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Cheap Cell Phone Plans for 2017

Looking for the cheapest cell phone plans? We review the best cheap carriers

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Cheap Phone Plans

Cheap cell phone plans should be inexpensive, flexible, and simple to understand. Purchasing a cell phone plan can be expensive and the last thing you want are hidden costs and low data caps. It may be tough to find a cell phone plan that gives you all the bells and whistles you desire and save you money, but it's not impossible.

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In my research, I put costs, customer service, and contracts at the top of my list. Because everyone has different cell phone data usage habits, I have reviewed the best cheap cell phone plans to help you find one that suits your needs.

Cheap Cell Phone Plans - What to Consider

In 2015, the Pew Research Center reported that 23% of smartphone owners in the U.S. said they had canceled their cell phone plan in the past because they couldn't afford it. With large overage fees and high prices on low data caps, it's obvious why many are struggling and searching for the cheapest smartphone plans.

There are various questions to contemplate when looking for the cheapest cell phone plans available. Obviously, it's important to pay attention to prices. But it's also necessary to pay attention to some other things including:

1. How much data and how many minutes do you need?

The amount you'll be using your phone will determine how much data and minutes you'll need in a month. If you can estimate the amount of data and minutes you're going to need, you can compare the cheapest cell phone plans based on that amount. This is the best way to decide on a plan, whether it's prepaid, postpaid or pay-as-you-go.

If you are sure you won't be using your phone very often, a pay as you go plan could be perfect for you. Otherwise, a prepaid cell phone plan or postpaid plan is probably the way to go.

2. Can you bring your own cell phone?

Many carriers these days have bring your own cell phone plans. This feature allows you to activate a used, unlocked phone at a cheap price or use one of your old phones on your plan without having to buy a brand new phone.

Instead of buying a brand new phone from your carrier, you can go online and buy a cheap used cell phone. If you're not sure about buying used cell phones online, check out our review of the best place to buy used cell phones.

The bring your own cell phone option could save you a lot of money. Not every carrier offers it, though, which is important to keep in mind when you're looking.

3. Will you have to sign a contract?

Whether or not you'll have to sign a contract will depend on what type of cheap phone plan you choose. Make sure you know what you're getting yourself into when you purchase a plan. Prepaid or pay as you go plans may be the way to go if you're looking for no contract. Postpaid plans almost always require a contract.

On a side note, pay attention to the locked or unlocked status of your phone if you buy from a carrier or a used cell phone site. It may be locked in an attempt you keep you from using another carrier for a certain amount of time.

4. Are there any extra or hidden fees?

Like contracts, hidden fees and overages come along with many contract plans. Prepaid and pay as you go plans, on the other hand, do not have either.

With a prepaid plan, you pay for data and minutes before you use them each month. At the end of the month, you can renew your plan for the same amount of data and minutes or switch it up, depending on your carrier's options. This way, you never have to worry about extra fees. Your plan simply ends when you run out of data or minutes.

In 2015, 23% of smartphone owners in the U.S. said they had canceled their cell phone plan in the past because they couldn't afford it.

How Reliable Are Cheap Cell Phone Plans?

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When you choose a low-cost cell phone plan, reliability is one of the most important features to consider. Large carriers usually offer the most reliability. For instance, J.D. Power reports that Verizon is a major provider who ranks the best in calling, messaging and data quality across the U.S. Unfortunately, Verizon and large providers alike are not cheap.

There are cheaper options out there offering great reliability; you just have to know what you need. To figure it out, you should ask yourself questions like:

  • Am I going to use my phone often or for emergencies only?
  • Does often mean a couple times a day or all day long, every day?
  • What will I be using my cell phone for?
  • Will my plan be reliable in an emergency if I need it?

If you're going to use your cheap cell phone service often, you need to make sure your carrier offers reliable coverage in your area. I have heard horror stories of carriers locking their customers into a plan, only to find out that they can't get a signal for five hours of every day.

Don't let this happen to you. Instead, pay attention to the research I'll provide on the reliability of each cheap cell phone service. Also, check carrier websites or give the carriers a call to find out if your area is covered. It's important to know what you're getting yourself into so you don't lock yourself into a trap.

Types of Cheap Cell Phone Plans

Carriers offer all different kinds of cheap cell phone plans. The three basic types are prepaid plans, postpaid plans, and pay as you go plans.

Cheap Prepaid Cell Phone Plans

Cheap prepaid cell phone plans work somewhat like contract plans. Instead of agreeing to a monthly contract and bills, though, you pay up front for the amount of data and minutes you need for the month ahead. No contracts or credit checks are included. You simply renew your plan each month if you want to keep it.

When your data and minutes run out, your plan is out. This way, you don't have to worry about overage fees. You also don't need to worry about termination fees. With a prepaid cell phone plan, you can switch to a new plan or carrier whenever you want without being charged a hefty price.

Prepaid plans are great for those who are looking for a cheap cell service without any real commitment. They are also great for those who can calculate what they use per month ahead of time.

Cheap Contract/Post-paid/Traditional Cell Phone Plans

Post-paid plans come with a contract lasting one to two years. If you purchase a post-paid plan, you'll have to agree on a monthly amount and cost of data and minutes per month for the year (or two). You'll then pay your bill at the end of each month.

With a post-paid plan, your contract will limit your ability to switch carriers or plans. Termination fees can be expensive if you want to switch before your contract ends. Carriers are also known to charge expensive overage fees when you surpass your allotted amount of data in a month.

Despite large overages and termination fees, Global Rewards Solutions reported that an estimated 75% of cell phone plan customers in North America have post-paid connections. This is because prepaid plans can end up costing you more if you use your phone often. While postpaid plans give you more discounts the more you're willing to pay, prepaid plan rates usually don't change.

Cheap Pay As You Go Cell Phone Plans

Pay as you go plans are similar to prepaid plans because there are no contracts or fees involved. The only difference is that you don't have to pay monthly or even weekly. You can pay daily if you want. A pay as you go plan will allow you to buy as many minutes and data as you need whenever you want.

Pay as you go services provide some of the cheapest cell phone plans out there; be careful, though. If you are going to be using your smartphone often or need phones for your family, it will be much cheaper to go with a prepaid or contract plan.

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Cheap Cell Phone Plans

Ting Review

  • Pros
  • Pay for what you use
  • No contracts or commitments
  • Cheaper than larger networks
  • Excellent customer service
  • Bring your own phone
  • Cons
  • Inconvenient for heavy data/usage
  • May not be reliable in your area

Ting is an MNVO (A mobile virtual network operator). This means they buy minutes and data from Sprint's larger network. As a result, they are able to offer extremely cheap cell phone plans compared to the larger carriers.

Ting offers exceptional customer service and works differently than many larger carriers. They offer prepaid plans in which data, usage, and phone activation are all grouped into separate categories. For this reason, Ting may be more useful for those who can track how much data and how many minutes they'll need monthly.

With Ting, you pay a certain amount of money to keep your smartphone activated each month. You also pay a certain amount of money based on the amount of data and minutes you need. Each category has incremented groups; the larger amounts of data and minutes you need, the more the price goes up.

The great thing about Ting is the lack of contract and commitment necessary. Unlike with postpaid phone plans, you don't have to sign up for any type of agreement. You can also bring your own unlocked phone, which will save you more money.

Tracfone Review

  • Pros
  • No contracts or commitments
  • You can bring your own phone
  • Pay as you go options
  • Provide national coverage
  • Change plan to suit your needs
  • Cons
  • Has a dated business model
  • No unlimited phone plans
  • Not much of a smartphone collection

Tracfone is not the cheapest cell phone plan provider, but it still makes the list. It was established in 1996 and is actually one of the oldest prepaid cell phone plan providers around. Similarly, its business model has been criticized as somewhat outdated.

Tracfone doesn't have much of a smartphone collection. They don't sell Apple iPhones and didn't sell Android smartphones until recently. Luckily, you're allowed to bring your own smartphone, which is usually a cheaper alternative anyway.

Tracfone offers a pay as you go option called 'buying airtime' as well as a monthly prepaid option. You don't have to do a credit check or commit to any sort of contract for either plan, which is nice. You can also switch your plan whenever you want to suit your individual needs. Overall, Tracfone provides national coverage at an affordable price.

Republic Wireless Review

  • Pros
  • Utilizes WiFi to provide cheaper service
  • Bring your own phone
  • Service Improving with updates
  • Now using T-Mobile network for more reliable service
  • Cons
  • No Apple smartphone options

Similar to Ting, Republic Wireless is an MVNO service that buys network data and minutes from Sprint and now T-Mobile to resell. As a result, Republic Wireless' cellular connection only works where Sprint or T-Mobile's cellular connection works, depending on when you started your plan.

What's cool about Republic Wireless, though, is that they switch your connection from cellular to WiFi whenever possible. They also switch to cellular as soon as your WiFi connection is lost. This is done so Republic Wireless can provide the cheapest cell phone plans to their customers.

For example, they offer an unlimited talk and text plan with data via WiFI starting at just $15.00 a month. The $20 plan is next and even includes 1GB of data. Unfortunately, Republic Wireless doesn't offer a huge smartphone selection. You can bring your own, however, as long as it's on their list and approved by T-Mobile.

Reviews say that Republic Wireless is becoming more reliable with feedback and technology updates, so I am definitely hopeful about their future.

Straight Talk Review

  • Pros
  • Great smartphone selection with iPhone
  • No contract or commitments
  • Auto-refills on monthly plans
  • Bring your own phone
  • Cons
  • No pay as you go or flexible prepaid options
  • More expensive than competition

Straight Talk is another MVNO who buys data and minutes from Sprint. If you are covered by Sprint, you will be covered by Straight Talk. They also offer a wide variety of smartphones to choose from. Options even include some of the cheapest iPhone plans, which many cheap cell services don't offer.

With Straight Talk, there are no contracts or commitments, but you can use their auto-refill option. This option is there if you don't want to have to worry about reconfirming your plan every month.

Unfortunately, Straight Talk's monthly plans are not quite as flexible or cheap as other cheap cell service carriers. They start at $30.00, which includes unlimited texting only, plus 1500 call minutes and 100MB of data. The next plan is $45 and includes 5GB of data with unlimited talk and text.

If you don't quite need 5GB but you definitely need more than 100MB, you're out of luck with Straight Talk. For more flexibility, you may want to go with a provider like Ting.

Sprint Review

  • Pros
  • Flexible service plans
  • Cheaper than other major service providers
  • Ample features
  • Huge smartphone selection
  • No overage charges
  • Cons
  • Weaker than networks like Verizon and AT&T

Sprint is one of the four cheapest major cell phone service providers in North America. They offer flexible plans with generous features at affordable prices for their customers.

For instance, Sprint's cheapest single-line plan starts at $20 for 1GB of data and unlimited talk and text. You can get 3GB starting at just $30. A great thing about Sprint is that they don't charge you for overages on contract plans. Once you hit your monthly data cap, your data will simply slow from high-speed to 2G until your billing period is over.

Sprint also offers a wide variety of smartphones to choose from, unlike many of the smaller cheap cell services listed in this article. Although they are a strong network altogether, Sprint is not as reliable as rival companies like Verizon and AT&T.

If you purchase a postpaid service plan with Sprint, you will have to sign a contract. If you're not interested in a contract, Sprint also offers prepaid options with no contract or credit check. Prepaid options begin at just $35 per month and include unlimited data as well as talk and text. In my opinion, you can't get much better than that.

Advice for Choosing the Cheapest Cell Phone Plans

When you go to choose a cheap cell phone plan, there are some things you need to know first. Here are some terms and advice to note before you choose one of the cheap cell phone plans listed here.

Mobile Virtual Network Operators

MVNOs are smaller companies, like Straight Talk, who buy and resell data and minutes from larger carriers. Essentially, smaller carriers rent network space from larger carriers in order to create their own network.

This type of operator may be worthwhile with less commitment than a larger network and cheaper prices. These networks offer mainly bring your own phone options, which is another reason they are less expensive.

CDMA vs. GSM - What do they mean?

You may come across the abbreviations CDMA and GSM when shopping for the cheapest cell phone plans. I certainly had no idea what they were when I first came across them. If you feel the same, I'm here to help.

  • CDMA - stands for Code Division Multiple Access. It is a cellular standard used in America and around the world for cellular connections.
  • GSM - stands for Global System for Mobile communications. It is also a cellular standard used in America and around the world for cellular connections.

Essentially, both GSM and CDMA are global systems used for mobile communications. They are two different standards with the same goal: allowing providers to connect their customers via cell network.

Does it matter if my carrier uses GSM or CDMA?

Whether your cheap cell phone plan provider uses GSM or CDMA doesn't really make much of a difference. Contrastly, it does affect which models of certain cell phones you can activate with certain carriers.

For instance, Sprint and Verizon both use CDMA while AT&T and T-Mobile use GSM. Phones on the GSM system are easy to unlock and transfer to other carriers, while phones using the CDMA system are not.

Additionally, if you buy a phone with a GSM system, you'll need to buy a sim card in order to activate the service. If you buy a phone with a GSM system, you'll just need to call your carrier to have it activated.

Prepaid and Pay as you go plans have their Cons

Make sure you know what you're doing when you purchase a prepaid or pay as you go plan. If you need reliable service all of the time, purchasing one of these plans could end up costing you a lot more money and frustration than a contract plan.

Check out the customer service options

Always think about customer support when you're choosing any type of service. If you have problems with your connection or need more data, it's nice to know you'll have someone there to support you.

This is especially true for your cell phone. If you have a question about your bill or your phone has stopped working, you're going to want help fast.

How I Chose the Cheapest Cell Phone Plans

I analyzed vigorous amounts of data, reviews, and reports to come up with these five cheap cell phone plans for you. Ultimately, I've found that many of the smallest, cheapest cell phone plans can be just as reliable as large carriers like Verizon or AT&T.

Sprint even managed to make this list as one of the big four cell phone providers up there with Verizon and AT&T. They have significantly improved their services in the past couple of years, beating out AT&T in certain areas in 2015, according to Root Metrics. They do a great job of providing reliable, cheap cell phone service to their customers, which is exactly what we're all looking for.

In relation, many small networks are now buying and reselling data and minutes from the big four companies anyway. If your area is covered by the larger carrier who sold your smaller provider minutes and data, you should be covered by them as well.

Some companies like Republic Wireless are even utilizing WiFi to ensure their services are as cheap and reliable as possible for their customers. In the future, I believe larger companies will have to follow suit and search for ways to provide more affordable reliability to their customers.

Cheap Cell Phone Plans Recap

Overall, I hope this article has helped you determine how to find the cheapest cell phone plans with the most reliable coverage. There are so many companies out there, large and small, offering so many different options. It's best to make sure you know exactly what you need before you make any decisions.

For more information about specific types of plans, check out our articles on the best no contract cell phone plans and the best prepaid cell phone plans. These will help you determine which plan is right for you if you're not 100 percent sure. If you're interested in getting some extra cash, check out our guide on how to sell used cell phones.

Cheap Cell Phone Plans FAQs

How much is Cricket?

Cricket Wireless plans start at $25 per month for talk and text with no data. The network and coverage is decent. Also available are plans with data, but LTE data speed is limited.

Data plan costs:

  • $30 1GB
  • $40 Basic 2.5 GB
  • $50 Smart 8GB
  • $60 Pro 10 GB
  • $70 Unlimited

What is the cheapest cell phone company?

Some of the best low-cost phone deals:

  • ChatSIM - $15 SIM, $15 per year.
  • Red Pocket – $100 for 1,000 minutes
  • TracFone - $99.99 for 1,200 minutes
  • US Mobile - $9 for 100 minutes, 100 texts, 100MB

Low cost plans are also available from Cricket Wireless, Virgin, Boost, MetroPCS, GoSmart and Verizon.

How much is Cricket a month?

You can get a cellular phone plan from Cricket Wireless as low as $25 per month for talk and text only. You can get talk, text and data at $30 for 1GB, $40 for 2.5 GB, $50 for 8GB, $60 for 10 GB and $70 for unlimited. The LTE data speed is capped.

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Advertiser Disclosure

In order for MoneySavingPro to remain a consumer free service, many of the companies covered in our industry reviews compensate MoneySavingPro for new sign ups.

However, the results of our comparison tools, the rankings of the providers and the information presented is not affected by compensation. Indeed, many of these companies approach us for an advertising partnership after we have already written a published their reviews.

While we try to research and review as many providers as possible in the 100+ industries we cover, we have not reviewed every company available.

Our rating system is independent of compensation and reflects our true understanding of the industry and the company based on a variety of factors. The companies that receive the highest rating will always be the providers that we believe offer the best value to the consumer.

Advertiser Disclosure

In order for MoneySavingPro to remain a consumer free service, many of the companies covered in our industry reviews compensate MoneySavingPro for new sign ups.

However, the results of our comparison tools, the rankings of the providers and the information presented is not affected by compensation. Indeed, many of these companies approach us for an advertising partnership after we have already written a published their reviews.

While we try to research and review as many providers as possible in the 100+ industries we cover, we have not reviewed every company available.

Our rating system is independent of compensation and reflects our true understanding of the industry and the company based on a variety of factors. The companies that receive the highest rating will always be the providers that we believe offer the best value to the consumer.