Best Cell Phone Plans

Cell Phones, Utilities
Best Cell Phone Plans

Finding the right cell phone plan doesn’t have to be hard. We analyzed dozens of plans to help you find the best value, whether you’re looking for a family plan, a solo plan or a plan with tons of data.

Best cell phone plan for the average user

Most smartphone owners use 2GB to 5GB per month, according to various industry reports. We scoped out plans that meet those data needs while minimizing costs.

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  • Plan name: Virgin Mobile Data Love
  • Price (monthly): $35
  • Plan at a glance: 5GB of data, plus unlimited minutes and text messages
  • Why we like it: At less than $10 per gigabyte, this is one of the best wireless deals available
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  • Plan name: Verizon 5GB plan
  • Price (monthly): $60; $55 with $5 discount for automatic payment
  • Plan at a glance: 5GB of data, plus unlimited minutes and text messages
  • Why we like it: Not ready to go prepaid? Verizon’s 5GB plan offers the lowest price per gigabyte of the traditional plans we considered.

THINGS TO KNOW

  • Virgin Mobile: The carrier is owned by Sprint and uses Sprint’s network. Its 5GB plan includes unlimited streaming from select apps, such as Pandora and iHeartRadio. You’ll pay retail price for a new phone, between $20 and $770.
  • Verizon: The 5GB plan includes carryover data, which is good for 30 days. And you can nix overage charges by turning on Safety Mode, which drops you to 2G speeds when you hit your monthly high-speed limit. You can save $5 per month if you opt for paperless billing and automatic payments, but you can only use a checking account or debit card.

HOW OTHERS COMPARE

3GB for $60
Unlimited for $65; $60 with autopay discount. Save $10 per month for the first year.
Basic: 4GB for $40; $35 with autopay discount

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Best family cell phone plan

Families can often get more for their money — on a cell phone plan, at least — if they stick together. Using a family of four as our model, we researched price per gigabyte and monthly cost per person — excluding taxes, fees, insurance and the price of phones — to find the best family plans.

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  • Plan name: Cricket Basic with Group Save
  • Price (monthly, four lines): $100
  • Plan at a glance: 4GB of data per line, plus unlimited minutes and text messages
  • Why we like it: It’s the least expensive option for a family of four. And you can add a fifth line, with another 4GB of data, for no additional cost.
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  • Plan name: AT&T Unlimited Choice
  • Price (monthly, four lines): $165; $155 with $10 autopay discount
  • Plan at a glance: Unlimited data, minutes and text messages
  • Why we like it: An affordable, entry-level unlimited plan on a top-notch network

THINGS TO KNOW

  • Cricket: This prepaid carrier is owned by AT&T and uses AT&T’s network. Customers may be able to bring their own phone, or they can buy a new one at retail price. New customers may have to pay a $25 in-store activation fee.
  • AT&T: Video streams in standard definition. You can save $10 per month if you opt for automatic payments.

HOW OTHERS COMPARE

Unlimited for $180; $160 with autopay discount
Unlimited for $190; $180 with autopay discount
Unlimited for $160

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Best unlimited data plan

Carriers are going all-in on unlimited data. We looked at the current offerings to find the best unlimited plans for single-line users.

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  • Plan name: Boost Unlimited
  • Price (monthly): $50; $45 with $5 autopay discount
  • Plan at a glance: Unlimited minutes, texts and high-speed data
  • Why we like it: It’s the cheapest unlimited plan on the market
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  • Plan name: Sprint Unlimited Freedom
  • Price (monthly): First year is $55. Price increases to $65 after that. Save $5 per month if you opt for autopay.
  • Plan at a glance: Unlimited high-speed data, minutes and text messages
  • Why we like it: Sprint has the cheapest unlimited data plan available, unless you go prepaid, and it includes 10GB of mobile hotspot access and unlimited HD video streaming

THINGS TO KNOW

  • Boost: Video streaming is limited to standard definition. The prepaid plan comes with 8GB of mobile hot spot data.
  • Sprint: Sprint may charge a $30 activation fee.

HOW OTHERS COMPARE

Unlimited for $65; $60 with autopay discount
Unlimited for $85; $80 with autopay discount
Unlimited for $75; $70 with autopay discount

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Best basic cell phone plan

Do you miss the good old days, when cell phones weren’t smart? If you want a simple phone and plan, these are the best options.

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  • Plan name: Republic Wireless No Data
  • Price (monthly): $15
  • Plan at a glance: Unlimited minutes and text messages
  • Why we like it: Just minutes and messages for a very low cost, plus data access via Wi-Fi
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  • Plan name: Cricket Talk & Text
  • Price (monthly): $25
  • Plan at a glance: Unlimited minutes and text messages
  • Why we like it: Simple, affordable service on a reliable network

THINGS TO KNOW

  • Republic Wireless: Republic uses a combo of Wi-Fi and cellular networks for calling, texting and data. This is different from most carriers, which rely primarily on cell towers. Republic’s unique approach doesn’t work with every phone, so you’re limited to the handful of devices the carrier offers.
  • Cricket: The $25 Talk & Text plan is available only on select phones. Customers can use Wi-Fi if their phone is capable.

HOW OTHERS COMPARE

Unlimited talk and text for $30
Unlimited talk and text for $25
Unlimited talk and text for $30
Unlimited talk and text for $20

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Best prepaid cell phone plan

Prepaid cell phone plans have come a long way in a short time. Gone are the days of clunky, outdated phones and 100-minute prepaid cards. Providers such as Virgin Mobile, AT&T, Cricket Wireless and T-Mobile have great prepaid options and the latest phones — think iPhone and the latest Samsung Galaxy models — to go with them.

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  • Plan name: Virgin Mobile Data Love
  • Price (monthly): $35
  • Plan at a glance: 5GB of data, plus unlimited minutes and text messages
  • Why we like it: At less than $10 per gigabyte, this is one of the best wireless deals available
cricket-wireless-logo-small-transparent
  • Plan name: Cricket Wireless Basic
  • Price (monthly): $40; $35 with autopay discount
  • Plan at a glance: 4GB, plus unlimited talk and text
  • Why we like it: A simple, straightforward, solid value plan with just enough data and rewards for automatic payments

THINGS TO KNOW

  • Virgin Mobile: The carrier is owned by Sprint and uses Sprint’s network. Its 5GB plan includes unlimited streaming from select apps, such as Pandora and iHeartRadio. You’ll pay retail price for a new phone, between $20 and $770.
  • Cricket: Cricket is owned by AT&T and uses AT&T’s network. New customers might pay a $25 in-store activation fee. Cricket does allow customers to bring their own phone, if it’s compatible.

HOW OTHERS COMPARE:

6GB for $45
3GB for $30
5GB for $50

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Best cell phone plans: Summary

CarrierPlanBest for Cost per monthGet started
Virgin Mobile Data Love - 5GBAverage users$35
Get started at Virgin Mobile's site
Verizon 5GB planAverage users$60; $55 with autopay
Get started at Verizon's site
Boost UnlimitedUnlimited data$50; $45 with autopay
Get started at Boost's site
Sprint Unlimited FreedomUnlimited data$65; $60 with autopay
Get started at Sprint's site
Cricket Basic with Group Save – 4GB per lineFamilies$100 (4 lines)
Get started at Cricket Wireless' site
AT&T Unlimited ChoiceFamilies$165 (4 lines); $155 with autopay discount
Get started at AT&T's site
Republic Wireless No DataPeople who want a basic plan$15
Get started at Republic Wireless' site
Cricket Talk & TextPeople who want a basic plan$25
Get started at Cricket Wireless' site
Virgin Mobile Data Love - 5GBPeople who want a prepaid plan$35
Get started at Virgin Mobile's site
Cricket Wireless Basic - 4GBPeople who want a prepaid plan$40; $35 with autopay
Get started at Cricket Wireless' site

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

Updated May 26, 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, Tracfone, Verizon Wireless and Virgin Mobile.

To determine the best plans, we looked at the monthly plan price before taxes and fees, the price per gigabyte, and features such as unlimited video streaming or rollover data. We only considered national carriers, which ruled out regional providers like U.S. Cellular. For average users and prepaid users, we looked at plans with 2GB to 5GB. For families, we looked at plans with at least 6GB and calculated pricing for a family of four. Recommendations for heavy data users only factored in plans with at least 10GB of data.