You want a cheap cell phone plan. The problem is, you don’t know where to start.
We also have a few tips to help you pick the right plan.
Cheapest prepaid plans with data
Ting’s model is unique: You pay for the minutes, text messages and data you use. Republic Wireless offers more traditional plans but without contracts or bloated monthly fees. Both carriers partner with a traditional network — Sprint and T-Mobile — so you don’t have to sacrifice service. But you might need to pay full price for your phone.
Ting and Republic are cheapest if you want just a little data, but you might find a better value elsewhere if you need a few gigabytes.
THINGS TO KNOW
- Ting: Minutes, data and texts are billed separately. The $15-per-month charge assumes you use some of each but not more than 100 minutes, 100 text messages and 100MB of data. You can check out its rates here.
- Republic: All calls, texts and data usage occur over available Wi-Fi networks. If there aren’t any, the carrier defaults to Sprint’s or T-Mobile’s cellular network. The network you’ll use depends on your phone. Since Republic is a Wi-Fi first carrier, your phone options are limited.
Other cheap Prepaid plans
|$30 for 2GB, plus unlimited talk and texts|
|$30 for 1GB, plus unlimited talk and texts|
Cheapest non-prepaid plans with data
Traditional plans are pricier than prepaid ones, but they do come with some advantages.
You can get the latest phones and pay for them in installments. You also get priority access to a carrier’s network — a difference from prepaid plans, even with the four largest carriers.
THINGS TO KNOW
- Sprint: Plans come with unlimited 2G data, so you won’t be charged an overage if you use more than what’s included in your plan. You will, however, experience much slower speeds for the remainder of your billing cycle.
- U.S. Cellular: U.S. Cellular operates in 23 states, and in some of those states, service is available in only a few counties. If you do live in an area where U.S. Cellular is available, you’ll enjoy nationwide coverage thanks to the carrier’s roaming agreements. Data usage outside of your home area is capped at 400MB; after that, your speeds slow significantly.
OTHER CHEAP Non-prepaid PLANS
|$50 for 1GB|
|$55 for 2GB|
Cheapest plans without data
TracFone’s cheapest plan is the least expensive offered by any provider. It costs $9.99 for 50 minutes or text messages. The next least expensive: Ting. You can use 100 minutes and 100 texts with Ting and pay only $12 per month before taxes and fees. Don’t want that many minutes? Consider a pay-as-you-go plan. Want more minutes? See the other cheap plans listed below.
THINGS TO KNOW
- TracFone: One of the largest prepaid cell phone companies, TracFone contracts with all four major carriers, so you can access a top-rate network without the top-tier price tag. The network you’ll use depends on where you live and the phone you buy. The 30 minute airtime card expires after 30 days if your don’t add more airtime.
- Ting: With Ting, you pay for what you use, and minutes and texts are billed separately. The $12 monthly fee assumes that you place or receive at least one call and send or receive at least one text during the billing cycle. Use more than 100 minutes or 100 texts and you’ll pay more than $12. Use nothing and you’ll pay just the $6 monthly base charge, plus taxes and fees.
OTHER CHEAP PLANS
|$14.99 for 200 minutes, no texts|
|$15 for 250 minutes, no texts|
|$15 for unlimited minutes and texts|
Cheapest pay-as-you-go plans
True pay-as-you-go plans are hard to find these days, but they’re an excellent option if you go weeks or even months without using your cell phone. In that case, you won’t find anything cheaper than these plans from T-Mobile and AT&T.
THINGS TO KNOW
- T-Mobile: Incoming calls and texts count toward your 30-minute maximum, and any usage beyond that is billed at 10 cents per minute or text.
- AT&T: You pay the $2 charge only if you use your phone that day. Checking your voicemail from your cell phone counts as usage.
OTHER CHEAP PLANS
|$6 per month, plus $3 for up to 100 minutes and another $3 for up to 100 texts|
|$15 per month for 250 minutes, no texts|
Tips for choosing a cell phone plan
A cheap plan isn’t a good deal if you’re constantly using too many minutes or exceeding your data allotment, so it’s important to know how you use your phone.
Look at your last three bills. On average, how many minutes did you use? How many texts did you send? And how much data did you burn through? Once you know the answer, shop around.
The plans we recommend here are the cheapest, but they might not be the best value for you if you need more than 1GB of data per month. If that’s the case, check out our picks for best cell phone plans and best prepaid cell phone plans, which emphasize value over having the absolute lowest price.
If you’re on a government program such as Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income or food stamps/SNAP, you might qualify for free or subsidized plans from various carriers via the federal Lifeline Program.
Cheap cell phone plans: summary
|Carrier||Plan||Best for||Cost per month||Get started|
|Ting — Individual line, level Small||People who want a prepaid plan with data||$15|
|Republic Wireless 1GB plan||People who want a prepaid plan with data||$20|
|Sprint 2GB||People who want a non-prepaid plan with data||$45|
|U.S. Cellular Shared Connect (2GB)||People who want a non-prepaid plan with data||$55|
|TracFone 30 minute airtime card||People who want minutes and texts only||$9.99|
|Ting — Individual line, level Small, no data||People who want minutes and texts only||$12|
|T-Mobile Prepaid Pay As You Go||People who want a pay-as-you-go plan||$3 per month, plus 10 cents per minute or message over the included 30|
|AT&T GoPhone Pay as You Go||People who want a pay-as-you-go plan||$2 per day of use, data is 1 cent per 5KB or $1 for 100MB|
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Updated November 14, 2017.