U.S. Cellular is the fifth-largest wireless network in the country after AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile. Headquartered in Chicago, U.S. Cellular serves more than 4.3 million people in 26 states, although it sold many of its markets to Sprint Nextel two years ago.
U.S. Cellular has been rated as having the highest call quality performance in many areas, as well as the highest network satisfaction of any national carrier. If you’re thinking about signing up, you’re probably making a good choice — assuming your credit is up to par.
Like most major wireless carriers, U.S. Cellular does run credit checks for many of its services. Here’s what you need to know.
The U.S. Cellular Credit Check
U.S. Cellular offers both contract plans and a No Contract Prepaid service. If you sign up for a plan with a contract, approval will be subject to a credit review. According to the company, they do not deny anyone based on bad credit, but you will need to pay a security deposit before your service is activated if your credit rating doesn’t meet their standards.
Along with the required credit check to get new service, U.S. Cellular will also check your credit in the future if you want to add a new line or even get a quote on a new plan.
Keep in mind that cell phone companies usually go by more than your credit score.
They often look at your revolving bills. This means that you can have a great credit score but if you have allowed a cell phone bill to go into collections in the past, you will probably be asked to pay a deposit. If your credit score is at least 675, you can probably get approved for service without a deposit.
Security Deposit with U.S. Cellular
When you apply online, any security deposit necessary will be determined and shown to you before you check out. You will need to pay this deposit with a credit or debit card to continue. You can get your security deposit refunded to you if your account remains in good standing for one full year.
The good news is U.S. Cellular seems to have lower deposits than most competitors, although it can still range anywhere from $25 to $400, depending on your credit history. For example, one customer was quoted a $100 deposit, compared to $500 from Alltel, while another person was quoted a $25 deposit with U.S. Cellular compared to $400 from Verizon and $250 from Sprint.
U.S. Cellular Prepaid: Skip the Credit Check
If you are asked to provide a security deposit, or you do not want U.S. Cellular to run your credit, you can turn to their Prepaid program. This plan does not have a contract, credit checks or monthly bills, but there will be a one-time activation fee of $30 or $50, depending on the plan you choose.
U.S. Cellular offers several No Contract Prepaid plans to choose from that work with the latest smartphones and give you unlimited talk, text and data with no contract. If you have a basic phone, you can get unlimited data for $40 per month. They also have a $50 plan for unlimited data (500MB at high speed) and a $60 plan with unlimited data (2GB at high speed).
The Bottom Line
If you aren’t happy signing up with a prepaid plan and aren’t happy with the deposit you are quoted, your options are trying other carriers — although most will probably ask for more — or working on building up your credit for a few months and trying again. Start by getting free copies of your credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com and looking for red flags, such as unpaid collection accounts, late payments, high balances or even incorrect information.
Take steps to fix these problems by paying your bills on time, paying down accounts and notifying the credit bureaus of any errors to slowly improve your credit score, and your chance of getting great wireless service without paying a fortune.