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 might suit your needs. They offer plans that are not only flexible but allow you to pay for the service on a month-to-month basis.
I’ve examined the top prepaid phone plans in the industry to make your search a bit easier and evaluated them on their phone selections, types of plans, and these other characteristics. But first, let’s look at the basics of cellular service.
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.
When it comes to comparing the top prepaid phones, 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. You’re not alone. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly one in five Americans see their smartphone as a financial burden. 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. You want the best prepaid cell phone coverage, and fortunately, market growth in the industry has led to extremely competitive coverage levels.
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 for 2018
Republic Wireless is unique amongst its competitors with the institution of Adaptive Coverage to reduce the monthly service cost. Adaptive Coverage represents a cell phone’s ability to switch seamlessly between Wi-Fi and a wireless network. This means that when Wi-Fi is available, the phone will use it – without you doing anything – only resorting to the network if no Wi-Fi is detected. This feature even works for calls and text messages, with no interruption to your service.
How much you’ll save depends on your needs and the plan you choose. The lowest tier costs $15 a month and gives you unlimited talk and text on the T-Mobile network, with data only when Wi-Fi is accessible. $20/month gets you 1GB of network data, and unlimited talk, text, and Wi-Fi data. The most expensive plan includes 10GB of data for $90/month.
The upsides to Republic Wireless are the simplicity and pricing options. The downside is that there are only 12 phones that work with their Adaptive Coverage. You can buy a phone outright from the website, with prices ranging from $179 to $799, or you can opt for monthly payments. You can also bring your own as long as it’s one of the models the provider carries or one of Google’s two new Pixel phones.
- $15/mo: Unlimited talk and text
- $20/mo: Unlimited talk, text and 1 GB of data
- $25/mo: Unlimited talk, text and 2 GB of data
- $30/mo: Unlimited talk, text and 3 GB of data
According to Statista, Virgin Mobile users have nearly doubled in number since 2008. This company clearly excels in the prepaid wireless industry. Their rates are affordable, they don’t charge an activation fee, and they carry the newest phone models.
Virgin Mobile offers two types of no contract cell phone plans. The first is designed for those who use a smartphone to call, text, access the web, and stream audio and video on a routine basis. The Data Love plan costs $35/month and comes with 5GB of 4G LTE data. Data Love+ is $45/month and comes with 10GB of 4G LTE data. You can add more data to either of these pay as you go plans for $5 for 1GB or $10 for 2GB.
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. Virgin Mobile offers three main plans for payLo devices. There’s Talk – $20 for 400 minutes per month, Talk and Text – $30 for 1500 minutes and 1500 text messages, and Unlimited Talk and Text – $40 for unlimited messages and minutes, plus 50MB of web access. If you find yourself needing more of any of these functions, you can buy extras. Additional talk minutes are .10 each, text messages are .15 each, and multimedia messages .25 each. Additional data costs $1.50 per MB.
- Price:$50/mo ( Limited Time Offer$1/mo for the first 6 months)
- Minutes: Unlimited
- Text: Unlimited
- Data: Unlimited
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.
Boost Mobile offers three unlimited prepaid phone plans. All of the plans come with unlimited talk and text, unlimited music streaming if you use one of their music partners, and mobile hotspot, in addition to optional add-ons like boostTV. Unlimited Starter costs $30/month for 1GB of 4G LTE data. Unlimited Family allows you to add additional lines to Starter for $30 each. Extra lines come with the same package as the original line. Unlimited Unhook’d runs $50/month and comes with unlimited everything, including 4G LTE data.
Along with the monthly service you get free caller ID, call waiting, and 411 assistance. Once you’ve reached your maximum 4G LTE data limit, speeds reduce to 2G. Boost Mobile boasts one of the best no contract cell phone plans, simply because it’s a challenge finding truly unlimited 4G data no matter which company you’re looking at. In addition, the provider claims some of the best prepaid cell phone coverage at 99%. These factors definitely put Boost in the top five in my prepaid phone plans comparison.
- $35/mo: Unlimited talk, text and 3 GB of data with mobile hotspot.
- $50/mo: Unlimited talk, text, and data with 8 Gigs Mobile Hotspot plus streaming Videos, Gaming & Music.
- $60/mo: Unlimited talk, text, and data with 20 Gigs Mobile Hotspot & HD Streaming.
MetroPCS has a number of prepaid cell phone plans and affordable monthly rates customers can take advantage of.
MetroPCS has unlimited talk, text and data plans ranging from $30 to $60 per month. The plans are pretty simple, making this one of the best prepaid cell phone carriers. $30 gets you 1GB 4G LTE data per month, $40 gets you 3GB, $50 is the 5GB level, and $60 per month is the rate for unlimited LTE data. It’s important to note that the unlimited 4G data on the highest tier plan applies only to your handset. This means that if you’re using your phone as a mobile hotspot, the other devices that are connected to it will not have 4G data.
The one drawback with MetroPCS is that has limited coverage in some areas across the west coast. I have found in my research that it’s important to keep in mind that MetroPCS tends to change their prepaid cell phone deals fairly often. This applies to both their sales on actual phones, but also the promotional rates they run. Your best bet is to check the website for current deals before going ahead with your decision.
- $30/mo: Unlimited talk; text and 2 GB of data.
- $40/mo: Unlimited talk, text and 5 GB of data
- $50/mo: Unlimited talk, text, and data
- $60/mo: Unlimited talk, text, and data plus 10 GB Hotspot
Cricket offers five rate tiers, from $30 a month for 1GB high-speed data, and unlimited talk and text within the United States, to the $70 unlimited option. The truly stand-out feature of the higher tier plans is that with these, you also get unlimited international texting in 38 countries, and data access plus unlimited talk and text in Mexico, Canada, and the United States.
All plans from the Basic upward are also eligible for the Group Save Discount. Group Save gives you a $10/month discount on your second line, a $20/month discount on the third line, and so on up to a maximum $100 discount on your monthly bill.
The one caveat my analysis revealed is that AT&T caps high-speed data for the Cricket network at 8Mbps (20Mbps is the maximum of which 4G is capable). This typically only poses an issue if you frequently stream HD content while away from your Wi-Fi network. Otherwise, it shouldn’t be a problem for normal data applications.
- $25/mo: Unlimited talk and text
- $30/mo: Unlimited talk, text and 2 GB of data
- $40/mo: Unlimited talk, text and 5 GB of data
- $55/mo: Unlimited talk, text, and data at 3 Mbps max speed
- $60/mo: Unlimited talk, text and high-speed data
How the Best Prepaid Phone Plan Keeps You on Budget
If budgeting is a constant challenge, a pay as you go cell phone may be just the solution. Because you don’t accrue charges and don’t typically have to worry about unexpected or unauthorized fees and overages, you know exactly what you’re going to pay. Find out more about how this option is great for your financial health here.
As with any cell phone provider, coverage is crucial. First and foremost, make sure the provider’s service is available in your area.
BYOD stands for Bring Your Own Device. This term means just what it sounds like – you get to bring your phone to a prepaid carrier, thus allowing you to keep your own phone number. Not all pay as you go phone plans let you BYOD, but some do. You can choose a new phone through the carrier if you prefer, though there might be limited options. If you decide on BYOD, be sure to check out our guide on how to unlock your phone for your new carrier.
No Contract vs Prepaid
Prepaid and no contract cell phone plans may sound similar, but they are not the same.
Prepaid cell service typically comes in the form of top-up cards that give you a certain number of minutes and data that can be used past one month from purchase. If you exceed your number of minutes or go over on data, it’s easy to simply purchase more. The biggest perk of prepaid service is that you won’t have a bill to pay at the end of the month (Assuming you didn’t pay the full price of the phone upfront). With a no-contract plan, however, you will have a monthly bill to pay, but these plans tend to offer more for your money with unlimited talk and text.
With a no-contract plan, however, you will have a monthly bill to pay, but these plans tend to offer more for your money with unlimited talk and text. Signing up for a no-contract plan under the top four cell phone providers provides access to their nationwide coverage as well. Many carriers will offer both prepaid options and no-contract plans.
As cell phones continue to shape the way many of us communicate, shop and access information, finding budget-friendly alternatives for these is a great way for you to save money. Prepaid cell phones are an attractive option because they can help you control costs and are a better choice than what contract phones can offer.
Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile, MetroPCS, Cricket Wireless, and Republic 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.