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What's best: SIM only or pay monthly?

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We show you how to choose the right mobile phone contract for you.

Choosing a new phone contract might feel complicated at first. With a plethora of options at your fingertips, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by the choices and the fine print that comes with them. But fear not, because understanding your own needs and preferences can significantly simplify the process.

Understanding your phone usage

When deciding between pay-as-you-go, SIM-only, and a monthly billed contract, you’ll need to consider your own phone usage and what best suits you. Are you a heavy data user, constantly streaming and browsing? Or do you use your phone sparingly, mainly for calls and texts? Your usage patterns are the compass that will guide you to the right contract.

Making the right choice

By making the right choice that fits your needs, you can avoid paying for extra services you don’t need, or being charged for going over your allowance. It's all about finding that sweet spot where you're getting exactly what you need without any wasteful extras.

We're here to help

Not sure where to start? Don’t worry, we're here to guide you through the different options to help you find the right deal for you. Let's dive into the world of phone contracts and unravel the details one by one.

SIM-only deals

What does SIM-only mean?

As the name suggests, a SIM-only deal comes with just a SIM card. It’s not like a mobile phone contract, where you get a handset along with data, minutes and texts.

How do SIM-only deals work?

These deals offer a fixed amount of calls, texts, and data for a monthly charge. They're straightforward and often come without the bells and whistles of more elaborate contracts. Specific mention of the SIM-only deals starting from as little as £5 a month, which give you a decent amount of data, and often unlimited minutes and texts. Details on the duration of SIM-only contracts, such as the usual 12 or 18 months for longer-term commitments.

Flexibility and affordability

Some SIM-only deals operate on a one-month rolling basis, so you’re free to change or cancel your contract every month. It’s a great choice if you don’t want to commit to a long-term contract. As you don’t get a handset, SIM-only deals are very affordable, with plans starting from as little as £5 a month.

No credit check required

Many SIM-only deals also don’t require a credit check, which can be a significant advantage for those with a less-than-perfect credit history. So it’s a good option if you have a bad credit score, as you’ll usually need to pass a credit check to get a mobile phone contract.

Pros and cons of SIM-only deals

  • Pros:
    • Affordability
    • Flexibility
    • Simplicity
    • Often better data allowances for the same monthly outlay
  • Cons:
    • You need to have your own handset

Pay-monthly phone contracts

What is a pay-monthly phone contract?

With a pay-monthly phone contract, you get a new handset along with a monthly allowance of minutes, texts and data.

Spreading the cost

If you can’t stomach the cost of buying a handset outright, a pay monthly phone contract is your best bet. It allows you to spread the cost of a new phone over the length of the contract.

Understanding the costs

Some providers separate the amount you're paying for the handset and the amount you pay for the package, which can help you see exactly where your money is going. The cost will fall once the initial contract is finished.

Potential downsides

However, the downside is that you can be locked into a contract that lasts for anything from 12 months to 24 months and sometimes even more. If you're a real new-phone junkie, this may mean routinely paying extra to upgrade early. You'll also need to pass a credit check to qualify for these contracts.

Pros and cons of pay monthly contracts

  • Pros:
    • Manageable costs
    • Network incentives, including perks, free gifts, and rewards
  • Cons:
    • Higher overall expense compared to buying outright
    • Credit check requirements
    • Less flexibility due to long-term contracts


What’s the difference between pay-as-you-go and pay monthly?

Pay-as-you-go plans offer a stark contrast to monthly contracts. There's no contract, so you don’t need to pay a charge every month. Some providers even offer great value bundles of data, call time, and texts.

Handset not included

The main difference between pay-as-you-go and a pay monthly phone contract is that you don’t get a handset with pay-as-you-go.

Is pay-as-you-go cheaper?

Whether pay-as-you-go is cheaper or not depends on your phone usage and whether you already own a phone. If you’re happy with your current mobile and aren’t a heavy user, a pay-as-you-go deal may suit you well.

Considerations for heavy users

However, the rates you’ll pay for every minute, text, and MB of data used will be more expensive than if you get a SIM-only or pay monthly contract. In other cases, it means topping up your SIM with a certain amount of credit, and paying money for every call, text and MB of data you use. With this kind of pay-as-you-go deal, you simply pay for the data, minutes and texts you use.

Pros and cons of pay-as-you-go

  • Pros:
    • Maximum flexibility
    • No credit checks
    • Suitability for light users
    • Great value bundles if you upload a certain amount each month
  • Cons:
    • Higher costs for heavy users
    • Need to have your own handset

Compare deals

It's essential to compare deals to ensure you're getting the best package for your needs. Find out more about a pay as you go SIM or visit our mobile phone deals page where you can compare contract, pay-as-you-go and SIM-only deals and find the right mobile phone package for you.

You can compare by deal type, cost, handset or even free gift – whatever matters most to you, we'll help you find best deal. Remember, the right phone contract is out there, and with a little research, you'll find it. Happy hunting!

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