Best No Contract Cell Phone Plans
Typical big 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. However, today there are viable no-contract options available from some of the big name cell phone companies and lesser known providers.
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.
No-Contract Phone Plans: What to Consider
To many, a no-contract phone plan is a new concept. Because no-contract plans have their own advantages and pitfalls, it is important to look closely at each plan and provider before you buy. Here are some important things to look for:
- 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.
- How much do you use data, voice and text? Plans offer different levels of service. The less you need the less you'll have to pay.
- 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.
- What network do they use? Some providers have access to the biggest and best nationwide networks while others are limited to smaller ones. Check the network coverage, especially in your area.
- 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 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 6, the Samsung Galaxy S4 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 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.
Verdict - Superb
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.
- 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 inflates 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 cancelling your contract up to $650.
Verdict - Great
T-Mobile is a big name in the cell phone industry that is also 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. They're plans can allow you to save considerably if you switch from a contract.
- Competitive Prices
- Interesting plan options
- LTE speeds
- Nationwide network
- No novelty lenses available on the site
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.
There most interesting plan is their midrange 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 less 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.
Verdict - Very Good
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.
- 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 advantage 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 (sometime 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 overage and every time you go six consecutive months without exceeding limits. A free pass is an additional 5GB every time you go over limits.
Verdict - Very Good
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.
- Competitive mid-range plans
- Top phones available
- Coverage isn't the best
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 ad getting an SD card. You can also buy one of their phones which include the most smartphones like the iPhone 6 or the Samsung Galaxy S4.
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.
Verdict - Good
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 it is an option for you.
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.
No Contract Cell Phones FAQs
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 (unsubsidized) 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 you eye on a particular model but can't afford the full (unsubsidized) cost up front, you may be better off signing up for a contracted plan
What should you consider when selecting a no contract cell phone?
There are a few important factors to take into consideration when selecting a no contract plan. First, consider your coverage area. Obviously that plays a significant role in the level of satisfaction you'll have. The second factor is your monthly budget in relation to the plan's cost. 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 various from provider to provider so check with the particular company before making a decision. The third factor to take into account is whether you'll be enrolling more than one phone.
Large family plans are typically less expensive than multiple no contract plans, especially when you factor in the cost of the individual phones. The last factor to consider is how long you intend to remain on that plan and if you'll want to recoup the cost of your phone at the end of the period. Check out this review for additional considerations to keep in mind regarding no contract cell phones.
What types of plans are available with a no contract cell phone?
There are three plans normally available with a no contract cell phone-prepaid minutes, prepaid unlimited, and month to month plans. With a prepaid minute plan you buy a number of minutes and use them as necessary or until they expire. Prepaid unlimited service allows you to pay once for a full month of service (phone, text, data, etc.) Month to month plans work much like the contract plans except you can cancel service at any point without incurring the traditional early termination fees. To best determine the type of plan appropriate for you, explore the following points:
- How much data do you need?
- What is your monthly level of use?
- What type of coverage are you interested in?
- If you're using an existing phone, is it compatible with the service?
These are just a handful of the points to explore. Also take into consideration your monthly allotted budget, service coverage, and number of plans you intend to carry.