Flexibility, or rather the ability to easily switch between carriers, is one of the top benefits of having a fully unlocked phone. But as a consumer, can you unlock your phone if you still owe money on it?
Well, the answer varies from one carrier to another. But in this article, I’ve put together everything you need to know on the matter- specifically mobile operators that can unlock a phone that you still owe on it.
But before we come to that…
Do You Really Have to Unlock Your Carrier Phone?
Technically, you don’t have to unlock your carrier-locked phone if you don’t want. But then, a carrier can only unlock the software it has personally used to lock your device.
So, you won’t be able to use that phone with other networks, be it here at home or while traveling abroad. And the rule applies whether you’re trying to activate the different network with a physical SIM card or via digital eSIM technology.
Speaking of eSIM, you can now activate the single-line iPhones and Samsung phones with multiple different carriers at the same time. But you still require to have a fully unlocked cell phone for that.
It’s worth noting not all phones from wireless carriers need unlocking.
When looking at some of the various phones that are compatible with Pure Talk, we concluded the prepaid operator usually sells factory unlocked phones. So, you could switch to another provider anytime you feel like it.
How Long Until You Can Unlock A Carrier-Locked Phone
Usually, different carriers have different rules on device unlocking. In various cases, these policies will be the same between the major carriers and their MVNOs, but other times not.
For instance, Red Pocket and Mint Mobile have a 12-month device lock policy, which we shall see shortly differs from that of T-Mobile. But the likes of Xfinity Mobile and Visible Wireless have a 60-day locking policy as their carrier network, Verizon.
On the Verizon part, though, the 60-day unlock policy is the same for both postpaid and prepaid services. Or whether you purchase your device upfront or with a device payment agreement.
|Carrier||Postpaid Unlock Period||Prepaid Unlock Period||Financed Devices Unlock Period|
|Verizon||60 Days after purchase/ activation||60 Days after purchase/ activation||60 Days after purchase|
|T-Mobile||40 Days after activation||365 Days after activation||40 Days after activation|
|AT&T||60 Days after activation||6 Months after activation||60 Days after activation|
|Mint Mobile||N/A||12 Months after activation||N/A|
|Xfinity Mobile||60 Days after activation||N/A||60 Days after activation|
|US Cellular||120 Days after activation||120 Days after activation||120 Days after activation|
|Metro by T-Mobile||N/A||180 Days after activation||N/A|
|Cricket Wireless||N/A||6 Months after activation||N/A|
|US Mobile||N/A||At Purchase||N/A|
|Visible||N/A||60 Days after activation||N/A|
|Google Fi||N/A||At Purchase||N/A|
|Red Pocket||N/A||12 Months after activation||N/A|
|Pure Talk||N/A||At Purchase||N/A|
|Ultra Mobile||N/A||12 Months after activation||N/A|
The chart above highlights the standard period you’ll have to wait before you can unlock your carrier-locked phone for free. But, of course, there are other individual eligibility requirements before you can qualify for the program, including:
- The locked phone MUST have been sold by the carrier in question
- The locked phone MUST not raise a red flag, which happens if the previous owner has reported it lost/ stolen.
- The locked phone must also not be flagged for fraudulent activities
It’s worth noting phone carriers do allow early unlocking (without waiting for the standard unlock period) for military personnel. But the exception is only applicable when deployed and you have the right documents to prove it.
Some phone providers also offer an early device unlock as a special deal to regular consumers with an exceptional account standing. T-Mobile prepaid, for example, can unlock your phone before the 365 days if you’ve spent more than $100 in refills.
Also, Red Pocket tends to offer early unlocking for iPhone users who have maintained a 6-month consecutive payment. And in a few cases, you could even get the phone fully unlocked.
Can You Unlock Your Phone If You Still Owe Money On It?
A short answer, YES, you can unlock your phone if you still owe money on it. However, the function is available free on the carriers with postpaid service since they have their own device financing program.
Besides, the prepaid phone service is usually pre-paid when purchasing service plans and or devices. You’ll hardly fall behind on payments unless the network operator in question supports device financing. And even then, these subcarriers usually use third-party buy now pay later programs like Affirm.
In any case, we have only two phone carriers you can unlock a phone that is not paid off for free under the standard lock period. But there are other three that have an exception for the customers in the military.
Unlock A Verizon Phone When You Still Owe Money On It
Verizon is the best carrier on coverage, data speeds, entertainment perks, free phone deals, and device unlocking.
The Verizon device unlocking policy is the friendliest of all as it doesn’t just have a short standard lock period (60 days). But the policy is uniform on all devices from the carrier, including the prepaid, postpaid, and whether paid in full or contract.
Further, Verizon can unlock your phone if you still owe money on it. In fact, the operator will unlock the device automatically after reaching the sixty (60) days since purchase or activation. But if you’re a deployed military personnel, you can request unlocking early (before the 60-day lock period).
Unlock a US Cellular Phone When You Still Owe Money On It
US Cellular is not one of the most talked-about phone operators across the country. But as we covered in the US Cellular vs Verizon review, the carrier has the best coverage in the Midwestern and northwestern regions.
US Cellular is also an operator of its own and even has its network infrastructure. It also has a different standard lock period from the rest- 120 days.
However, the US Cellular device unlocking policy is similar to that of Verizon in a way. The standard 120-day lock period is the same on all devices, including the prepaid, postpaid, and those under payment agreement.
Better yet, US Cellular will unlock your phone if you still owe on it within the same period. And this is so since the company removes the lock automatically after reaching the 120 days since activation.
Unlock a T-Mobile Phone When You Still Owe Money On It
T-Mobile is also an exceptional phone operator that runs on its own cell towers. It also has some friendly phone unlock policies, but, sadly, not the friendliest since it varies across various categories.
For instance, the T-Mobile unlock policy on postpaid customers has a standard lock period of sixty (60) days. However, you’ll have purchased the device in question upfront or financed but have made all the payments.
If on T-Mobile prepaid, the standard lock period is 365 days since activation on the network. But you could unlock your phone after 14 days if you’ve had refills of more than $100 within the period and hadn’t unlocked more than two devices within the last twelve (12) months.
As active military personnel, though, you should be able to unlock your phone if you still owe money on it. But you must have a good standing (no late payments in the previous months) and also provide your deployment papers.
Unlock an Xfinity Mobile Phone When You Still Owe Money On It
As was mentioned earlier, Xfinity Mobile is one of the subcarriers that has made network deals with Verizon. So, you’ll find features like the network coverage and device unlocking are pretty similar.
However, Xfinity is still a different company, with its own management. So, while the standard lock period is also 60 days, the operator has few differences from Verizon.
For instance, the current Xfinity Mobile device unlocking policy provides you must be an account holder, primary user, or manager to access the program. Then, your account must not have any past-due balance, plus the phone you’d like to unlock must be fully paid off.
However, Xfinity does have an exception for the military, where you can unlock a phone you still owe money on it. But you must have the deployment papers, where you’ll be outside the U.S. for more than ninety (90) days.
Unlock an AT&T Phone When You Still Owe Money On It
Last on the list is AT&T, yet another mobile operator with its own network towers. You get to enjoy priority data (on postpaid) and even “truly” unlimited everything plans without throttling.
Sadly, however, AT&T doesn’t have the friendliest device unlocking program. Yes, the postpaid users will have a chance to unlock their devices within sixty (60) days. But then, you must pay off the remaining balance on your device payment agreement.
In other words, that also means the only way you can unlock your phone if you still owe money on it will be as active military personnel. And even then, you might want to provide proof of deployment before you can unlock your devices early.
As for the prepaid customers, the AT&T device unlocking policy requires you have paid for your service at least six (6) months since activation.
Key Takeaway: Unlocking a Blacklisted Phone
As was mentioned earlier, carriers may refuse to unlock a phone you’ve even paid off if flagged as lost, stolen, or involved with fraud. The device, under these circumstances, will actually be blacklisted, in which case will be SIM-locked forever.
Well, technically, it’s not forever since you could use a third-party phone unlock service to remove the lock. But then, you’ll have to cover the cost, which will vary with the company used.
Note: You could use these third-party services to unlock a phone that you still owe money on it. But that will also void the warranty support through the carrier and even the manufacturer.
You have every reason to have an unlocked phone instead of the carrier-locked ones. Even when you rarely travel, one of the best ways to find the right carrier for you is to switch between the various options available. But the switch might turn out to be expensive if you’ve got all locked devices.
Nonetheless, the five carriers we’ve just covered can unlock your phone that is not paid off at no additional cost. You just have to meet the rest of the requirements, which include having a clean device with no red flags.
But again, do remember different carriers use different network technologies to operate. So, your carrier-unlocked phone might still be incompatible with other networks.