With the best prepaid phone plans, you don't need to worry about the costs of your wireless service skyrocketing from one month to the next. By paying in advance, you know exactly what you're going to spend for phone coverage. And should a better deal turn up at another carrier, it's easy enough to switch your service.
And if there's a better deal out there, we can help you find it. We keep tabs on the best cell phone plans overall, including prepaid options. And among those offerings, the very best prepaid plans can help you spend less on wireless service without sacrificing much in the way of data.
Mind you, there will be some trade-offs. You won't get the perks you might expect from more expensive plans. We're talking complementary subscriptions to streaming services or the ability to use your monthly data allotment when you travel overseas. At most, you’re likely to get some hotspot data. iI you've need multiple lines, you may want to look elsewhere for the best family cell phone plan — only a few of the options below offer discounts on extra lines.
But you won't have to worry about sacrificing on network coverage if you're looking for ways to save money on your cell phone bill. Even if you use a smaller carrier, they get their service from the major wireless providers. So you'll still be using the same network as people with more expensive cell phone plans. (Your speeds may be slowed down if there's too much traffic on a network.) And that service includes 5G coverage, too.
Another thing you won't have to sacrifice is data. While there are cheap prepaid plans with small data allotments, if you need a big pile of data each month, you'll find some of the best unlimited data plans can be surprisingly affordable when they come from prepaid services.
Here's our picks for the best prepaid phone plans, including an explanation of what we look for when choosing the best prepaid phone plans.
The best prepaid phone plans for your smartphone
The best value prepaid cell phone plan:
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Mint Mobile | 10GB | $20/month - Best value prepaid plan (opens in new tab)
T-Mobile may be buying up Mint Mobile, but this upstart carrier says it's going to be business as usual. And that's good because Mint Mobile delivers the best overall value among prepaid plans. The trick is buying in bulk — you get a low rate for your first three months, and that low rate stays when you commit to another year of service by paying in advance. At $20 a month, the 10GB plan offers the best balance of data and price, and if you're looking to add multiple lines for a family plan, every line on your Mint plan receives the same discounted price.
Pros: Very affordable price, free hot spot
Cons: Best prices require longer commitment
Best prepaid plan for coverage:
Verizon | 15GB prepaid | $35/month - Best prepaid for coverage (opens in new tab)
Verizon has shuffled up pricing on its prepaid plans, lowering the starting price of its 15GB offering to $45/month. But that's just the starting price — enroll in autopay, and Version takes $10 off your monthly bill. Unfortunately, the loyalty discounts Verizon applies when you keep your prepaid account can no longer be combined with the autopay discount — it's either one or the other. But $35 is still a low rate, and it includes nationwide 5G coverage.
Pros: Lots of data, great coverage and speeds, 5G coverage included
Cons: Not the cheapest prepaid around; Ultra Wideband 5G requires a more expensive plan
Best unlimited data prepaid cell phone plan:
Visible | Visible Plus| $45/month - The best unlimited data prepaid on a budget (opens in new tab)
Verizon-owned Visible offers a cheaper unlimited data plan that now costs $30. (That's the same as Mint Mobile's unlimited plan, only without the year-long commitment.) But we like the $45 Visible Plus plan for all the perks it includes. Visible Plus subscribers can access Verizon's faster Ultra Wideband network for 5G coverage, and they can make calls to more than 30 countries from the U.S. at no extra cost. Under a promotion, Visible's cut the price on this plan by $10 to $35, but we're told that offer expires March 31 so act quickly.
Pros: Very affordable, 5G unlimited data
Cons: There are cheaper prepaid plans, no more discounts for multiple lines
An assortment of cheap prepaid options:
Tello Economy | 5GB | $19/month - Low-priced cell phone plans (opens in new tab)
Like Mint, Tello offers a range of plans at different prices and data allotments, especially now that Tello has expanded the number of plans available. While bargain hunters who don't need much data will jump at Tello's 1GB plan — it's just $10 a month — most of us will find the 5GB plan to be enough data for our needs, at only $19 a month. An extra $5 each month doubles your data to 10GB, while Tello's unlimited plan costs just $29. Tello occasionally runs promotions where you get half off the first month of service so check to see if that option is available when you're looking to change carriers.
Pros: Wide range of plans including the cheapest option, unlimited calls and texts
Cons: Limited phone selection
Great value from a major carrier:
AT&T | 16GB 12-month prepaid | $25/month - Great value prepaid on AT&T (opens in new tab)
Usually, the big carriers don't offer much in the way of prepaid plans, leaving that to the MVNOs instead. However, AT&T has stepped up with this 61GB plan, which costs just $25 a month when you prepay for a full year. (It's also double the amount of data that AT&T used to offer at this amount.) That adds up to $300 in up front costs. AT&T's plan offers some perks — hotspot data, HD video streaming and the ability to roll over unused data for a month. 5G service isn't among them, though, as that only comes with the carrier's unlimited prepaid plan.
Pros: Outstanding amount of data for price
Cons: Requires you to prepay for a full year, no 5G coverage
Low cost-plan from T-Mobile:
T-Mobile Connect | 3.5GB data | $15/month - Low cost cell phone plan from a big name carrier (opens in new tab)
The amount of data in the T-Mobile Connect plan has gotten its annual 500MB bump, so you're now getting 3.5GB in this $15 monthly plan. If you can get by with less data, you can drop your bill to $10/month with the 1GB plan, while the $25 monthly plan now features a generous 6.5GB. Just be aware that once you use your data for the month, you have to wait until the next billing cycle for more data; other prepaid plans usually just slow down your speeds when you hit your cap.
Pro: Low costs, 500MB data boosts annually, includes 5G service
Con: Out of data once you hit your cap
A plan worth a second look:
Cricket | 10GB | $40/month - No more speed caps on data (opens in new tab)
It was hard to recommend Cricket Wireless in the past, even though the carrier benefits from using the network of parent company AT&T. But Cricket slapped speed caps on every plan but its most expensive unlimited data plan. Those caps are gone now, making the 10GB plan for $40/month much more attractive than before. Even better, 5G coverage comes with the plan and you can knock $5 off this plan by enrolling in autopay.
Pros: No more speed caps, save additional money with autopay
Cons: Few perks
Most flexible prepaid for families:
Metro by T-Mobile | Unlimited data plan | 4 lines | $100/month - A good option for families (opens in new tab)
Families looking for unlimited data should turn to Metro by T-Mobile, now that the T-Mobile-owned carrier is running a promotion that gives you a discount on a four-line unlimited data plan. Normally $160/month for four lines of data, T-Mobile's entry level unlimited plan has been discounted to $25 a line. With this plan, you not only get unlimited data but 5G coverage from T-Mobile's nationwide network and access to T-Mobile Tuesday giveaways for customers.
Pros: Uses T-Mobile's network, includes 5G, big discount right now on multiple lines
Cons: Fewest perks of any Metro plan
Best prepaid plan for students:
AT&T | Unlimited data plan | $40/month - Best prepaid phone plan for students (opens in new tab)
Normally, AT&T's prepaid unlimited data plan costs $50/month after a $10 autopay discount. But can save another $10/month for 12 months when they sign up with AT&T. In addition to unlimited data, you'll also get 5GB of hotspot data in this online-only deal which is a limited-time offer.
Pros: Unlimited data at a discounted rate
Cons: Only available to students
Best free prepaid plan:
TextNow | 0GB | Free - Free calling and texting (opens in new tab)
It's hard to beat a monthly fee of zero dollars, but that's what you'll pay for unlimited calling and texting with TextNow. You will need to pay 99 cents for a SIM card, and download an app for your iPhone or Android device, but once you do, you'll be able to call or text using T-Mobile's network. There are some additional caveats — the app features ads, and if you want data, that costs extra. But data costs are fairly reasonable with 1GB of data costing $8.99 a month. You'll pay $15.99 for 2GB, but at that tier, TextNow gets rid of the ads in its app. The service won't be for everyone, but bargain hunters can use it to stay connected for cheap.
Pros: No charge for unlimited talk and text
Cons: App features ads, data costs extra
How to pick the best prepaid phone plans
When shopping for a prepaid phone plan, price is paramount. That’s because prepaid plans don’t often come with the kind of benefits postpaid cell phone plans offer. That said, some carriers — such as Metro By T-Mobile and Boost — do work in a few perks, so be aware of those when picking your plans.
You'll also want to pay attention to discounts and special offers. Often, larger carriers like AT&T and Verizon will adjust the size of their autopay discount, which can make a pricier plan more attractive. Metro by T-Mobile has been known to increase discounts for each line of data you add, too.
Besides price, one of the most important things to consider is what carrier offers the best coverage around your home and workplace. That’s true even if you look beyond the Big Three carriers for service. Other wireless services — known as mobile virtual network operators, or MVNOs — use the cellular networks of AT&T, T-Mobile or Verizon for their coverage. (Some MVNOs turn to multiple carriers.) So if Verizon’s network is particularly strong where you are, for example, MVNOs that use Verizon’s network for coverage will perform well, too. Just be aware that MVNOs can see their traffic slowed if a carrier’s network gets too crowded.
5G coverage is now a part of what many MVNOs offer. Metro subscribers can access T-Mobile's 5G with an eligible phone, as can Mint Mobile customers. Visible has added 5G access on Verizon's network to select phones, and Cricket customers can now use AT&T's 5G connectivity with any of that MVNO's plans.
How we pick the best prepaid phone plans
Finding the best prepaid phone plans means widening our search beyond the major carriers, though AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon all have prepaid offerings. We're also researching plans from smaller carriers who use the Big Three's cellular towers to provide their coverage. As smaller carriers usually offer their service at a discount, they make up a majority of the candidates that we consider for best prepaid phone plans.
When we pick the best plans, we put a premium on the monthly price, though we also pay attention to how much data comes with that plan. After all, a carrier may not charge you a lot for data, but it also may not provide enough data for your needs. We're picking plans that offer the best mix of cost and data. We also consider a wide variety of data allotments, since some people can get by very happily using just a couple gigabytes of data each month, while others need an unlimited plan.
As noted previously, prepaid plans don't offer much in the way of perks. That said, we do take note of any special add-ons included with the best prepaid plans, as those can add value to a plan above and beyond its monthly cost.