Prepaid cell phone plans have come a long way since the first TracFone came out. There are now plan options that mirror those available from the big four wireless carriers but at much better prices.
The Wall Street Journal reports that families with multiple smartphones sometimes pay more than $4,000 a year. You can save over 50% on your wireless service by taking advantage of the fierce competition being waged in the prepaid market.
Now that contracts are a thing of the past, the only difference between prepaid cell phone plans and traditional plans is that with prepaid you pay at the beginning of the month instead of at the end. This is different from pay as you go phone plans because you choose an actual package rather than paying as you go along.
We've analyzed the best prepaid cell phone plans and laid them out for you in this one simple guide.
In This Guide
- Key Considerations When Choosing a Prepaid Phone Plan
- Consider MVNOs for the Biggest Savings
- Best Unlimited Talk and Text Prepaid Plans
- Best Prepaid Unlimited Data Plan
- Best Prepaid Family Plans
- Best Plans for Kids
- Best Prepaid Plans for Seniors
- Best Cheap Prepaid Plans
- Best Prepaid Data Only Plans
- Best Overall Prepaid Plan
Key Considerations When Choosing a Prepaid Phone Plan
According to Pew Research Center, nearly one in five Americans see their smartphone as a financial burden. Obviously, cost is going to be a major factor in your carrier choice, but it's just one of several aspects to consider:
- Coverage area: There's no point in entering into a prepaid cell phone plan on a network that doesn't cover where you live. Use our handy cell phone coverage maps to find the best network for your area.
- Plans: Some carriers offer options that are well-suited for light users like senior citizens, while others focus on heavy data usage with all the bells and whistles.
- Budget: You'll get great prices on your service, however, you may have to pay upfront for your phone unless you're bringing your own. Be sure to take that into account when budgeting.
- Family: Will you be enrolling more than one phone? Be sure to check with your new carrier to see if there are any special offers on prepaid family plans.
- Features: Depending on the carrier, you can get extras like international coverage, mobile hotspot data, or tethering. Be sure to choose a carrier that offers the features you need.
- GSM or CDMA: If you plan to bring your own phone, keep in mind that the T-Mobile and AT&T networks use GSM technology while Verizon and Sprint use CDMA technology.
Compare: Need a prepaid phone? Why not check out our guide to the best prepaid phones?
Consider MVNOs for the Biggest Savings
Benefits of MVNOs:
- You get the same reliable 4G LTE networks as the major carriers.
- They're cheaper - MVNOs don't have massive overhead and marketing costs so their rates are lower.
- They offer customized plans - pay only for what you need.
- Enjoy great customer service, often with 24/7 availability.
- No credit checks, contracts, overage charges, or early termination fees.
- It's easy to switch, typically by just ordering a SIM card online.
Best Unlimited Talk and Text Prepaid Plans
Tello uses Sprint network coverage and is one of the best options you'll find as far as customized service plans go. That means it's easy to pair unlimited talk and text with the right amount of data for you. Choose from a wide range of configurations, from no data (WiFi only) all the way up to 10 GB of high-speed data.
The best part is that, even with a good chunk of 4G LTE data, Tello's mobile phone plans are insanely affordable. Plus they offer:
- Free tethering
- Calls to China, Mexico, and Canada using your plan minutes
- International calling to other countries with great pay-as-you-go rates
- No extra fees
- Change your plan at any time
Best Prepaid Unlimited Data Plan
US Mobile is blazing a new MVNO trail with its unlimited data plans on the nationwide Verizon Wireless network. Not only do they offer one of the only unlimited everything plans among alternative carriers, they've devised a tiered data system that gives you nine price point options.
- 100 minutes, unlimited text messaging, unlimited data
- Unlimited calling and text messages, unlimited data
- Unlimited voice, unlimited texts, unlimited data plus hotspot
- Standard: 1 Mbps
- Fast: 5 Mbps
- Ludicrous: Uncapped data speeds (up to 150 Mbps - great for video streaming)
Best Prepaid Family Plans
Mint Mobile (formerly known as Mint SIM) makes it easy to put together a package that works for the whole family. Choose the amount of data you want each device to have and pay less for it the more months you buy at one time.
With Mint, you buy your plans three, six, or 12 months at a time. The more months you buy, the lower the price per month. Choose from 2 GB, 5GB, or 10 GB of high-speed data. All plans include unlimited calling and texting, and you get free 2G speed data after your high-speed data allotment runs out.
Need more? Add international roaming or more data any time.
Compare: Need a cheap plan with just two lines? Check out our guide to cheap phone plans for two.
Best Plans for Kids
Mint does prepaid cell phone service so well that we also recommend them as the best kids cell phone plan. With smaller data buckets available and rates that run less than half of what you'd pay on a major carrier, it's easy to keep your kids' mobile bills in check.
The other huge advantage is that when you buy a Mint Mobile plan for your child you won't have to worry about them running up high overage fees by going over their data allotment. Once it's gone, that's it unless you decide to add more.
Best Prepaid Plans for Seniors
Talk minutes start at 200 and go up to unlimited. If you have a basic phone such as a flip phone, you can choose from no data, 150 MB, or 300 MB. Smartphone data is available up to 4 GB.
All Twigby plans include free international texting to over 180 countries.
Best Cheap Prepaid Plans
Want great service on the nationwide Sprint network without spending a bundle? Tello offers cheap phone plans to fit any budget. Starting at just a few bucks a month the plans are infinitely customizable. Choose your minutes, texts, amount of data, and price.
You can add more of anything if you find your plan needs adjusting, and calls to Canada, China, and Mexico are included.
Compare: Check out some cheap cell phone plans for one person.
Best Prepaid Data Only Plans
Sometimes you just need a data only plan without the talk time and texts. Data-only plans can be expensive on the big four providers - up to $10 per GB. With Tello, you can pay less than half that to power your favorite devices.
Because you can tether with Tello, you can share this data with any device you like.
Best Overall Prepaid Plan
All of our featured MVNOs offer great prices and solid service. That said, Mint Mobile is our choice for the best prepaid cell phone plan.
Mint offers everything most individuals and families need from a mobile provider:
- Affordable rates
- Multiple data bucket options
- International and data add-ons
- Unlimited calls and text on all plans
- Discounts the more you buy
- Customer support 7 days a week
Great Ways to Save on Your Next Smartphone
Now that we've covered the best prepaid cell phone plans, you've probably got device questions. We've got solutions.
With the major carriers, you're usually roped into a steep payment for the latest smartphone, which keeps you tied to that provider for two years. With MVNOs you can save money on your device one of two ways:
- Bring your own phone - This is the cheapest option and allows you to get the most out of that expensive device you already own. Just make sure you choose a provider that runs on the same technology - either GSM or CDMA.
- Buy a used or refurbished device - Sites like Gazelle and Swappa sell late-model smartphones like Apple iPhone and premium Android phones and can save you up to 50% off the MSRP.
Need extra cash to put toward a new smartphone? Sell your old phone instead of throwing it in a drawer. Compare offers from different sites before making a final decision to make sure you're getting the most out of it as possible.
There's no longer any reason to pay nearly $100 a month for the same service you can get with a MVNO. Start saving today!