Product Use case Rating
MetroPCS Best Individual Prepaid Plan N/A
Virgin Most Data for the Money N/A
Republic Wireless Best Plan Under $30 N/A
Cricket N/A
Boost N/A
Straight Talk N/A

What Are the Best Prepaid/Value Plans?

If you’re looking to save money on your monthly cellphone bill, opting for prepaid wireless service may be the way to go, especially as carriers offer a wider selection of phones to their prepaid customers. And you've got a lot of top plans to choose from, depending on your specific needs.

Based on our testing and analysis, MetroPCS is the best overall prepaid choice with its $40-a-month 3GB plan, thanks to its superior network performance. MetroPCS also has the best unlimited plan, especially if you don't mind streaming video at lower-resolution. Cricket is the best choice for families, thanks to escalating discounts as you add more lines to your plan.

If data is your primary concern, consider Virgin's 5GB plan — the most gigabytes you can get for less than $40 a month. Or you could turn to a host of discount carriers for an even lower monthly bill. Republic Wireless offers the best balance of cost and data, with a $20-a-month 1GB plan.



How We Picked the Best Prepaid Plans: You've got a vast number of choices when it comes to prepaid and discount carriers. To help simplify things, we divided plans into different categories. First, we looked at the best overall plans, using 3GB as the ideal amount of data an average user would need each month. Because a growing number of discount carriers now offer unlimited data, we also picked the best plan for people who want the fewest limitations on their monthly cellphone plan.

In addition, we determined which carrier offers the most attractive pricing for families who need multiple lines of data. In all of these categories, we took network performance, including our own 4G testing, into account.

Because some wireless customers want an even lower monthly bill, we broadened our search to include additional discount carriers, which allow you to mix and match the amount of talk minutes, text and data you have in your monthly bill. We picked the best plan for less than $30 that had the most attractive combination of service and price.

Best Prepaid Plans for Individuals

Best Overall Prepaid Plan: MetroPCS, 3GB for $40 a month

Who Should Get It: Prepaid customers who want the best network performance

MetroPCS stands out because of the superior network of parent company T-Mobile. MetroPCS's 3GB plan doesn't put any limits on download speeds, as Cricket and AT&T do for their prepaid offerings. MetroPCS also includes nice bonuses like the ability to stream music from more than 40 services without it counting against your monthly data allotment.

Most Data for the Money: Virgin, 5GB for $35 a month

Who Should Get It: Data-hungry users who don’t mind relying on Sprint’s network

If you've got an eye on your monthly expenses, Virgin's basic plan is a compelling option, thanks to a sub-$40 price tag and the high amount of LTE data you can get — 5GB. Virgin also lets you stream music from five services without it counting against your data cap. Virgin uses Sprint's network, which didn't perform as well as MetroPCS did in our testing, but overall this is a good deal.

Other prepaid options include:

Cricket, 4GB for $40 a month: Cricket has upped the amount of data you get, and you can lower your bill to $35 a month by using autopay. Cricket caps your download speed to 8 Mbps.

Boost, 3GB for $35 a month: Boost's tiered data plan isn't a bad choice so long as you enroll in autopay to bring the cost down to $30 a month. Like Virgin, Boost uses Sprint's slower network.

Straight Talk, 5GB for $60 a month: You can get the 5GB plan for $45 from Straight Talk, but this more expensive option adds unlimited mobile-to-mobile calling to Mexico, Canada, China and India. Be aware that Straight Talk finished at the bottom of our annual carrier rankings.

Low-Cost Plans

If you want to save even more money on your monthly bill, other discount carriers let you mix and match talk, text and data allotments. If you don't plan on using a lot of data each month or you prefer texting to talking, you can cut your bill down to size.

The perfect low-cost plan depends upon your needs, but to find the carrier that offers the best mix of options, we set a budget of $30. Then we tried to build a plan that offered the best mix of talk, text and data without exceeding our monthly limit. We gave extra marks to plans that came in well under budget while still giving us a good allotment.

Carrier
Talk Time
Texts
LTE Data
Monthly Cost
Network
Notes
Consumer Cellular
250 minutes
Unlimited
500MB
$25
AT&T, T-Mobile
5 percent discount for AARP members
FreedomPop
Unlimited
Unlimited
2GB
$25
AT&T, Sprint
Also offers family plans
PagePlus
1,500 minutes
Unlimited
1GB
$30
Verizon
Includes unlimited international texts
ProjectFi
Unlimited
Unlimited
1GB
$30
Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular
Get refunds for unused data; Only works with Google devices
Republic Wireless
Unlimited
Unlimited
1GB
$20
Sprint, T-Mobile
Uses Wi-Fi for calls and text when possible
Tello
Unlimited
Unlimited
1GB
$29
Sprint
Plans cover calls to Canada and Mexico
TextNow
Unlimited
Unlimited
1.5GB
$27
Sprint
Plan is discounted to $13.50 for the first month
The People's Operator
Unlimited
Unlimited
2GB
$25
Sprint, T-Mobile
Includes $5 discount for autopay enrollment
Ting
500 minutes
100 texts
500MB
$28
Sprint, T-Mobile
Plan reflects "pay what you use" pricing
US Mobile
500 minutes
1,000 texts
1GB
$27
T-Mobile
Plan reflects "pay what you use" pricing

Our favorite plan comes from Republic Wireless, which offers 1GB of data along with unlimited talk and text for $20 a month. Republic keeps monthly prices low by using Wi-Fi networks to handle much of your calling, texting and data needs; when Wi-Fi's not available, it turns to the mobile networks of Sprint and T-Mobile.

If you need more data and don't mind paying a little bit more each month, The People's Operator and FreedomPop both offer 2GB plans with unlimited talk and text for $25 a month. The People's Operator uses the networks of Sprint and T-Mobile, while FreedomPop operates on AT&T and Sprint. FreedomPop is particularly appealing if you want to add multiple lines, as a family of four can share 1GB of data for $20 a month.



You can also lower your bill by turning to carriers like US Mobile and Ting, which offer pay as you go plans. It's difficult to say exactly how much your monthly bill will be with these services — again, it depends on exactly how much you use each month. But a Ting plan where you have 500 minutes of talk time, 100 texts and 500MB of data should run you about $28 each month. You'd pay $27 at US Mobile by limiting yourself to 500 minutes of talk time, 1,000 texts and 1GB of data.

Unlimited Prepaid Plans

Best Unlimited Prepaid Plan: MetroPCS, $50 a month

Who Should Get It: Data-hungry cell phone users who want the fastest network

MetroPCS and Boost have the best price on unlimited data at $50 a month, though both carriers restrict video streaming to 480p. Boost goes a step further by also imposing speed limits on game and music streaming for unlimited customers. That, plus MetroPCS's better performing network, make the choice easier. And if you want to get rid of the video streaming limitation, you can opt for MetroPCS's $60-a-month plan. (You can get those restrictions removed at Boost, too, but it costs $20 extra a month, pushing your bill to $70.)

Other unlimited plans include:

• Boost, $50 a month: As noted above, under Boost's unlimited plan, music will stream at 500 Kbps, and streaming games will be limited to 2 Mbps on top of the 480p streaming video restriction.

• Cricket, $55 a month: That pricing includes a $5 discount for enrolling in autopay.

• Virgin, $60 a month: Virgin's plan costs $10 more than Boost, but has the same limits on video, game and music streaming.

Family Plans

If you're shopping for multiple prepaid lines, only four carriers are worth considering — AT&T, Boost, Cricket and MetroPCS. They offer discounts when you add multiple lines. In the case of AT&T and Cricket, those discounts escalate the more lines you add.

Best Plan: Cricket's 3GB plan for four lines of data, $100

Who Should Get It: Families with more than three lines who want to save money

Cricket doesn't have the best performing network, thanks to an 8 Mbps ceiling on download speeds. But it does offer big discounts as you add additional lines — $10 off the second line, $20 off the third, $30 off the fourth and $40 if you have a fifth line. Opt for the carrier's $40-a-month, 3GB plan, and a family of four pays $100 a month, with 3GB of data for every line. (A family of five also pays $100 since that fifth line is essentially free.)



Other options for families include:

• AT&T: AT&T's discount are a little bit more modest than what you get with Cricket — $5 off the second line, $10 off the third, and $15 off the fourth. But you can mix and match between the 6GB and unlimited plans for different lines. Your speeds are still capped at 3 Mbps, though.

• Boost: You only get a discount when adding lines to Boost's unlimited plan. The first line will cost you $50 per month, but each subsequent line of unlimited data costs $30.

• MetroPCS: On tiered data plans — either 2GB or 3GB — MetroPCS offers a $5 per line discount, so that a family of four would pay $140 a month for 3GB of data on each line. Opt for one of MetroPCS's unlimited plans, and you can take off $10 per line, so that same family of four would pay $160 for MetroPCS's basic unlimited plan.

Big Four Prepaid Plans

Carrier
Prepaid Data Plans
Monthly Cost
Notes
AT&T
6GB/Unlimited
$40/$60
Includes $5 autopay discount; download speeds capped at 2Mbps; Unlimited plan caps video streaming at 480p
Sprint
3GB/5GB/Unlimited
$40/$50/$60
Includes $5 autopay discount; Unlimited plan has caps on video, game and music streaming
T-Mobile
4GB/6GB
$45/$55
Only tiered data plans available at T-Mobile
Verizon
2GB/5GB/10GB/Unlimited
$40/$50/$70/$80
Tiered plans offer rollover data; Unlimited plan caps video streaming at 480p

The four major U.S. carriers all offer prepaid plans, though none really compete with dedicated prepaid carriers in terms of price. The closest is AT&T, which offers an impressive amount of data in its prepaid plan — 6GB for $40 (if you enroll in autopay to knock $5 off the price). But AT&T also slows download speeds for its prepaid customers to 3 Mbps. Verizon charges $40 a month for 2GB, which doesn't compare favorably to other prepaid plans, but you can rollover unused data to the next month. T-Mobile's $45, 4GB prepaid option is compelling only if you still want to subscribe to that carrier's wireless service but don't want a pricier unlimited data plan.

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32 comments
    Your comment
  • Rocketwoman
    Verizon's XL plan is a scam...a true bait and switch. Just switched to their XL plan in mid-November 2015. Promised 12GB data for $80 per month with a $20 per line access fee for a total of $160 per month for 4 phones. Just called them as the bill has been incorrect since signing up showing a $40 per line access fee per month not the $20 fee per line. After 85 minutes on the phone with Verizon customer service with much of the time on hold, was told by the supervisor that the $20 line access fee was a mistake on their part and we should look at page 17 of our bill that explains they are correcting their error and charging $40 instead. Looking to file an FCC complaint on this. If there's another route we should take we would love advice. This is just so infuriating to have such a large company advertise their new and improved plans since August 2015 to have this rip-off happen.
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  • gllecarp
    MetroPCS now includes the mobile hotspot with the rest of the service at no additional charge.
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  • Julie_20
    I had the WORST experience with Cricket. Placed my order online, they billed me, and the phone never came. They debited my account, credited it, then debited it again. When I called, because I hadn't written down the order number(because on the order confirmation page it says "don't have a pen, don't worry, we'll send you an email with your order number....which never came) they couldn't look up anything. I got bumped from department to department and person to person, all the while they talked to me off those scripts they use. They literally made it my, the customer, responsibility to supply a way for them to look up my order that was based on their system. Not something I could tell them about myself.They said without the order number, their was absolutely nothing they could do, though they could charge me $160. Finally they told me to dispute it with my bank. It was the most frustrating customer service experience I've ever had and I will never subject myself to risking that kind of absurdity again.
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  • John Marcotte
    I think best cell phone that is popularly known to a smartphone these days plan should consider the budget of your phone first. If you are not getting back your product after placing it online then you have right to lodge a complaint against it.
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  • Andy_51
    The info on Straight talks network in this article is inaccurate. Straight Talk works on Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and TMobile towers depending on which sim you use from the activation kit. With that added info it makes it a no contest and over all best value in wireless 10 GB of high speed data on nations best network unlimited national calling and texts for $55 per month is the best over all value / deal in wireless right now.
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  • tsteele93
    Andy_51, what are you talking about. I see nothing about anything called straight talk in the article. Are you spamming or has something been redacted from the article?
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  • Jim_50
    This is NONSENSE! T-Mobile & Sprint have HORRIBLE coverage...totally horrible, especially in the rural south!

    Cricket has nationwide coverage and for $65 a month, including all fees and taxes, you can get truly unlimited with NO CAP and no throttling no matter how much you use.

    How much are these other companies paying "Tom's Guide" for his twisted and untrue ratings?
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  • khtechster
    To be fair to Tom's Guide, they probably test the networks in highly populated areas with good coverage. Assuming all of them have great coverage while testing, they will most likely perform better than Cricket because Cricket throttles download and upload speeds to 8mbps and 4mbps respectively. So, all they have to do to "perform better" is beat those speeds.
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  • mjvidify
    How low can you go? First rule: Get a land line. Use it 90% when your at home. Second Rule: T-Mobile prepaid with the cheapest phone you can find. Put $100 (1,000 min) on it and be frugal how you use the minutes. When you roll over towards the end of your year they will give you an additional 18 % in time. You are now a Gold Standing Customer. Go figure! T-Mobile now has a $30 a month plan: Unlimited text and data and 100 minutes of talk. Now use all your extra savings and time and go live life. Or give all your money to your service provider for which they in return will give you cancer, you die, they get rich. Your choice.

    Seems like common sense to me but then common sense isn't common.
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  • Dee_4_
    I visited my local Cricket Wireless store on May 12th 2016. I told the store clerk that I'm flying out to jamaica and would like to make calls from Jamaica to Louisiana. He said we can do that and the international plan is $15. I was unable to make any calls. I contacted Cricket while in Jamaica was told to go into a Cricket store in Jamaica after being transferred several times. That call to the U.S. cost $3 per minute which lasted 10 minutes. I contacted Cricket and went into the store after I arrived back home from vacation. I was told the international plan is only good for calling to Jamaica and they refused to credit my account.
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  • thlhome99
    I didn't know that comparing the price of a T-Mobile plan with 40gb of LTE data was an apples to apples comparison with Verizon's 16gb plan. Am I wrong?
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  • Lynne_B
    Straight talk with AT&T does not have visual voicemail and to make it even worse, they block using a 3rd party visual voice mail app.

    Cricket only pushes OS updates to a very small number of phones, my son has a Galaxy 5 active that is still stuck on 4.4.2 because Cricket doesn't update that phone and Samsung does not have a downloadable update for it, so he has to sign up for AT&T prepaid to get the OS updated, for the few dollars he saves with Cricket I think he will probably just stay with AT&T prepaid.

    Boost is great, it's super cheap and they are quite helpful, the downside is that it is Sprint UGH.
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  • Gerry Allen
    Leaving out Consumer Cellular is simply silly. Great plans, bring your own unlocked (no charge SIM) and the best customer service in the business. Consumer Cellular uses the AT&T network for excellent coverage nation-wide.
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  • DR____L
    Any prepaid service using T-Mo is worthless outside of any city. Get out to the middle of nowhere and then write an article about the best prepaid plans.
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  • Mike_255
    Your article says about T-Mobile, "For families, the carrier charges $70 for the first line, $50 for the second and $30 for each subsequent line up to eight lines. That would mean a family of four would pay $160."

    But, $70 + $50 + $30 + $30 equals $180; NOT $160.
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  • Forrest_3
    Metro is 60 with more features. Metro beats T-Mobile even though it's really the same company. If this author knew what he was talking about, he would have listed that instead.
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  • Anonymous_Plutocrat
    Ha yall getting cool speeds while down here in Nigeria you get 15mbps at $50(25GB)
    And 6 to 9mbps at 25$/month(24GB) mostly in cities cause you wont even get 3G in some Villages
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  • Anonymous_Plutocrat
    and theres no unlimited
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  • kaw2zach
    I agree with Gerry Allen -- where's Consumer Cellular? We've used them for several years without difficulty.
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