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.
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.
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 unlimited data.
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.
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.
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.
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 but Tello offers great savings here to.
Great Ways to Save on Your Next Smartphone
Now that we've covered the best value 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 refurbished smartphone - 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.
Compare Smartphone Prices
There's no longer any reason to pay nearly $100 a month for the same service you can get with an MVNO. Start saving today!
How do I switch to a prepaid cell phone plan with another carrier?
Switching to an MVNO is smart, quick and simple. You don't have to buy a new device, since you can bring your own phone to the new carrier and you can keep your old number. All you need to do is order a prepaid SIM card and once you have that, you can switch your phone service in as little as 2-3 minutes.
Do these prepaid cell phone plans have network coverage in my area?
All MVNO's are powered by at least one of the big 4's networks. In our comparison list of prepaid cell phone plan we display the network options available with each plan. For example, if the plan says 'powered by Verizon', it means the carrier operates on the Verizon network and you'll receive exactly the same nationwide 4G LTE coverage that you would if you bought a plan from Verizon directly.
Can I keep my phone number when I switch to a new prepaid cell phone plan?
Yes! It's easy to port your existing phone number to another carrier during the activation process.
Will a prepaid cell phone plan with any carrier work with my phone?
Yes! Most unlocked smartphones that have a SIM card slot will work with your new prepaid cell phone plan. If your phone is locked to a carrier you will need to contact your existing carrier to get it unlocked.
How do I check if my device is compatible with the prepaid cell phone plan I want?
You can check your devices compatibility on the carriers website before you signup for a new prepaid cell phone plan.
Is there a contract or credit check?
No. MVNO's work on a prepaid month-to-month basis, meaning there is no credit check or commitment, so you can switch to a new prepaid cell phone plan whenever you like.
How does billing work these prepaid cell phone plans?
All plans are prepaid with no contract. This means that you pay for 30 days when your plan starts, not afterwards. Most MVNO's allow AutoPay which ensures you'll automatically renew your plan every 30 days.
Can I share my prepaid cell phone plan across multiple devices?
No. Each prepaid cell phone plan is for one line and every device needs it's own line.
Do prepaid cell phone plans allow tethering?
Yes, most prepaid cell phone plan allow tethering but it will depend on the carrier and plan you select. Check the carrier site before signing up.
Do prepaid cell phone plans offer international calling?
Yes, most MVNO's include calls to international countries. Be sure to check the carriers website for more details before you sign up.
Do MVNO's have a refund policy?
Most MVNO's offer a refund within 7 days if you are not satisfied with the prepaid cell phone plan you selected. Check the carriers website for full details before you sign up.
Who should switch to a prepaid cell phone plan?
MVNO's are perfect for anyone that is looking to save money on a prepaid cell phone plan, without compromising on coverage, there's a customized plan suitable for everyone.
The Best Prices on the Best Networks
All low-cost carriers are powered by the major US networks
Money Saving Pro believes everyone should be able to cut their bills and choose the best deal based on their individual requirements. While our site doesn't feature every carrier or provider available on the market, we're sure you'll be able to make significant savings from the information we provide and the free independent tools we create.
How can we provide this service for free? Our partners compensate us. This may influence which plans we compare and review and write about, but it does not effect our recommendations or advice, which are based on thousands of hours of research. Our partners cannot pay us to guarantee favorable reviews of their products or services.