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Ever been somewhere with the kids and wanted to pretend they weren’t yours? That’s apparently how the Big Four cellphone providers feel about their offspring. They don’t mind them being both seen and heard, but they’d prefer you not know they’re associated with them.

They’re called subbrands or discount carriers, and AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile all have them. So it’s time to shed some light on these family members, because they hold the key to substantial savings on your cellphone bill.

Here’s a list of discount brands offering service with the big four carriers:

Major brand       Discount brand

AT&T                    Cricket

Sprint                    Boost Mobile

T-Mobile                GoSmartMobile

Verizon                  Total Wireless

Why a Subbrand?

The subbrands use the same towers and systems as the major brands, but at a lower price and with no contract. Although you should check first, the parent network phone should be compatible with the subbrand service. If not, buy a good used phone or a new one that’s unlocked and compatible.

As we explained in 4 Steps to Cut Your Cellphone Bill in Half, phone prices are dropping, so there’s no longer any reason to be locked into a contract for an extended period simply to get a subsidized phone. Discounters typically offer phones for less than $100.

SaveOnPhone.com says these “secret cellphone plans” can save consumers 60% to 75% off their monthly bills.

Example: As I’m writing this, Verizon’s site says that a single-line plan that includes unlimited talk, text and 2 GB of data is $75 a month on a two-year contract. But go to Total Wireless, which uses Verizon’s network, and you’ll find a contract-free plan that includes 2.5 GB of data for just $35 a month.

Same system, same service, half the price.

There can be subtle differences: For example, according to consumer advocate Bob Sullivan, Total Wireless customers get 3G service while Verizon customers get much faster 4G. In addition, the $75 Verizon plan includes a phone.

But if you’re with Verizon now, wouldn’t you want to switch to the discount carrier when your contract is up and your phone is paid off?

Total Wireless also offers a two-line family plan with unlimited voice and texting and 5 GB of shared data for $60 monthly, as well as a four-line family plan with unlimited voice and texting and 12 GB of shared data for $110 monthly.

As another example, we hear from a cellphone dealer who carries T-Mobile and GoSmartMobile and outlines the differences on a site called HowardForums, a discussion board dedicated to mobile phones with more than 1 million members:

GoSmart … will work with any T-Mobile or unlocked phone. If you are not concerned with data, they have unlimited talk and text for $25 a month. Unlimited talk, text and data with 1 GB of 3G for $35. … Unlimited talk, text and data with 6 GB of 3G for $40. On the data plans, once you use up your 3G, it slows to 2G. There is no 4G on GoSmart. If you want 4G you have to stick with T-Mobile.

He recommends finding an independent local phone store with a reputation for good customer service. “Most of them will sell GoSmart and they will be able to help you with anything you need,” he says.

So, if you have a contract with one of the Big Four, you might want to compare prices with a discounter and see if changing makes sense.

This post originally appeared on Money Talks News.

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