatible and unlocked. If you opt for this, your SIM card will cost $3. This is a one-time fee.
  1. Choose to add another line. Or not. Then pay.
  1. Pure TalkUSA sends you a SIM card (and phone, if ordered). Orders placed before 10 a.m. EST will be shipped out that same day. Standard, free shipping ranges from four to six business days.
  1. Once you get your new SIM card, insert it into your phone, and activate your phone online (or call customer service).

Now, you’re all signed up!

7. But What if I Hate Pure TalkUSA?

Don’t panic. Because you’re not tied to a contract, you can cancel your service any time.The company has a 14-day device return policy. Note the device restocking fees, though.

If you’re still impressed with this discount cell phone plan after my interrogation (I kind of am), you can read up on it a little more and sign up online.

And hey, don’t forget to enter “PENNY” for that special 50% off offer!

Carson Kohler (@CarsonKohler) is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder. This is the closest she’s been to jumping her carrier’s ship… She just might take the plunge.