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The Thunderbolt and other Android phone all come with messaging apps that will allow you to talk to anyone who has a phone that can receive text msgs whether they have a smart phone or not. You can also receive MMS (photos) through the phone.
One of the great things about Android is that there are many different apps that can handle Texts and MMS. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses but you will be able to find one that you like (at a minimum you find it a big improvement as to what you have on your dumb phone).
As to the text plan, if you find that you do not do a lot of texting you may find it cheaper to pay on per text basis rather than on an unlimited or other type of plan. Just note that you do get charged for receiving texts so unless you can stop everyone from texting you it may pay to buy a plan.
As an alternative, take a look at Sprint. There everything plans include unlimited text and data which may save you money. If you can get a good signal from where you live it may pay to go over to them. As a bonus you do get access to the Verizon network when you are not in a Sprint area as part of their roaming.