Best Prepaid Phone Plans
These days having a cell phone is just another one of life's basic necessities. Knowing all-too-well about our reliance on these devices, cell phone providers are able to charge high prices for monthly plans, data packages, and all the other extras.
For folks who only need a basic wireless plan or don't like the idea of signing a two or three-year contract, finding the best prepaid cell phone plans are ideal. They offer plans that are not only flexible but allow you to pay for the service on a month-to-month basis.
We've gathered the top 5 prepaid phone companies in the industry to make your search a bit easier and evaluated them one their phone selections, types of plans, and these other characteristics.
Best Prepaid Phone Plans: What to Consider
When it comes to comparing prepaid phone companies, it's important to keep the following components in mind:
If you've opted for a prepaid cell phone it's most likely because you want to skim the excess off of your monthly bill. Before even browsing the plans available, determine the amount you can afford to spend based on your overall budget.
On average, what does your cell phone usage consist of? Do you spend the majority of your time texting friends and family? Or do you use your phone mostly to surf the web and check emails? Determine exactly what portion of your time you spend talking, texting, and using data. If you find that you lean heavily in one area over the other, a pay-as-you-go offer might be your best bet.
As with any cell phone provider, coverage is crucial. First and foremost, make sure the provider's service is available in your area. You can find a map detailing the coverage areas on the company's website.
4. Phone Selection
Traditional (non-prepaid) cell phone carriers generally run promotions which entitle you to the newest cell phones at a discounted or nominal rate. By charging higher monthly fees and enrolling you in a set-term contract they're able to recoup the price of the phone. Since many prepaid cell providers operate without contract terms and do offer a lower monthly rate, you'll likely pay more up front for a smartphone.
The Best Prepaid Cell Phone Plans
Boost Mobile Phones Review
- Unlimited talk, text, and data options
- Daily unlimited plans for basic or smartphones
- Nationwide Sprint Network
- Shrinking payments
- Referral Program
- Speeds slow when cap is reached
Originally a joint venture with Nextel Communications, Boost Mobile was introduced to the United States in 2001. Currently, Boost Mobile boasts a number of prepaid cell phone options to accommodate nearly any budget.
To begin, they have three unlimited talk, text, and data plans all without a contract. The first plan is $40 per month and comes with unlimited talk, text and 500MB of high speed 3G/4G data. The other two Monthly Unlimited Select plans are $50 (2.5GB) and $60 (5GB).
The second option available to customers is a daily $2 or $3 unlimited plan. For $2 a day you get unlimited domestic talk, text, and data using a basic phone sold by Boost. The only difference between the two options is that the $3 plan is compatible with smartphones. Both plans work on the Nationwide Sprint Network and assert unlimited data but once you reach the cap your speeds will drop to 2G/3G.
Along with the monthly service you get free caller ID, call waiting, and 411 assistance. Plus a $25 account credit when you refer a friend and they activate their service.
Verdict - Superb
What's really unique about Boost Mobile is their Shrinking Payments which reduces your monthly total by $5 for every six on-time payments. Overall it's one of the best promotions for an individual looking to get a prepaid cell phone.
Virgin Mobile Phones Review
- Unlimited talk, text, and data plans
- Carries newer-model phones
- Pay-as-you-go plans available
- Affordable month-to-month rates
- Nationwide 4G LTE
- Data speeds slow after reaching 2.5GB
- Coverage limited in some areas
"Whether you're looking for unlimited 3G web and data, value-packed wireless plans, or lightning-fast mobile broadband, you can get it for less - with No Contract - from Virgin Mobile."
Hailed as a consumer champion in the wireless service industry, Virgin Mobile has expanded their offerings and slashed their prices in recent years, to compete with other big names like Boost Mobile and MetroPCS.
Virgin Mobile has two categories of plans. The Beyond Talk Unlimited plans start at just $35 a month and come with 2.5GB of data. On the lower end of the spectrum you'll get data available at 3G and 4G speeds, unlimited messaging and 300 anytime minutes. There's also a $45 a month plan with 1200 minutes and for $55 a month you have unlimited talk, text, and data.
Your other option is a payLo plan for basic phones. For individuals who don't need the sophisticated functions of smartphones, this may be the route for you. Each minute of talk is 10 cents, texts are 15 cents and multimedia messages are 25 cents. Evaluate your monthly usage in relation to these rates to determine if the conversion is cost effective for you.
The process couldn't be any easier. Browse through their selection of phones and order the one you want (newer models included), then pick your Beyond Talk Plan, activate it, and you're done!
Verdict - Great
Virgin Mobile really excels in the prepaid wireless industry. Their rates are affordable, don't charge an activation fee, and carry the newest phone models.
MetroPCS Phones Review
- Unlimited talk, text, and data options
- Nationwide T-Mobile network
- No annual contacts required
- Range of basic and smartphones
- Additional features available for purchase
- Coverage limited in some regions
- No daily plans or pay-as-you-go
You've likely heard the name MetroPCS thrown around the prepaid wireless sphere but did you know that it's owned by T-Mobile? MetroPCS has a number of prepaid cell phone plans and affordable monthly rates customers can take advantage of.
This provider has unlimited talk, text and data plans ranging from $40 a month to $60. On the lower end of the spectrum you get your first 500MB of data at 4G LTE speeds while on the higher end a truly unlimited amount of data is available at 4G LTE speeds.
In order to better gauge the data type of plan that's best for you, MetroPCS features a simple to use monthly estimation tool. Select the amount of time you spend surfing the web, the number of emails you send per day, and files you upload/download to get a rough idea of your monthly usage.
Interested in add-ons? MetroPCS has the following services available for a fee with monthly service plans:
- Call detail
- Mobile hotspot
- Mexico calling
- Ringtones & music downloads subscriptions
Verdict - Very Good
The one drawback with MetroPCS is that is has limited coverage in some areas across the west coast. All things considered, this provider still ranks high on the list for its flexible plan options, nationwide 4G LTE network and range of smartphones available. Plus, when you add two or more additional lines to an account, you'll also receive a Family Plan Discount which is applicable to monthly unlimited plans.
TracFone Wireless Phones Review
- No Pros
- No Cons
TracFone's motto sits well with prepaid customers as does their service. You can select from one of their many low priced monthly value plans or pay-as-you-go options.
The process is as follows:
- Select one of the many phones they offer. Models are available from Motorola, Samsung, LG, etc.
- Activate the phone using the instructions located inside the package.
- Select a service, either in the form of an Airtime card or No Contract Monthly Plan.
TracFone has three options within the individual value plans and one main family value plan. For an individual value plan you can choose 50, 125, or 200 minutes. Prices range from $9.99 up to $29.99 and are available for a full 30 days. Texts or SMS messages cost .3 units (minutes) each, sending an MMS costs .5 units and web browsing is .4 units per minute. Considering the conversion, this may be best suited to folks who occasionally send and receive texts or other forms of messaging.
You'll never pay a single cent for activation or cancellation fees with TracFone Wireless. Furthermore, because this provider uses the nation's leading cellular service towers it has "a national footprint covering 99% of the U.S. population".
Net10 Wireless Phones Review
- Unlimited talk, text, and data plans
- Bring your own phone
- Pay-as-you-go available
- 30-day plans with auto-refill
- Available online or in-store
- Complaints regarding coverage
- Expensive pay-as-you-go rates
Net10 Wireless secures the last spot on our top five list for its selection of unlimited monthly plans. This provider recently introduced four new unlimited plans starting at $35 all the way up to $75 a month. For $35 you get unlimited talk and text with no data. The remaining plans all come with talk and text but varying tiers of high-speed data.
- $75/month= 5.0GB
Family plans are also available on an unlimited basis ranging from $75 for 500MB to $170 for 2.5GB. If your monthly cell phone use doesn't warrant purchasing an unlimited text, text and data plan consider the pay-as-you-go option. While it is a bit pricier than some of the other provider pay-as-you-go plans, it may be a better solution for your needs.
Verdict - Good
Overall, Net10 Wireless has some decent offerings in the realm of unlimited monthly plans. You can bring your own phone (which instantly saves you money) or purchase a new one from Net10's website. If you want a pay-as-you go plan you may find more affordable rates with another provider but it's still worth checking out.
Best Prepaid Phone Plans Recap
Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile, MetroPCS, TracFone Wireless, and Net10 Wireless are all great providers in the prepaid wireless sector. Before browsing the plans and phones available, be sure the carrier services your region by conducting a 'coverage search'. They all have their pros and cons but it's ultimately up to you to decide which one suits your monthly budget.
Best Prepaid Cell Phones FAQs
What is prepaid wireless service?
As the name implies, prepaid service is a wireless choice which has you pay for monthly unlimited, per-text or per-minute usage on a cell phone. There's no long-term contract with these sorts of plans or credit checks, which is beneficial to some customers. A pay-as-you-go option permits you to only pay for the minutes you use or texts you send. Be aware however, that because you don't sign a long-term contract you do forfeit your number in some cases when you don't renew your monthly plan or make a payment. Also important to keep in mind is that you'll usually pay much more for a brand-new phone than you would with a contract.
Can I use a prepaid phone anywhere in the country?
Prepaid cell phones are available in all 50 states, however the coverage may differ in remote areas compared to more urban cities. Each provider has a different coverage map but typically shares the network lines of larger carriers. As a word of advice, it is always a good idea to check the provider's coverage before signing up with their program or purchasing a plan. In some cases, the provider may use the same cellular towers as the main wireless carriers (i.e., AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, etc.) so you're receiving the same coverage at a much lower rate.