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.
Best prepaid phone plans with data
These plans hit the sweet spot for most smartphone owners, who use an average of 2GB to 5GB of data each month.
things to know:
- Cricket: Cricket is owned by AT&T and uses AT&T’s network. New customers might pay a $25 in-store activation fee. Cricket allows customers to bring their own phone, if it’s compatible.
- MetroPCS: The carrier is owned by T-Mobile and uses T-Mobile’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.
how others compare:
|6GB for $45; $40 with autopay discount|
|3GB for $35|
|7GB for $50|
Best no-data prepaid plans
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.
THINGS TO KNOW:
- Republic: Its 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.
- Ting: 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.
HOW OTHERS COMPARE:
|Unlimited talk and text for $30|
|Unlimited talk and text for $20|
Best pay-as-you-go plans
These two pay-as-you-go plans are simple and have price points to match.
things to know:
- T-Mobile: Pay As You Go 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.
- AT&T: 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.
How others Compare:
|Talk plan: $15 per month for 250 minutes, no texts or data included|
|$15 per month for unlimited minutes and texts|
|$9.99 per month for 30 minutes/texts|
Best prepaid family plans
Want a family plan without the taxes, fees and multiyear commitment? These prepaid plans offer just that.
Things to know:
- Cricket: Cricket operates on AT&T’s network, but it caps its LTE data speed at 8Mbps. You’ll likely notice the difference only when trying to stream HD videos or do other things that need a lot of bandwidth.
- MetroPCS: Video streaming is limited to standard definition. Mobile hot spot data is not included. You’ll have to pay full retail price to buy a new phone, or you can bring your own if it’s compatible. MetroPCS is owned by T-Mobile and uses T-Mobile’s network.
How others compare:
|Unlimited for $170|
|Unlimited for $140|
|Four lines with unlimited talk and text for $65. Data is an additional $10 per GB.|
» MORE: Best family cell phone plans
Best prepaid cell phone plans: summary
|Carrier||Plan||Best For||Cost per month, unless otherwise stated||Get Started|
|Cricket Wireless Basic (5GB of data per line)||Overall||$40; $35 with autopay discount|
|Republic Wireless Unlimited Talk + Text||People who don't want data||$15|
|Ting Small||People who don't want data||$12|
|T-Mobile Prepaid Pay As You Go Plan (Includes any combination of 30 minutes or texts; 10 cents per minute or message over the limit)||People who want a pay-as-you-go option||$3|
|AT&T GoPhone Daily Plan (Unlimited minutes and text messages)||People who want a pay-as-you-go option||$2 per day of use; data costs 1 cent per 5KB|
|Cricket Wireless Basic (5GB of data per line)||Families||$110 (4 lines)|
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. And some prepaid carriers don’t carry the newest, most popular smartphones. But they almost all have the inexpensive phones — as low as $1 in some cases. Some prepaid providers will let you bring your own phone to their plans.
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.NerdWallet members save money by lowering their cell phone, cable and internet bills. See how much you could save as a NerdWallet member.
Updated November 14, 2017.
We evaluated prepaid cell phone plans offered by the following carriers: AT&T, Boost Mobile, Consumer Cellular, Cricket, Google’s Project Fi, GreatCall, 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; 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.