The best no-contract phone plans solve an issue plaguing people's wallets for years. The typical two-year plan is too expensive, too restrictive, and too complex for most people to read. If you want to save money while carrying the latest and greatest phones, it is time for you to cut out the contract.
In my research, I made sure that the companies I looked at could satisfy a number of factors. The top cell phone carriers offer contracts with excessive fees and are inflexible to the changing demands of a modern consumer. I have reviewed the best no-contract phone plans that offer quality, flexibility, and data.
Key Considerations When Choosing a Cell Phone Plan
How much money do you spend on cell phone service every year? The Wall Street Journal reports that families with multiple smartphones sometimes pay more than $4,000 a year! This easily eclipses what we pay for cable TV and home Internet which are just as integral to our daily lives as a cell phone.
If you answered that you spend too much money on cell phone service every year, you might want to consider a no-contract cell phone plan.
To most people, no-contract cell phone plans are a new concept. Because the best no-contract phone plans each have their own advantages and pitfalls, it's important to look closely at each plan and provider before you buy.
Here are some important things to consider:
- Consider your coverage area. There's no point in entering into a network that doesn't cover where you live.
- Consider your budget. While you will pay more for the phone upfront (since it won't be subsidized) you typically have a lower monthly plan cost. Again this varies from provider to provider so check with the particular company before making a decision.
- Consider your family. Will you be enrolling more than one phone? Be sure to check with the company to see if there are any special offers when selecting a no-contract plan for multiple people.
- Consider your current contract. How long do you intend to remain on your current plan? Typically, the longer you wait, the better the chance of recouping the cost of your phone at the end of the period.
No Contract Phone Plans Can Save You Money
Typical contract cell phone services are an expensive monthly cost that you can't get out of until your term is over. Unless you want pricey early termination fees, you might be stuck with a bad plan. Under a contract, you might have a limit on the data you can use and have your speeds crippled if you accidentally go over that limit. The best no-contract cell phone plans, however, provide a great alternative to the monthly fees and options are available from the big name cell phone companies and lesser known providers.
The immediate benefits of a no-contract phone plan are evident: they save you money. Think about how often you use your cell phone every day. Think about how often you go online to watch a video, share a picture, or browse the web. Accessing the Internet, as well as talking and texting, use data. Compounded over the course of a week, that is a lot of data used. And for most cell phone carriers, they're prone to slap you with high fees if you go over your data limit.
According to a study by the Pew Research Center, 97% of smartphone owners between 18-29 went online every day over the course of the study. For smartphone owners between the ages of 30-49, about 90% of them used the Internet every day. That's a lot of data used--which means a costly bill at the end of each month.
A no-contract phone plan can shave dollars off your bill while giving you the freedom and flexibility of choice.
People aren't just paying a lot on their monthly bills either, they're spending a lot on the phone as well. And as smartphones continue to become more advanced, they're bound to become more expensive. According to a report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average consumer spent about $963 for cellular phone services every year. No-contract phones often require the customer to pay a hefty amount upfront to cover the cost of the phone, but your monthly bills are lowered in return. For the price of cellular freedom, it might be worth it.
A no-contract phone plan can not only lower your monthly bill but it gives you the option to shop around if you become unsatisfied with the service you have. There are several good options in the industry, but different providers will be better for different individuals. Compare the top no-contract plans to find one that works best for you.
What to Look For
If you're interested in switching to a no-contract cell phone plan, the next step is the find yourself a carrier. In my research, I found a lot more choices available than the Big Four, which you'll see in the reviews.
When you do your own research, you should look at the price of the plans available on each carrier. How many minutes do you get? What are your data limits? Is it truly unlimited? Some phone plans will charge you if you exceed a certain limit and then throttle your data speed.
Most no-contract carriers are known as Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs), which means they provide service via an arrangement with one or more of the four main carriers. Find out what network the no-contract carrier you're interested in uses. Also, it's important to know the difference between the no-contract carrier you're using and the network the carrier has an arrangement with. For example: because Verizon has an LTE network doesn't necessarily mean a no-contract phone carrier running on their network will also supply LTE data.
3. Phone Selection
What phones do they have? no-contract plans don't offer cheap high-end smartphones when you sign up, because (unlike a contract) they can't inflate the price of service in order to cover the cost of the plan. Do you like the phone you already have? Take a look and bring your own device options.
Most no-contract carriers offer some neat perks when you select a plan. Be on the lookout discounts and special offers.
The Best No Contract Cell Phone Plans
Straight Talk No Contract Phone Plans
- Access to the best networks
- High speed data
- Latest smartphones available
- Competatively priced midrange plans
- Very slow after you reach data limits
Beginning in 2011, Straight Talk has been an industry leading no-contract wireless service, offering access to the nation's best networks without having to deal with the cost or commitment of a contract. One of the biggest reasons people are reluctant to try alternatives to big cell phone providers is the network. However, Straight Talk uses the largest networks in the industry so coverage and quality should be similar to large carriers.
You also don't need to give up using the latest smartphones for no contract service. The most popular phones like the iPhone, the Samsung Galaxy, and many other devices are available at Straight Talk. You also have the option to bring your own phone if you don't want to purchase a new one. The option to buy a SIM card only can increase your savings.
Straight Talk offers a variety of plans ranging from casual phone use to unlimited plans. The most basic plan for $30 dollars a month allows for 1,500 minutes, unlimited texts, and 100MB of data (not ideal for anything but occasional use.) They also have unlimited plans available; however, like many cell phone service providers unlimited data means you get limited high speeds and slow speeds when you run out. Straight Talk offers 3GB of high-speed data and after that, you get 64KBPS until your next pay period. That means when you run out of high-speed data you will be going back to speeds similar to dial-up.
Although they throttle your data speeds after 3GB on their "unlimited" plans, Straight Talk's plans are still cheaper than similar contract plans without the commitment. Plus, their access to the biggest nationwide networks and the top smartphones gives them an edge when compared to other no-contract plans.
Republic Wireless No Contract Phone Plans
- Hybrid system helps avoid overages
- Comparatively cheap plans
- "Free pass" gives you extra data
- Choose your speeds
- Hybrid system could connect you to weak Wi-Fi
Republic wireless is a no-contract cell phone company that focuses on hybrid calling. This means your phone will automatically look for an available Wi-Fi signal to use to send calls and text messages. When there is no Wi-Fi available, you will then connect to cell service using Sprint's network. This is method has both advantages and drawbacks.
Automatically connecting to Wi-Fi will help you avoid going over data and service limitations. However, call quality will only be as good as the Wi-Fi connection that you're on. If you are walking down the street and you connect to a local store's weak Wi-Fi signal, your call could lose quality.
Republic's cheapest plan is a mere $5 per month and is limited to only connection through Wi-Fi. However, if you live in the city and you have access to Wi-Fi most of the time, be aware that there are smartphone, iPod, and tablet apps that allow you to call and text over Wi-Fi for free.
Their three other plans are all unlimited and you choose what speeds you want to pay for. Their most expensive plan allows for unlimited talk, text and data (with 5GB of 4G speeds). For a plan that allows 5G at top speeds, it is relatively cheap.
Republic also does something unique with its data limits. Other companies will allow you a set amount of data and if you exceed that they will throttle your speeds (sometimes plummeting down to dial-up speeds). Republic also throttles speeds one you reach their 5GB data limit but you get a "free pass" for your first time and every time you go six consecutive months without exceeding limits. A free pass is an additional 5GB every time you go over limits.
Republic has some unique plans and perks that are worth taking a look at above other services. Bear in mind that they use the Sprint network, which works well in some areas but not in others. Check its availability in your area before buying.
T-Mobile No Contract Phone Plans
- High speed 4G LTE
- Competitive midrange plan
- 0% finance for new phones
- They'll cover the cost of switching
- They'll cover the cost of your financed phone
- T-Mobile network isn't the best for coverage
T-Mobile's no-contract plan is just over a year old and even though it doesn't offer options that are as cheap as some other no-contract providers, it does offer a cheap alternative to the big company contracts. Plus, it offers some other perks as well.
Though it doesn't offer a limited $20 or lower plan like many no-contract providers, it does offer a competitive mid-range plan that is comparable to other no-contract services. With its featured plan, you get unlimited talk, text and data with 1GB of 4G LTE speeds. Unlike other no-contract providers, you can finance a new phone and pay for it over 24 months. Contract plans will charge financing fees and interest rates which inflate the monthly price.
T-Mobile's network doesn't have the best coverage in the industry, but their 4G LTE speeds are competitive with the fastest networks. Check the coverage in the areas where you live, work and travel to make sure you'll be covered where you go.
T-Mobile will also cover the cost of your financed phone if you switch from another provider and they'll also pay for the cost of canceling your contract up to $650.
T-Mobile is a big name in the cell phone industry that is also a great alternative to high priced contracts. T-Mobile's competitive network speeds offer a high performance if you are in an area that it covers. Their plans can allow you to save considerably if you switch from a contract.
Virgin Mobile No Contract Phone Plans
- Competitive Prices
- Interesting plan options
- LTE speeds
- Nationwide network
- The cheapest plan is made irrelevant by apps in some cases.
Virgin Mobile is a fairly recognizable name in the cell phone service industry that exclusively offers plans with no contracts. They offer a range of plans all on a network powered by Sprint.
Their cheapest plan is called "Wi-Fi lover's delight" which is a clever way of saying that this plan is not ideal for anyone who may need to access the internet outside a Wi-Fi zone. This plan offers no mobile data at all and the price is comparable to other plans that do offer at least some data. Plus, in a world where you can download apps that turn your iPod or tablet into a phone over Wi-Fi for free, this plan is not the best value.
Their most interesting plan is their mid-range price plan that gives you a choice between to levels of service. You can choose unlimited talk, text and data (with 250MB of data before dropping to 2G speeds). You can also choose, and here is where it gets interesting, unlimited texts, 300 minutes of talk and unlimited data (with 2.5GB before dropping to 2G speeds). That means you have the option to use more data and fewer voice minutes or vice versa while paying the same price.
Virgin Mobile uses Sprint's nationwide network, which is not the best in the industry but it does offer 4G LTE speeds. However, check the network's strength and availability in your area before choosing this provider.
Virgin Mobile is a solid no-contract provider especially if you are looking for plans with flexibility. Their low price plan is not the best option on the market but their mid-range plan is a great option.
Ptel Mobile No Contract Phone Plans
- Competitive mid-range plans
- Use your own phone
- Top phones available
- Coverage isn't the best
- Data plans are small
Ptel Mobile is another lesser known wireless company that offers a variety of service plans with varying levels of data allowance. All plans come with unlimited talk and text and, of course, you always have the option to connect to the internet over Wi-Fi.
Ptel's lowest priced plan allows for unlimited talk and text and 250MB of high-speed data, which is only ideal for rare data usage. For $5 more per month you get access to unlimited everything but the data is at 2G speeds which are very slow. Their midrange plans offer the best value with 1GB or 2GB of high-speed 4G LTE data as well as unlimited talk and text. This plan is comparable to other competitive plans in the no-contract industry.
Ptel gives you the option to use your own unlocked phone by buying a plan and getting an SD card. You can also buy one of their phones which include popular smartphones like the iPhone series or the Samsung Galaxy series.
Ptel offers 4G LTE speeds on a limited nationwide network. Their coverage may be spotty or none existent in some areas. Check it's availability in your area before purchasing.
Ptel offers competitively priced plans and 4G speeds but their network isn't the best choice in the industry. Always look at coverage maps and ask friends that have the service in your area to see if it is an option for you.
If you plan on tightening your budget, no-contract cell phones have three flexible payment methods to suit your needs.
- Monthly Plan. This will seem the most familiar to you. Month to month plans works much like the contract plans except you can cancel service at any point without incurring the traditional early termination fees.
- Prepaid Minutes. Some dealers offer packages of minutes and data that last for a set amount of days for a low cost. With a prepaid minute plan, you buy a number of minutes and use them as necessary or until they expire. You'll have to keep coming back to renew your minutes, and you'll have to make it last for the entire duration, but it offers a great value for the amount of freedom you get.
- Pay As You Go. Simple and straightforward. Pay a dollar amount up front for the phone and pay only for the data and minutes you use.
To best determine the type of plan appropriate for you, explore the following points:
- How much data do you use? Plans offer different levels of service. You want at least 2-3 GBs of data per month. That's enough to use GPS, send and receive emails, and surf the web. Contracts often include absurdly low data plans or unnecessarily high data plans for families. Take a look at how much data you use every month. The less you need the less you'll have to pay.
- How many messages do you send? You shouldn't have to worry about unsent messages or dropped calls because you ran out of minutes. Look for plans that allow for unlimited talk and text.
- How much time do you spend connected to Wi-Fi? If you rarely venture out of Wi-Fi zones, you might be able to get by with the cheapest plans.
You shouldn't have to worry about unsent messages or dropped calls because you ran out of minutes.
These are just a handful of the points to explore. Also take into consideration your monthly allotted budget, service coverage, and a number of plans you intend to carry. The bottom line is that if you can handle a high day-one price for an unlocked phone, you can save hundreds over the course of two years. Also, if you're ever uncertain or unhappy with your service, you can cancel your plan and sell your device at any time.
You might be thinking that a no-contract cell phone plan is the logical choice only for the tightly budgeted consumer. We all want to trim our cell phone bill, but there is no reason that has to be your only reason. If any of the points below describe you, then a no-contract cell phone plan may be right for you.
- You make fewer calls and send fewer texts than most people. An unlimited talk and text plan might be unnecessary for you.
- You don't use a lot of data per month. Track how much data you use in a month. If you find you top out at around 2GB of data per month, then the high data plans of contract cell phone carriers might not be for you.
- You have friends or family overseas. Some plans offer international calling credit. There might be some extra charges, however.
- You're unhappy with your current phone carrier or contract.
- You can afford a hefty upfront cost.
What is the difference between a contract and no contract phone?
The beauty of a no-contract phone, as the name implies, is the ability to cancel service at any time without incurring those cancellation fees. Normally when you buy a cell phone through a regular (contracted) mobile provider you are able to purchase the phone for a greatly reduced price. This is the deal you're receiving as part of the two or three-year contract plan. With that being said, with no-contract phones (non-subsidized) you may have to pay full price for the same or a similar device or bring your old phone (assuming it's compatible with the network).
One of the biggest drawbacks individuals remark with no-contract phones is the out of pocket costs if you decide to leave that carrier. While there are some companies that will buy the prepaid specific phones, it typically is more challenging. It's best to weigh the pros and cons of a no-contract phone against a contract phone. If for example, you have your eye on a particular model but can't afford the full (non-subsidized) cost up front, you may be better off signing up for a contracted plan.
If you want quality cell service without being committed to a one or two-year contract, a no-contract cell phone plan is a great option. Be sure to check coverage before you buy any plan and for more on no-contract cell phones check out our helpful guides.
When you're ready to move onto a new phone, you can sell the old for cash and save even more. Our handy guide will teach you the best place to sell your phone smartly and safely. If you're in the market to buy a new cell phone, it's still worth comparing the no contract deals with the best cell phone plans.