I got an email from a reader asking about an offer from AT&T for a free iPhone 12. She wanted to know if there was a catch.
She already has an iPhone 8 Plus from AT&T on an unlimited plan, and she lives in a rural area, so her cellphone is her only internet service at home.
"Really, we all know that they are not giving these phones away, but I can't seem to find out what it is going to cost me to trade up," she said. "I don't need a new phone, but I will be kicking myself if this is a great deal and I don't take advantage of it."
This is a good time to be a cellphone customer, as all three major carriers — AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile (Sprint) — are offering deals right now for free or reduced-price iPhone 12s. There are some differences in the offers, but they are mostly the same.
If you sign up for one of their high-dollar plans (usually an unlimited plan) and you have a relatively new phone to trade in, you can get an iPhone 12 for free.
All three companies want to keep you as a customer for as long as they can. You have to stay on that nice, fat unlimited plan for the duration of the agreement.
On AT&T, what you are doing is buying that iPhone 12 on a 30-month installment plan, and the phone company will then credit your bill for the installment amount for each of those 30 months.
So you will end up with a free phone after 30 months, but if you cancel your plan during that period, you'll be on the hook to pay the rest of the payments on the phone.
Also, you need an iPhone 8 or newer phone to trade in, and the phone must be in "working condition" with no cracks in the screen.
You can also trade in some recent Android phones for the free iPhone 12 deal.