Finding the right phone plan to fit your needs is tricky. Beyond just dollars and cents, you need to consider which phones are supported by which wireless carriers and what coverage and data speeds are like in the area where you’ll use your phone the most. Throw in carriers’ near-continual plan changes, and it’s a recipe for confusion.
To make the decision easier, we’ve gone through each carriers’ plans to figure out which one is the best for your particular needs. T-Mobile has the best family plan because of its unlimited data offer and the fact that it no longer caps video streaming at 480p. T-Mobile also has the best unlimited data plan for individuals, which costs $70 monthly.
Verizon offers the most compelling individual cellphone plan, costing $55 a month for 5GB; you can also roll over unused data to the next month. Thanks to a recent boost to the size of its no-contract plans, AT&T provides the best prepaid option for individuals, though MetroPCS has the most attractive unlimited data plan. Families looking for prepaid coverage will like the discounts AT&T offers when you add additional lines to its plans.
These are the best cellular plans available right now.
Best Cellphone Plans: Our Top Picks
In evaluating plans, we looked at the four major U.S. carriers — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon — and what they offer. We also evaluated five discount carriers: Boost Mobile, Cricket, MetroPCS, Straight Talk and Virgin. In addition to price, we considered network coverage and performance, including results from our own 4G network testing in half-a-dozen cities. In some cases, total savings on one carrier’s plan outweighed the performance edge another carrier might enjoy; other times, network performance was a deciding factor in our choice.
Should You Switch?
If these are the best plans, does that mean you should drop your current carrier for one of the above plans that best covers your needs? (That assumes, of course, that the carrier we recommend provides ample coverage for your area.) Yes, but only if you can switch without consequences.
If you can't wait until your deal is up with your current carrier, the major carriers are all willing to pick up some of the cost to get you to switch. Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile all offer up to $650 for each phone you switch over to pay off your phone purchases and early termination fees; AT&T offers a $100 bill credit for switching over plus $200 for trading in an eligible smartphone. Note that this money will come in the form of prepaid gift cards and that every carrier requires you to trade in your existing phone.
Some carriers offer other incentives to switch over. As of this writing, Sprint is continuing a “Cut Your Bill in Half” promotion for AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon customers on select plans. In the case of T-Mobile, the offer only applies to tiered-data Simple Choice plans and not the Uncarrier’s unlimited data offering. There’s also a $36 per phone activation fee, and T-Mobile switchers who go over their data limit will be throttled to 2G speeds. (AT&T and Verizon switchers are charged 1.5 cents per MB if they use more data than Sprint’s giving them.) You do have that $650 per line credit when you switch, though.
Before you decide whether to switch your cellphone plan, make sure to check carriers’ websites for any special offers. In recent years, carriers have gotten aggressive in trying to lure new customers, and that figures to continue this year, with switching deals popping up from time to time.