The best no contract cell phone plans solve an issue plaguing people's wallets for years. The typical two-year wireless 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 this guide, we'll discuss no contract phone plans. In my research, I made sure that the companies I looked at could satisfy a number of factors. The top wireless carriers offer contracts with excessive fees and are inflexible to the changing demands of a modern consumer.
We'll define what a no contract plan is and how it may affect you, rank and compare some great no contract plans currently offered, and tell you why it's a good decision to cut the contract.
In This Guide
Key Considerations When Choosing No Contract 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 your wireless phone service every year, you might want to consider a no-contract cell phone plan.
To most people, no-contract wireless phone plans are a new concept. Many people are still currently on a contract plan with your provider, but it's good news to know that nearly all contract plans have disappeared.
Here are some important things to consider:
- Consider your coverage area. There's no point in entering into a prepaid cell phone plan on 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'll typically receive a lower price on monthly plans. Again, this varies based on your cell phone customer service provider so check with the particular company before making a decision. Companies like Boost Mobile are usually cheaper than the big four wireless carriers.
- 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.
- Consider whether you're buying a GSM phone or a CDMA phone. GSM phones are used with AT&T prepaid and T-Mobile prepaid plans while CDMA phones are used with Sprint prepaid plans and Verizon prepaid plans. If you buy one, you may not be able to switch it over to another network; keep this in mind.
What to Look For in a No-Contract Plan
If you're interested in switching to a no-contract cell phone plan, the next step is the find yourself a wireless carrier. In my research, I found a lot more choices available than the Big Four, however, you may find that MVNOs also offer several good deals.
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, such as Boost Mobile, are known as Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs). Mobile Virtual Network Operators provide service via an arrangement with one or more of the four main carriers. Find out which 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.
No Contract Phone Plans Can Save You Money
Signing a contract cell phone plan usually means expensive costs on monthly plans 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 wireless service plans, however, provide a great alternative to the monthly fees and options available from the big name cell phone companies and lesser known providers.
Related Guide: Are No Contract Plans Actually Better Than 2 Year Contract Plans?
The immediate benefits of prepaid plans 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 cell phone bill for consumers was 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 average cell phone 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. Use our cell phone plan comparison tool to find one that works best for you.
Flexible Payment Methods
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.
- Prepay Plan Minutes. Some dealers offer packages of minutes and data that last for a set amount of days for a low cost. With a prepay 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. Compare cheap cell phone plans here to determine what you need.
- How many messages do you send? You shouldn't have to worry about unsent messages or dropped outgoing/incoming calls because you ran out of minutes. Look for plans that allow for unlimited incoming calls, outgoing calls, and texts.
- 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 prepay cell 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 a contract plan. Check out our analysis on prepaid vs postpaid cell phone plans if you're not sure which way to go.
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 wireless plan and check out our helpful guides for more information on no-contract cell phones.
When you're ready to move onto a new phone, you can sell the old for cash and save even more. Our guide to selling your old phone will help you make the transaction smartly and safely.
For rankings and side-by-side comparisons of the low-cost carriers, check out our buyer's guide to the cheapest cell phone plans.