Learn to Avoid Costly Data Charges on a Prepaid Cell Phone Plan

Switch to a non-working APN to prevent data overage charges

Pixelated dollar signs floating over cell phone
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If you have a smartphone and a prepaid or pay-as-you-go plan that includes only a certain amount of data or charges per gigabyte, avoiding unintended data usage is important to prevent data overage charges. Simply exiting apps isn't enough to prevent connection over data networks, however; unfortunately, many apps consume data even when you're not using them. News and weather apps, for example, update in the background and automatically refresh every few minutes so they can be current.

You can monitor your smartphone's data usage using various apps and methods, but there's also an easy settings tweak that blocks your smartphone's access to your carrier's network entirely.

Using the APN Settings Trick

Ordinarily, you'd never need to change the Access Point Name (APN) on your smartphone, because your carrier configures it for you automatically. This setting enables your smartphone to connect to the internet through your provider's network. Block this by changing to a nonworking APN, and you block internet access and the associated charges altogether. Using this method, your smartphone will connect to the internet only over Wi-Fi. Most phones allow you to program multiple APNs, and you can choose which one to use at any time — so the ability to connect using your data allowance is always still available when you explicitly allow it. You also can use this tweak when you travel internationally and want to avoid data roaming charges.

Before tweaking your phone's APN settings, write down the existing provider-assigned APN setting so you can re-enter it if you somehow delete it.

On an Android Phone

The location of APN settings on an Android varies with the manufacturer. Generally, however, you'll find them under Settings > Mobile Networks > Access Point Names. Simply create an additional setting using nonsense characters and save.

APN Settings on Android

On iOS Devices

On an iPad, select Settings > Cellular Data > APN Settings and create and save another APN as above. On an iPhone, select Settings > General > Network > Cellular Data Network to access APN settings.

iPad cellular data settings screen

When You Want to Connect on the Go

If you'd like to connect to the internet outside of a Wi-Fi network, simply go into your phone's APN settings as described above and select the one your phone came with.

If you somehow mess up the process, resetting your phone will restore your phone's factory settings, including the APN assigned by your carrier.