At NerdWallet, we strive to help you make financial decisions with confidence. To do this, many or all of the products featured here are from our partners. However, this doesn’t influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.
Lower costs. More flexibility. No credit check. No contract. There are many reasons to consider a prepaid phone plan and there are many options to consider.
We evaluated the prepaid plans offered by more than a dozen wireless carriers to find the best ones, based on price and features, among other important factors.
NerdWallet makes managing your finances easy.
Keep track of your spending, credit score, and even find fresh ways to save.
Best prepaid plans: data
These plans hit the sweet spot for most smartphone owners, who use an average of 2GB to 5GB of data each month.
- Plan name: Virgin Mobile 5GB plan
- Price (monthly): $35
- Plan at a glance: 5GB of data, plus unlimited minutes and text messages
- Why we like it: A solid amount of data at a price that can’t be beat. Plus, Virgin Mobile customers can score discounts on flowers, suits, car-sharing services and more.
- Plan name: T-Mobile Simply Prepaid 10GB plan
- Price (monthly): $40
- Plan at a glance: 10GB of data, plus unlimited talk and text
- Why we like it: Mobile hot spot access and unlimited music streaming make this prepaid plan a great value, plus 10GB is more than enough data for most cell phone users.
THINGS TO KNOW
Virgin Mobile is owned by Sprint and uses Sprint’s network. The 5GB plan does not include mobile hot spot access, but you can add it for an additional fee. There is no contract or credit check required, but you will pay full retail price for a new phone.
T-Mobile Simply Prepaid includes mobile hot spot access, which draws from the 10GB of 4G LTE data included in the plan. Unlimited music streaming is available via select apps. T-Mobile is hoping to merge with Sprint, but the deal still has several hurdles to clear. Until then, it’s business as usual for T-Mobile prepaid customers.
Best prepaid plans: no data
You don’t want data, but you don’t want to be limited to a 30-minute phone call each month, either. These plans are for you.
- Plan name: Republic Wireless No Data
- Price (monthly): $15
- At a glance: Unlimited minutes and text messages; not available on iPhones
- Why we like it: Just minutes and messages for a very low cost, plus data access via Wi-Fi
- Plan name Ting: Small (no data)
- Price (monthly): $12 per month
- At a glance: 100 minutes, 100 text messages
- Why we like it: A basic plan tailored to your usage
THINGS TO KNOW:
Republic’s phones use a combination of Sprint’s and T-Mobile’s networks and Wi-Fi for calls, texts and data. Due to the technology required, Republic supports only a handful of smartphones.
Usage is billed in tiers, so you pay for only what you use in a given month. 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. You can set usage alerts and caps via your Ting dashboard. And chances are good that you can keep your old phone. Ting says that 80% of phones work on its network.
Best prepaid plans: pay as you go
These two pay-as-you-go plans are simple and have price points to match.
- Plan name: T-Mobile (via Ultra Mobile) PayGo
- Price (monthly): $3
- At a glance: Includes any combination of 30 minutes or texts; 10 cents per minute or message over the limit
- Why we like it: It’s a bare-bones plan with a price to match.
- Plan name: AT&T GoPhone Daily Plan
- Price: $2 per day of use
- At a glance: Unlimited minutes and text messages. You pay nothing if you don’t use your phone that day.
- Why we like it: You pay nothing on days you don’t use your phone
things to know:
The $3 plan is technically via Ultra Mobile now, but that is mostly in name only. It still runs on T-Mobile’s network and you can only get the plan at T-Mobile stores. The PayGo plan gives you 30 minutes and texts per month in any combination; so if you send 20 texts, you’ll have 10 minutes left in that month before you go over. Minutes and texts used beyond the 30 included in the plan cost 10 cents each.
You pay the $2 fee only if you place or receive a call or send a text message. So if you don’t use the phone for three months, you pay nothing. Keep in mind that checking your voicemail counts as using your phone for that day.
Best prepaid plans: families
Want a family plan without the taxes, fees and multiyear commitment? These prepaid plans offer just that.
- Plan name: Boost Mobile Unlimited
- Price (monthly, four lines): $120
- Plan at a glance: Unlimited talk, text and data, plus 30GB of mobile hot spot and HD video streaming
- Why we like it: An unbelievable prepaid deal that’s too good to last. This limited time offer from Boost is available for new and existing customers.
- Plan name: Cricket Core Unlimited (with Group Save discount)
- Price (monthly, four lines): $100
- At a glance: Unlimited talk, text and data
- Why we like it: An excellent deal for a family of four that includes texting from the U.S. to nearly 40 other countries.
Things to know:
Boost is owned by Sprint and uses its network. Sprint struck a deal to merge with T-Mobile that includes selling its prepaid service (including Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile) to Dish Network, but the agreement still has several hurdles to clear before it is effective. Until then, it’s business as usual for Boost Mobile customers.
Data speeds on the Core unlimited plan are capped at 3Mbps, which is slower than the 4G LTE speeds most smartphone users expect but still fast enough for most smartphone activities. Video streaming is in standard definition. Cricket is owned by AT&T and uses its network.
What to know about prepaid plans
Prepaid phone plans are starting to mimic the traditional plans offered by major carriers such as Sprint, Verizon and AT&T, minus the contract, credit check and expensive plan. Many prepaid providers are owned by those big-name carriers, which also offer their own prepaid plans.
There are some trade-offs with prepaid service, though. You pay full price for a new phone, rather than spreading the payments out over 24 months, but almost all prepaid providers have the inexpensive phones — as low as $1 in some cases. Some prepaid carriers let you bring your own phone.
Before choosing a prepaid plan — or any cell phone plan, really — take stock of how you use your phone. If you regularly check email and Instagram, a pay-as-you-go plan is not for you. If you go days or weeks without using your phone, though, pay-as-you-go is a great option.
To determine the best plans, we looked at the monthly plan price before taxes and fees; high-speed data allotment; when applicable, the price per gigabyte; and features such as unlimited music streaming. We considered only national carriers, which ruled out regional providers like U.S. Cellular.