The Crucial Credit Lesson Everyone Should Learn From 'The New Girl'

Photo: Hulu

We don’t often find ourselves taking money advice from primetime television, but a recent episode of FOX sitcom “New Girl” should be required viewing for anyone looking to buy a new cell phone. In it, Zooey Deschanel’s character, Jess, helps her roommate, Nick, pick out a new cell phone. When the store runs a routine credit check and turns up a comically low score of 250, everyone comes out to gawk. 

“I’ve just never seen a score this low,” a worker says. “Did you just wake up from a coma?”

He hasn’t: Nick’s score is so low that in the end, he winds up walking off without a phone at all. 

That led us to wonder: How much does your credit score factor into your shot at getting a cell phone? We contacted three of the largest mobile providers in the U.S. – AT&T, Verizon and Sprint – to find out. After hearing back from two of them (AT&T hadn’t responded at press time), we have some answers. 

The good news is a less-than-stellar score won’t edge you out of the cell phone club entirely, but in order for providers to take a gamble on risky customers, they’ll often charge security deposits upfront. 

“We will deny based on issues of identity verification, but we do not deny because of a credit score,” a Sprint spokesperson said in an email. But a “lower credit score would result in a higher deposit request.” 

No provider publicizes their deposit rates, but to give you an idea, an AT&T message board features a complaint from a customer who was asked to pay $500 per line for a new contract.

Here’s how Sprint handles their credit checks, according to the spokesperson:

“When somebody applies for credit for postpaid service, we will first check to see if the customer has an existing unpaid bill with Sprint. If not, we proceed toward pulling a credit bureau report on the individual, which we run through a credit scoring model. The resulting score (based on the credit bureau) will impact the credit offer we give a customer (deposit/no deposit, number of lines, spending limit/no spending limit).”

If this happens to you, here are your options: 

Skip the credit check scenario by forgoing a contract plan and signing up for a prepaid phone instead. Most cell phone providers offer some sort of prepaid plan, which allows customers to either pay as they go or adhere to a flat monthly fee for certain services.

Verizon’s unlimited prepaid plan costs $50 each month, while AT&T’s prepaid Go Phone runs as a low as $2 per day used and up to $50 per month. 

Prepaid phones can be a great option for infrequent mobile users–and those trying to build back their credit–but it’s important to be sure you’re choosing the right plan for your talking habits.

Pay-as-you-go phone bills can add up quickly and easily cost more than contract plans if you’re not careful.

Or, like Nick, you could save yourself a couple grand per year and try living the phone-free lifestyle.  

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