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Prepaid vs Postpaid: What's the Difference?

Which carriers are prepaid and postpaid?

Best T-Mobile Plan
10GB LTE Data
$20* per month
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* $60 for 3 Months Service
Best AT&T Plan
6GB LTE Data
$22.50* per month
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* 25% Off for 3 Months
Best Verizon Plan
8GB LTE Data
$23* per month
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* 50% Off for 3 Months

Prepaid vs Postpaid: Which is better?

Sometime in the last few years, cell phones migrated from the list of discretionary wants to non-negotiable needs.

Not only that, but the list of basic requirements and essential functionality for the average cell phone user has also grown, making flip phones that were cutting edge just a decade ago about as obsolete as the payphone.

To meet the growing demands of the consumers, cell phone carriers have tailored several plans to meet the needs and wants of nearly any kind of data user.

At the most basic level, these cell phone plans are broken down into prepaid cell phone plans and postpaid cell phone plans.

Below, I'll explain the differences and similarities between both types of plans, and suggest which kind I believe is better.

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Prepaid cell phone plans comparison

Carrier

Network

Minutes

Texts

Data

Price

Tello

T-Mobile

Unltd

Unltd

1GB

$7.50** 25% Off for 6 Months

Reach Mobile

Verizon

Unltd

Unltd

3GB

$15** 50% Off for 3 Months

Ting

T-Mobile & Verizon

Unltd

Unltd

Unltd

$25** $20 Off for 3 Months

Mint Mobile

T-Mobile

Unltd

Unltd

10GB

$20** $60 for 3 Months Service

Twigby

Verizon & Sprint

300

Unltd

1GB

$7.50** 50% Off for 6 Months

AT&T vs AT&T prepaid MVNO

Pure Talk - 6GB Data* 25% Off for 3 Months
UnlimitedminsUnlimitedtexts
6 GB4G data
$22.50*per month$30/mo
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AT&T vs Pure Talk Plan Comparison

Keep your AT&T phone, number & coverage: Save $562 per year

Carrier

Network Coverage

4G LTE Data

Price

Annual Cost

AT&T

AT&T 4G LTE

Unltd*

$75/mo

$900/yr

Pure Talk

AT&T 4G LTE

6GB

$30/mo

$338/yr

*Don't waste money on unlimited data - Avg. data usage is only 3-5GBSavings$45/mo$562/yr

Verizon vs Verizon prepaid MVNO

Reach Mobile - 8GB Data* 50% Off for 3 Months
UnlimitedminsUnlimitedtexts
8 GB4G data
$23*per month$45/mo
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Verizon vs Reach Mobile Plan Comparison

Keep your Verizon phone, number & coverage: Save $486 per year

Carrier

Network Coverage

4G LTE Data

Price

Annual Cost

Verizon

Verizon 4G LTE

Unltd*

$80/mo

$960/yr

Reach Mobile

Verizon 4G LTE

8GB

$45/mo

$474/yr

*Don't waste money on unlimited data - Avg. data usage is only 3-5GBSavings$35/mo$486/yr

T-Mobile vs T-Mobile prepaid MVNO

Mint Mobile - 4GB Data* $45 for 3 Months Service
UnlimitedminsUnlimitedtexts
4 GB4G data
$15*per month
Powered by: T-Mobile

T-Mobile vs Mint Mobile Plan Comparison

Keep your T-Mobile phone, number & coverage: Save $540 per year

Carrier

Network Coverage

4G LTE Data

Price

Annual Cost

T-Mobile

T-Mobile 4G LTE

Unltd*

$60/mo

$720/yr

Mint Mobile

T-Mobile 4G LTE

4GB

$15/mo

$180/yr

*Don't waste money on unlimited data - Avg. data usage is only 3-5GBSavings$45/mo$540/yr

Sprint vs Sprint prepaid MVNO

Tello - 4GB Data* 25% Off for 6 Months
UnlimitedminsUnlimitedtexts
4 GB4G data
$14.30*per month$19/mo
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Sprint vs Tello Plan Comparison

Keep your Sprint phone, number & coverage: Save $640 per year

Carrier

Network Coverage

4G LTE Data

Price

Annual Cost

Sprint

Sprint 4G LTE

Unltd*

$70/mo

$840/yr

Tello

Sprint 4G LTE

4GB

$19/mo

$200/yr

*Don't waste money on unlimited data - Avg. data usage is only 3-5GBSavings$51/mo$640/yr

Prepaid phone plan benefits

For those consumers looking for basic phone functionality that's a bit more budget-friendly; however, the prepaid cell phone can provide a solution that satisfies both communication and savvy spending needs.

  • No Contracts or Credit Checks. One great benefit is flexibility. Prepaid cell phone plans allow you to pay on a month-to-month basis, keeping you from getting locked into a contract you might not be able to afford or want later on down the line. Prepaid phone plans are also available without a credit check for customers with low or no credit scores who are unable to qualify for long-term plans.

  • Customized Plans. Many providers offer a flat monthly fee that gives you access to texting, talk time and data. In addition, you can also sign up for services where you only pay for the days you use the phone. This flexibility gives you more control over which services you pay for whereas, with a postpaid cell phone plan, you pay a specific amount per month for a blanket of services. This means you are paying for services you might not use.

  • Easy Sign-Up Process. With prepaid cell phones, there are no credit checks or deposits you must pay to use service. You simply buy the phone you want and the corresponding monthly service amount that best fits your needs. Conversely, with postpaid plans, the provider will check your credit to see if you have any outstanding balances with other cellular companies. If you have poor credit, they might allow you to obtain service but you must pay a deposit first. This makes prepaid cell plans a better alternative if you have limited credit or have had financial problems in the past.

  • No Termination Fees. With a postpaid cell phone, you can either buy a phone at a discounted rate with a two-year service commitment or finance the full price of the mobile device. In either instance, if you switch service providers before fulfilling your terms you owe a balance to the company you left, which can result in hundreds of dollars. This is why a prepaid cell phone is a great alternative because you have the freedom to switch providers any time you choose and you don't have to worry about paying costly fees to achieve this.While it's true you will need to make a higher initial investment to obtain a phone with a prepaid plan, a smart money rule is to only buy what you can afford now, which is what this forces you to do.

  • No-Risk. Because prepaid cell phones don't require a long-term commitment, there's no risk in simply trying the service to see if it's worth the savings. If you find that the coverage is too limiting or the service insufficient, you can always change your plan the following month.

Postpaid phone plan benefits

  • Get the newest phones: As your 24-month payment plan nears its end, you may be eligible to upgrade to the latest and greatest cell phones. If you love technology and enjoy staying on the cutting edge of cell phones, a postpaid cell phone plan is for you. Some cell phone carriers even offer early upgrading.

  • Never run out of data: No matter what postpaid cellphone plan you purchase, and no matter how many gigs of data allotted to you, you'll never truly run out of data anymore. As of the time of this writing, all the major cell phone carriers provide extra data to users who exceed their monthly limit. You can be sure that you'll never run out of minutes, texts, or data.

  • No manual refill required: One of the biggest gripes with prepaid cell phone plans is that you have to stay on top of refilling your minutes and data whenever you run out. With a postpaid cell phone plan, you'll have the convenience of auto-renewing every time. No need to worry.

  • Extras and Bonuses: Not many prepaid cell phone plans have gotten on the bandwagon and offered special bonuses and services for their consumers. On a postpaid cell phone plan, you can find carriers that offer unlimited video streaming, cloud photo storage, hotspot capabilities, and more.

  • Great for families: Postpaid cell phone plans are often perfect for families or large groups of people who want multiple lines tied to a single account and under one monthly bill. Many carriers offer specific family cell phone plans that you can see here.

Low cost prepaid carriers offer the best value

Now that I've discussed both kinds of cell phone plans, which one is better? Well, like most things in life: it depends.

Prepaid cell phones are a great fit if you are looking to control how much you pay for the services you use. While they do require an initial investment in buying the phone and service, over time you won't have to worry about termination fees if you want to switch providers.

Best of all, obtaining a prepaid cell phone is easy since you don't have to worry about credit checks and deposits. This makes them a great option to consider if you want all the benefits of cell phone use without the high costs.

On the flipside, a postpaid cell phone is perfect for those who want to stay up-to-date with the most advanced devices, families with multiple lines, and large data users. You won't have to worry about refilling your minutes and data every month, and you can experience plenty of neat perks.

Ultimately, the best cell phone plan is the one that fits your lifestyle, budget, and actually covers where you live.

Prepaid cell phone companies list

Verizon MVNOs

Sprint MVNOs

T-Mobile MVNOs

AT&T MVNOs

Twigby

Twigby

Mint Mobile

Red Pocket Mobile

US Mobile

Tello

US Mobile

Pure Talk

Red Pocket Mobile

TextNow

Red Pocket Mobile

h2o Wireless

Reach Mobile

Pix Wireless

Ultra Mobile

Good2Go Mobile

Straight Talk

Ting

Metro by T-Mobile

Cricket

Net10 Wireless

Red Pocket Mobile

Net10 Wireless

Consumer Cellular

Total Wireless

Straight Talk

Republic Wireless

FreedomPop

Page Plus

Boost Mobile

Simple Mobile

Straight Talk

CREDO Mobile

Ting

TracFone

TracFone

TracFone

Net10

GreatCall

Consumer Cellular

FreeUP Mobile

Xfinity Mobile

Unreal Mobile

Recap

Both prepaid and postpaid cell phone plans have their merits. If you plan on sticking to a budget, the cheaper prepaid cell phone plans are for you. If you want the best and newest devices, then you'll have to choose a postpaid plan.

For a list of the best prepaid cell phone plans, you can check out our review. After you've checked out which cell phone plan is right for you, we can tell you the easiest way to switch cell phone carriers.

Rob Webber
Rob Webber

Rob has 15+ years experience in the US and UK running price comparison sites for cell phone plans, smartphone deals, TV, and internet. He loves thinking outside of the box to build tools that empower consumers to make more informed decisions.

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