Best Basic Cell Phone Plans

Cell Phones, Utilities

Sometimes you just want to go back to basics, even with your cell phone. That’s where the basic cell phone plan comes in.

These plans come with minutes and texts but no data, so they’re not for smartphones. And they’re almost always prepaid, since none of the major cell phone carriers offers traditional basic plans.

If you’re nostalgic for simpler times and simpler cell phones, we’ve got the best basic plans for you.

Best basic cell phone plans: Unlimited minutes

Republic Wireless and Google’s Project Fi give you unlimited minutes and messages for rock-bottom prices. Both carriers employ a Wi-Fi-first approach, so calls and texts route through Wi-Fi networks whenever possible, using cellular service only as a backup.

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  • Republic Wireless (No data)
  • Price: $15 per month
  • At a glance: Unlimited minutes and texts

ProjectFi-small

  • Project Fi, Fi Basics
  • Price: $20 per month
  • At a glance: Unlimited minutes and texts

THINGS TO KNOW

  • Republic Wireless: Republic customers fall back on Sprint’s or T-Mobile’s network, depending on their phone. You can buy phones and plans via Republic’s website. Former T-Mobile and AT&T customers may be able to use their own phone if the device is unlocked.
  • Project Fi: Project Fi partners with Sprint, T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular, so customers use those networks when Wi-Fi isn’t available. Unlimited international texting is included with all plans. Project Fi doesn’t have a bring-your-own-device option; you must buy a new phone through the carrier.

OTHER Basic Plans with Unlimited minutes

$25 for unlimited talk and text
$30 for unlimited talk and text
$30 for unlimited talk and text

Best basic cell phone plans: Limited minutes

No sense paying for unlimited minutes when you really just need a few. FreedomPop offers its Basic 200 plan for free — yup, you read that right — but it charges for things like voicemail and “premium” voice services, such as access to partner networks. Tracfone’s Value Plan 50 isn’t free, but the prepaid carrier contracts with the four major carriers, AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile, so you can get a basic plan on a top-rated network.

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  • FreedomPop Basic 200 plan
  • Price: $0 per month
  • At a glance: 200 minutes, 500 texts and 500 megabytes of data

TracFone_Logo_ProductDetail2Up
  • Tracfone 30 minute airtime card
  • Price: $9.99 per month
  • At a glance: Any combination of 30 minutes or texts (sent or received) or megabytes of data

THINGS TO KNOW

  • FreedomPop: FreedomPop is a relatively new carrier, so service isn’t available everywhere. Check your address on its website to see if it offers service in your area. The carrier routes calls and texts via a data connection, rather than a cellular one, so service may be spotty. “Premium” voice service, which lets you use traditional cellular networks, is $3.99 per month.
  • Tracfone: Incoming calls and texts count toward your 30 total, as do calls to access your voicemail.

OTHER BASIC PLANS With Limited Minutes

$14.99 for 200 minutes, no texts
Talk Plan: $15 per month for 250 minutes, no texts
$20 for 200 minutes/texts

Best build-your-own basic cell phone plan

Ting’s pricing automatically adjusts to your usage, billing you just the base price if you don’t use your phone, or counting minutes, texts and data usage separately. You pay for the level you reach, and each month can be different.

Consumer Cellular operates a bit differently. Minutes, texts and data are charged separately, but your plan doesn’t adjust automatically. Instead, you need to add text messages or minutes if necessary.

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  • Price: Base price is $6 per month, with minutes, data and texts billed separately
  • At a glance: Usage is divided into levels, and you pay only for the level you reach

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  • Consumer Cellular Talk Plan
  • Price: $15 per month
  • At a glance: 250 minutes; text messaging packages available

THINGS TO KNOW

  • Ting: The $6 per month assumes you don’t use your phone at all. Any usage is billed in addition to that, and minutes, texts and data levels are assessed separately. You can look at rates here. Ting contracts with Sprint and T-Mobile, so you’d use one of those networks.
  • Consumer Cellular: Consumer Cellular doesn’t own its own network, instead contracting with AT&T and T-Mobile; most customers will be on AT&T’s network. You can buy phones and service via Consumer Cellular’s website or at Target and Sears stores.

OTHER BuilD-Your-Own Basic PLANS

$7 per month for 100 minutes, $2 for 100 texts
$14.99 per month for 200 minutes, $3 for 300 texts

Basic cell phone plans: summary

CarrierPlanBest for Cost per monthGet started
Republic Wireless No Data plan
People who want a basic plan with unlimited minutes$15
Get started at Republic Wireless' site
Project Fi, Fi Basics
People who want a basic plan with unlimited minutes$20
Get started at Project Fi's site

FreedomPop Basic 200 plan (200 minutes, 500 texts and 500MB of data)People who want a basic plan with limited minutes$0
Get started at FreedomPop's site
Tracfone 30 minute airtime card (30 minutes or texts)People who want a basic plan with minimal minutes$9.99
Get started at Tracfone's site
Ting (price varies depending on usage)
People who want a build-your-own basic plan$6 base price
Get started at Ting's site
Consumer Cellular Talk Plan (250 minutes, text messaging additional)People who want a build-your-own basic plan$3 per month, plus 10 cents per minute or message over the included 30
Get started at Consumer Cellular's site

NerdWallet has partnered with BillShark, a company that can help save you money by negotiating your bills for you. If BillShark determines that you’re already getting the best rates, there’s no cost to you.

 

Kelsey Sheehy is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: ksheehy@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @KelseyLSheehy.

Updated November 14, 2017.


METHODOLOGY

We evaluated more than 200 cell phone plans offered by the following carriers: AT&T, Boost Mobile, Consumer Cellular, Cricket, GreatCall, Google’s Project Fi, MetroPCS, Net10, Republic Wireless, Sprint, Straight Talk, T-Mobile, Ting, Tracfone, Verizon Wireless and Virgin Mobile.