Product Use case Rating
AT&T Best Individual Prepaid Plan N/A
MetroPCS N/A
Virgin 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 selections of phones to their prepaid customers. Should you opt for a no-contract plan, AT&T's revamped prepaid offerings push it ahead of MetroPCS for tiered data, though MetroPCS still offers the best unlimited prepaid plan.

MORE: Best All-Around Phone Carrier

AT&T is also the top choice if you need multiple lines by following the lead of its Cricket subsidiary and offering escalating discounts every time you add a line. Boost is a good alternative if your family demands unlimited data (though there are some limitations on streaming).

How We Picked the Best Prepaid Plans: Data allotments vary widely among prepaid carriers. To make the best comparison, we looked at the plans closest to 3GB of data each month. We also looked at the range of plans available, including unlimited data plans as well as plans for low-data users. Now that Virgin has dropped its Data Sharing Done Right plans, only four carriers — Boost, Cricket, MetroPCS and T-Mobile — offer prepaid family plans, so we focused on discounts available as you add lines to a prepaid plan. As with other categories, network performance, including our own 4G speed testing, figured into our choices.

Best Prepaid Plan for Individuals: AT&T

Best Plan: 4GB, $40 a month with autopay

Who Should Get It: Prepaid customers who want the most data for their dollars

AT&T recently revamped its prepaid offerings, boosting the amount of monthly data you get while keeping the same pricing as before. That makes AT&T's no-contract plans much more competitive with those from dedicated prepaid providers like MetroPCS.

AT&T gives you 4GB of data for $45 a month. But set up automatic payments and AT&T will knock $5 off your bill. That means you'll pay $40 — the same amount MetroPCS charges each month for 3GB of data. AT&T sweetens the deal with rollover data and unlimited messaging to Canada, Mexico and more than 100 countries.

Best Alternative: MetroPCS

Best Plan: 3GB, $40 a month

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

MetroPCS remains a strong choice among dedicated prepaid carriers. It uses T-Mobile's network and performed well in our most recent round of network tests. MetroPCS also includes nice bonuses like the ability to stream music from more than 40 services without it counting against your monthly data allotment.

If your data needs aren’t quite as extensive, MetroPCS’s $30 1GB plan offers a decent amount of data for a nice low price. Cricket and Boost also offer $30 plans: Cricket's plan gives you 1GB of data, while Boost doubles that with 2GB.

Best High-Data Alternative: Virgin

Best Plan: 5GB, $35 a month

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

Virgin’s revamped plans make it a much more compelling prepaid option, thanks to the high amount of LTE data you can get — 5GB. That’s double the data Cricket provides for the same amount of money. Virgin also lets you stream music from five services without it counting against your data cap. And if you need even more data, another $10 a month brings your allotment to 10GB at Virgin.

We still think AT&T and MetroPCS are better options for individuals, because they performed better on our recent network tests than Virgin did. Virgin uses Sprint's network, which is improving, but still lags behind the other major carriers.

MORE: Best 4G Data Service: Which Carrier Is Tops?

Other Options: Cricket

Best Plan: 2.5GB, $35 a month

Who Should Get It: People who don’t need a lot of data and will use autopay

Cricket’s 2.5GB plan costs $40 a month, though enrolling in autopay saves you $5. It was once a compelling alternative for bargain hunters, until Virgin offered much more data for the same price. Both MetroPCS and Virgin fared better in our network testing than Cricket did, so the main reason to opt for this plan is that you don’t want to use Sprint’s CDMA network which Virgin relies on.  

Cricket’s higher data plans offer 8GB and 10GB for monthly rates of $45 and $55, respectively. But those prices reflect a $5 monthly discount for enrolling in auto-pay.

Best Unlimited Prepaid Plan: MetroPCS

Best Plan: Unlimited Data, $60 a month

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

Prepaid carriers have expanded their options for heavy-data users, with Boost, Cricket and MetroPCS all offering unlimited data plans to prepaid customers. Of this trio, MetroPCS’s $60 unlimited plan is the best choice. It’s cheaper than Cricket’s $70 unlimited plan, and we’ve found MetroPCS’s performance to be better than what Boost and Cricket offer on their networks.


Best Alternative Unlimited Prepaid Plan: Boost

Best Plan: Unlimited Data, $50 a month

Who Should Get It: Data-hungry users who don’t mind streaming video at lower-resolution

Boost’s Unlimited Unhook’d plan can save you $10 a month from MetroPCS’s plan, but there’s a catch. You’re restricted to streaming video at 480p resolution. Similarly, music will stream at 500 Kbps, and online gaming is limited to 2 Mbps. For most users, that’s probably good enough, especially if it means never having to worry about hitting a data limit. For others, the lack of streaming limits and MetroPCS’s better network may prove worth the extra $10 a month.

Boost’s only other plan offers 2GB of LTE data. You'll have to pay $35 for the first month of service, but you can enroll in autopay to save $5 each month after that.

Limited Options: Straight Talk

Best Plan: 5GB, $60

Who Should Get It: Heavy data users who make international calls

Straight Talk doesn’t have much to offer people who consume around 3GB of data each month. The provider’s lowest-priced prepaid plan — excluding $30 plan with a paltry 100MB of data — offers 5GB of high-speed data for $45 a month. Straight Talk will knock $1 off your monthly fee if you use auto-pay. For $15 more, you can add unlimited mobile-to-mobile calling to Mexico, Canada, China and India. Straight Talk also added $55 monthly plan with 10GB of data, which doesn’t compare favorably to unlimited data plans from MetroPCS and Boost that cost just $5 more and rely on better networks.

Prepaid Service from Major Carriers

AT&T isn't the only Big Four wireless carrier to provide prepaid options: Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon have prepaid plans, too, though they're not as attractively priced as the options outlined above. You may enjoy better network performance, however, particularly with T-Mobile and Verizon.

T-Mobile's prepaid pricing is identical to its MetroPCS subsidiary, starting with a 3GB option for $40 a month. T-Mobile also offers pay-as-you-go pricing where you can add talk, text and data as you need it. Sprint’s $35-a-month prepaid plan for 1GB of data may appeal to users who don’t need much in the way of data.

Verizon offers two appealing prepaid plans if you want rollover data. The carrier's $50 prepaid plan offers 5GB of data while a 10GB plan costs $70 and includes unlimited calling to Canada and Mexico. A Verizon spokesman told Tom's Guide that the carrier still offers a free gigabyte of data to prepaid customers who enroll in its automatic payment program.

MORE: Cellphone Support Showdown: Who Wins, Who Loses?

Best Prepaid Family Plan: AT&T

Best Plan: AT&T's 4GB plan for four lines of data, $145

Who Should Get It: Families with more than three lines to take advantage of AT&T's discounts.

AT&T has made itself the go-to prepaid choice for families by following the lead of its Cricket subsidiary and offering escalating discounts as you add more lines. AT&T's discounts aren't as steep as what Cricket offers: Cricket knocks $10 off the second line, $20 off the third and $30 off the fourth, while AT&T's discounts are $5, $10 and $15, respectively. But you can expect better network performance with AT&T, which vaults it ahead of Cricket. And you can save another $5 each month by using autopay with AT&T, meaning a family of four can get 4GB of data per line for $145.

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If saving money is more important to you, and you don't mind the network performance trade-off, you save more money with Cricket. A family of four would pay $100 for the 2.5GB per line data plan. (A family of five would pay that same amount, since Cricket takes $40 off the fifth line, effectively giving it to you for free.)

MORE: Best Cheap Unlocked Smartphones

That same family of four would pay $140 a month at either Boost or MetroPCS, though they’ll get different amounts of data. At Boost, you get unlimited data, though with restrictions on streaming video, music and gaming. The first line costs $50 with Boost offering subsequent lines for $30 each.

MetroPCS offers a $5 discount for each line on a family plan. That means the carrier’s 3GB plan would cost $35 a line instead of $40, so a family of four would pay $140 a month. That’s less data than Boost’s unlimited offering and more expensive than Cricket’s heavily discounted family plans. MetroPCS becomes a more compelling choice if you have big data needs. When you have a $50 plan through MetroPCS (which currently offers 8GB of data), you can add additional lines for just $30 a month per line.

T-Mobile offers discounts for multiple prepaid lines, too. he first line of a T-Mobile prepaid plan with 2GB of data costs $50, while the second line costs $30, and each additional line costs $10. That means a family of four would pay $100 each month in exchange for 2GB each of data.

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27 comments
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  • 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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