It seems that nowadays, some cell phone carriers are charging you left and right for all the bells, whistles, and phone financing they offer.
After all, the average American spends roughly $80 on their cell phone bill, thanks to the major carriers' love of various unlimited data plans and cell phone financing.
Well, what if I told you that you can save A LOT of money by selecting a low-cost carrier?
That's right, I'm going to spill the beans on one of the most closeted secrets in the cell phone industry - Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs). In this guide, you'll find some of the cheapest plans available on the market.
Of course, "cheap" is a subjective term, but what we are referring to are plans that cost less than $50 per month - sometimes a lot less!
We'll also delve into the three steps to a cheap plan:
- Selecting a low-cost carrier.
- Determining how much phone data, minutes and text messages you need.
- Bringing in your old phone.
In This Guide
Is a Cheap Cell Phone Plan Right for Me?
For most people, the answer is yes!
First, you should ask yourself this all-important question: How much LTE data am I using?
Most cheap cell phone plans are geared towards light and medium users and you will be able to customize plans to your precise needs.
If you are a very heavy user, draining huge amounts of data through Reddit, Facebook, Instagram and music and video streaming, you will find unlimited plans available among the low-cost carriers, but you will probably have a smaller choice of plans.
The 3 Simple Steps of Finding a Cheap Cell Phone Plan
Before you jump right into finding the perfect (and cheap, of course) cell phone plan, you'll need to do the following:
1. Select a MVNO.
What is a MVNO? To flesh out the definition, a Mobile Virtual Network Operator is a company that leases the use of big mobile networks' towers so that they can resell the service to you. Examples of MVNOs include Boost Mobile, Straight Talk, Consumer Cellular, and Red Pocket.
MVNOs manage to keep prices so low by operating with few or no stores, resulting in low overhead costs, as well as a small advertising budget. So in the end, you'll be able to receive smashing rates for the plan. And hey, if you don't like the service, many of them will provide you with a money-back guarantee lasting 30 days.
As for reasons why you should switch to a MVNO, you'll be able to:
Secure better prices: As mentioned, you'll have access to better plan rates.
Same great coverage: According to Open Signal, all four carriers have improved 4G LTE coverage by at least five points in 2017. Because the MVNOs use the same towers as the big guys, you will get the same high speeds and same nationwide coverage.
Explore customized plans: The big four carriers, unfortunately, have one main offering, which is unlimited data. However, data usage amounts for many smartphone users don't even reach 3GB of data per month. Putting it simply, if you're an average user and on an unlimited plan, you're paying for more than you need. You'll be able to find better-suited plans with lower-cost, no contract cell phone plans.
Go without contracts: All low-cost carriers feature prepaid plans, so there are no strings attached whatsoever.
No credit checks: Because MVNOs offer prepaid plans.
So how much money can you save with an MVNO?
Typically, you can save over half on your cell phone bill with a MVNO. In fact, some cell phone providers declare that you can save over $600 per year! That amount of money can be used to purchase a big-ticket item like a 4K television, video game console, or a new dryer you may need. So low-cost carriers should definitely be considered.
But now that you know all of this information, where you should start looking for a phone plan? Well...
Step 2. Decide how much data, minutes, and texts you need.
Before you hop onto the unlimited data train, you should calculate your data usage and see if you can adopt a plan that is more affordable. Unsure of how to calculate the amount you need? No worries. Use our data calculator!
After all, according to Brad Akyuz, director at the NPD Group research firm (via Time), the average person used roughly 4.5GB of data per month in 2017, which is an increase of 1.2GB of data since 2016, and most smaller carriers offer far more affordable plans with enough data. It is just a matter of sniffing them out.
From there, you can select a prepaid plan that is most suited for your usage.
Of course, if it is more than just you in your household, then you should opt for a family plan. There are plenty of affordable family plans out there - just look at our cell phone plans comparison chart of the best cell phone family plans - but many carriers offer family plans in the form of discounts for each additional line.
Step 3. Bringing in Your Own Phone
Looking to keep your own (not-always) clever friend? Fortunately, many carriers these days have "bring your own cell phone plans." In fact, there are some carriers that strictly enforce bringing in your own cell phone. Mint SIM, for example, is strictly "bring your own phone," but honestly, that allows you to save more when buying plans for 12 months at a time. This feature allows you to activate cellular service on a used, unlocked phone at a reasonable price.
Cell phone technology hasn't changed much in the past two years or so, so your Samsung Galaxy S7 can continue to serve you well, as long as the carrier supports the phone.
What do you mean by supports?
In this case, the carrier may support CDMA, GSM, or both technologies. And in case you're unsure as to what either technology means or stands for:
Whether your cheap cell phone plan provider uses GSM or CDMA doesn't make that much of a difference. However, it affects which models of cell phones you can activate with the carrier.
Pro Tip: Shop online for a cheap used cell phone using our price comparison tool. You'll save a lot more money by doing so!
Overall, the "bring your own cell phone" option will avoid the need to finance a new phone, which will save you between $10 and $30 per month (which is a method to keep you tied to your carrier). That's up to an extra $360 a year saved! So when you are tempted by that shiny new phone, think of the savings!
The Best Cheap Cell Phone Plans
Of course, you'd like to start saving money now, wouldn't you? Well, here lies a list of some carriers that are offering the cheapest service plans:
Best Overall - Mint SIM
Mint SIM is the only low-cost carrier where you can "buy in bulk." I mean that literally.
You can select the amount of data you'd like from the carrier, which relies on T-Mobile's network, but the catch-off is that you must buy in bulk. So you'll need to buy these plans in a set of months - for example, you can pay for three months worth of data at once.
What is, hands down, the best offer is the year-long package, which is broken up into three amounts of data. All packages contain unlimited calls and texts, as well as the mobile hotspot facility. The largest plan should be sufficient for heavy-data users as well. As a fun fact, two months of Verizon can equal up to 12 months of Mint SIM.
The point is: Mint SIM offers the cheapest phone plans for one person.
Best for No Data - Twigby
Twigby, operating on Sprint and Verizon networks, offers you a lot of service plans with talk and text only (i.e. no phone data).
Better yet, there is a 50 percent off introductory rate and a satisfaction guarantee, so if you're unhappy with the service, you can claim a refund within 30 days of the service plan's activation.
To select the plan you'd like, you choose the type of phone you use (e.g. basic phone or smartphone). From there, you select the number of monthly minutes, which includes free unlimited texts. Monthly minute amounts range from a few minutes with no data to unlimited calls, texts and data. You can also select a Wifi only option.
The pricing model proves to be so cheap that families can save more by purchasing individual plans.
And best of all, there is free overage protection, so you have complete control over your bill.
Best for Light Data Users - Mint SIM
Mint SIM wins again! Though Mint SIM's wireless offers are great for heavier data users, several of them are absolutely perfect for light users, considering you're paying less monthly (at the end of the day, anyway) for these wireless offers, which contain a moderate amount of data (at least, when considering the value), than for a fast food lunch for two people.
As mentioned in the best overall section, you need to bear in mind that to achieve Mint SIM's best prices, you will need to buy in blocks of three, six, or twelve months.
Best Cheap Unlimited - US Mobile
US Mobile, which relies on T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless' networks, offers a wide selection of incredibly flexible unlimited plans for up to half the price attached to larger carriers' unlimited plans, making it one of the cheapest unlimited phone plans available.
US Mobile manages to charge for truly unlimited data cheaply by offering various 4G LTE data speeds - 1Mbps, 5Mbps, and high speed uncapped. Furthermore, you can select between having a minimal amount of text messages and minutes (such as 100 minutes and 100 texts), unlimited talk and text, or mobile hotspot access with unlimited talk and text.
These truly unlimited data plans begin at prices far less than what you'd pay for with a lot of providers. If you select the slowest unlimited data plan, expect to save money - up to $480 a year, to be exact - with US Mobile.
Best for Families - US Mobile
According to US Mobile, the average customer is paying $15 per month per line, though some family members may need even less. You can select available prepaid plans beginning at just $4 per month, including fees, making it one of the cheapest cell phone plans available.
These no-contract cell phone plans range from 100 minutes, 100 texts, or 100MB of data to unlimited amounts of talk, text, and data, though whether the data can be unlimited is dependent on whether you select Super LTE or not.
These plans are especially great for young children, who are just being introduced to the mobile world and may need a restriction to Wifi data only.
Furthermore, there is no credit check and you can control all accounts with one convenient dashboard.
Best for Seniors - Twigby
Twigby again wins the award for best cell phone plan for seniors. Similar to the category of best for no data, many senior citizens do not have as great a need of data compared to younger folks.
Twigby offers little amounts of data - between 150MB and 4GB, though 1GB of data and 2GB of data are listed but its selling point is its minute plans, which include unlimited texts, for under $20 per month. So if you are a senior (or have a loved one as a senior), you should consider Twigby as your carrier.
If you're looking to sash your cell phone bill, follow our three step plan.
First, switch away from the major carriers and select a MVNO low-cost carrier like Mint SIM, US Mobile or Twigby.
Second, decide how much data, talk minutes and texts you need each month, with our handy data usage calculator.
Third, bring your own phone and save even more money.
You'll be able to hundreds of dollars yearly, which can be stored in a vacation fund or put towards a new, shiny toy for the household!