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Best cell phone plans in 2022: The best options for your monthly phone service

best cell phone plans
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Finding the best cell phone plan can be a great way to rein in your monthly costs, even as prices on other goods and services continue to rise. Whatever you're paying now for your monthly wireless service, there's a good chance that there's a better, cheaper plan out there — and usually, it's available from the best phone carriers

Best cell phone plans: quick links

Best cheap cell phone plan: Mint Mobile (opens in new tab)
Best option for coverage: Verizon (opens in new tab)
Best unlimited plan on a budget: Visible (opens in new tab)
Best prepaid value: AT&T (opens in new tab)

We know of what we speak — we're continually checking the prices on what carriers charge to see what's new and how it impacts our best cell phone plan rankings. That's because carriers shuffle up their options so frequently that the plan you currently have may no longer be the best option available.

Still, there's more to picking the best cell phone plan than just selecting the cheapest option. 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.  It also helps to get a plan from a top phone carrier so that your service comes with some solid perks.

To make the decision easier, we’ve gone through the plans of both major wireless carriers and smaller MVNOs to create a list of the best cell phone plan for all sorts of different needs. You'll find our top picks and a little bit of helpful advice on how to choose the plan for you.

Cheap cell phone plans

Simply want a cell phone plan on a budget? There are plenty of carriers that can offer you a cheaper plan if you don't mind sacrificing your data cap somewhat.

If you're the kind of person who occasionally uses social media and the essential apps like Google Maps, WhatsApp or general browsing of the internet, you could get away with a plan offering anywhere from  1GB to 4GB of data each month. Depending on the wireless provider you use, you can get your costs down somewhere between $10 and $15. In fact, three of the four plans below hit that price range, and the fourth gets less expensive the longer you stick with it.

CarrierPlanMonthly cost
Mint Mobile4GB$15
Tello1GB$10
T-Mobile3GB$15
Verizon15GB$45

Mint Mobile | 4GB | $15/month - Best overall cheap cell phone plan (opens in new tab)
Mint Mobile has quickly become one of the best carriers for those on a budget. While 4GB isn't a huge amount, Mint's cheapest cell phone plan will be perfect if you're mainly using your phone for a bit of social media, internet searches and less data intensive apps like Google Maps. Mint piggybacks off of T-Mobile which covers 62% coverage of the country. It is important to keep in mind that after three months, Mint Mobile will require you to pay for a whole year to hold onto the $15/month price. Check our Mint Mobile coupons (opens in new tab) page for the latest offers and discounts.

Pros:
Very affordable, decent amount of data
Cons:
Offer changes after 3 months

Tello Economy | 1GB | $10/month - Lowest priced cell phone plan (opens in new tab)
Tello has added more data to its pricier plans, but the Economy Plan is still the way to go if you want the cheapest possible service. With Tello, you can get a monthly price of $10. You will find yourself limited at 1GB of data in this plan. While you do get unlimited calls and texts, some will find that data cap quite limited so this really is just for those after the lowest monthly cost.

Pros:
Cheapest cell phone plan, unlimited calls and texts
Cons:
Very limited on data at this price

T-Mobile Connect | 3GB data | $15/month - Low cost cell phone plan from a big name carrier (opens in new tab)
The T-Mobile Connect plan now gives you 3GB of data each month for just $15. (T-Mobile bumps up the data allotment every year by 0.5GB.) Need more than that? Upgrade to the 6GB T-Mobile Connect option for $25 a month, or opt for the cheap $10/month plan for 1GB of data if your needs are minimal. Still, there's a big limitation to T-Mobile Connect plan: once you use up your allotment, you're out of data for the rest of the billing cycle. Many rival plans simply slow your speeds when you hit your monthly limit. 

Pros: Low costs, 500Mb data boosts annually
Cons: Out of data once you hit your cap

Verizon | 15GB prepaid | $45/month - Best prepaid for coverage (opens in new tab)
Verizon's regular $45-a-month prepaid plan currently offers a much larger pool of data, with 15GB included every month. The $45 rate reflects a $5 autopay discount, but Verizon's prepaid discounts don't stop there. Hold onto your Verizon prepaid plan for three months and you'll save another $5. At nine months, Verizon takes off an additional $5. That means after 10 months, you're paying $35 a month for the same 15GB of data. Along with the pricing and data benefits, Verizon is also the carrier with both the best speeds and coverage. This prepaid plan gets 5G coverage, though not the faster Ultra Wideband service Verizon includes with other plans.

Pros:
Lots of data under current promotion, great coverage and speeds, nationwide 5G coverage
Cons: Not the cheapest prepaid around, doesn't include Verizon's Ultra Wideband service

Unlimited cell phone plans

On the opposite end of the spectrum to the best cheap phone plans above, unlimited cell phone plans are often going to be among the most expensive on the market. But if you're glued to your phone to stream Netflix on the go, scroll through Facebook and power through lots of data each month, the additional cost of an unlimited plan could well be worth it.

Realistically, you should expect to pay at least $30 here, though the bigger carriers charge between $60 and $90 a month for unlimited data. Those more expensive plans include more perks, such as free streaming service subscription, increased data for hotspots, and more. The best unlimited data plans often include 5G coverage, too.

Carrier planMonthly costPerk highlights
Verizon 5G Play More$80Disney bundle, streaming game subscription, 25GB hotspot data
Mint Unlimited$30After 3 months, $30 pricing requires a year commitment
Visible Unlimited$40Unlimited mobile hotspot, taxes and fees included
T-Mobile Magenta Unlimited$701 year of Apple TV and Paramount Plus, 5GB hotspot data
Tello Unlimited$29Free calls to 60-plus countries, includes hotspot
AT&T Unlimited Elite$85HBO Max, 40GB of hotspot data
Google Fi Unlimited Plus$65Use data when traveling in 200-plus countries

Verizon | 5G Play More | $80/month - Best unlimited plan for coverage (opens in new tab)
Verizon has tweaked its unlimited data plans now that it's launched an expanded Ultra Wideband network for fast 5G coverage. But even with those changes, we still recommend the 5G Play More plan for most people. Yes, it does cost $80 for a single line of unlimited data but that price includes access to Verizon's fastest Ultra Wideband 5G service, 50GB priority data and free subscriptions to a number of streaming services, highlighted by Disney's streaming bundle. The per-line charge also drops the more lines you add to your plan — a good thing for families. If you go over that 50GB limit, Verizon could slow down your speeds; the $90/month 5G Get More plan removes that limitation while also adding extra perks.

Pros:
Excellent coverage, free streaming subscriptions, 5G access
Cons: Not the cheapest option for unlimited data

Mint Mobile | Unlimited data | $30/month - Unlimited data on a budget (opens in new tab)
Mint Mobile once again pops up as the affordable option, especially when it comes to unlimited data. Piggybacking off of T-Mobile's network, Mint Mobile will only charge you $30 its unlimited plan. While that is a great price, you won't be surprised to hear that it does come with some catches. Mint's speeds — both for 4G and 5G — are slowed after your first 35GB of data usage and Mint's plans can start to get pretty costly after the first three months, with large upfront costs to get the best rates. If these two issues are putting you off, Visible's $40 unlimited plan (opens in new tab) is a great alternative.

Pros:
Cheapest overall unlimited plan, 5G speeds
Cons:
Speed restrictions, price increases after 3 months

Visible | Unlimited data | $40/month - No-strings-attached unlimited data on the cheap (opens in new tab)
Not everyone's going to want to prepay to get Mint's best cell phone plan. In that case, Visible's $40/month rate for unlimited data is an appealing alternative, since its the second lowest rate we've found for unlimited data. Visible is a Verizon MVNO (opens in new tab), so you're getting the benefits of Verizon's network — including 5G coverage on supported devices. That per-line rate drops as you add more lines, too. If you want to give Visible a try, there' s now a free 15-day trial (opens in new tab) in which you can test out the service on your current phone.

Pros: Low rate, excellent network performance
Cons: Data can be slowed if network is congested

T-Mobile | Magenta unlimited data | $70/month - Best value unlimited plan from a main carrier (opens in new tab)
T-Mobile's $70 option provides a great mix of value and performance. While this middle-tier plan cuts a few features like HD streaming (you can pay extra to add it via Magenta Plus), the Magenta plan is worth it for this more attractive price. With this plan you get unlimited priority data and free Netflix when you've got two or more lines on your plan. The Magenta plan also features a free year of both Apple TV Plus and Paramount Plus.

Pros: Attractive perks, affordable price
Cons: HD video streaming costs extra

Tello | Unlimited Data Plan | $29/month - Best alternative plan to Mint (opens in new tab)
To get Mint Mobile's low price on unlimited data, you need to commit to a year of service. That's not the case with Tello and its unlimited data plan. Tello dropped the cost of unlimited talk, text and data to $29/month, one of the lowest prices you'll pay. Perks are few and far between with this plan, but you can make free calls to 60-plus countries, and Tello lets you turn your phone into a mobile hotspot at no extra cost.

Pros: Price matches Mint's without 12-month commitment, includes free calls to 60-plus countries
Cons: Not many perks

AT&T | Unlimited Elite plan | $85/month - AT&Ts feature-packed unlimited plan (opens in new tab)
AT&T's top unlimited data plan costs more than the best cell phone plans at T-Mobile and Verizon. But it offers perks those plans don't led by free access to HBO Max, one of the better streaming services out there. In addition, the Unlimited Elite plan no longer has any caps on data usage, so your data speeds will never slow down. You also get 4K streaming where available and more hotspot data (40GB) than before. Like AT&T's two cheaper unlimited plans — Unlimited Starter costs $65/month while Unlimited Extra goes for $75 — the Elite option includes six free months of the Google Stadia streaming game service. (If you only need one line of data, AT&T now has a stripped-down $50/month Value Plus Plan that also offers unlimited talk, text and data.)

Pros:
Unlimited 5G data, free HBO Max, increased hotspot data
Cons:
Expensive

Google Fi | Unlimited Plus plan | $65/month - Best unlimited plan for Pixel phones (opens in new tab)
If you're planning on picking up a Pixel 5a (opens in new tab) or Pixel 6 (opens in new tab), consider Google Fi. Google's wireless service is the only carrier offering the Pixel 5a at the moment, and the phone is optimized to seamless switch between different cellular networks for the best coverage. (Google Fi also sells other optimized phones for its network, including all three Galaxy S22 models.) Google Fi's unlimited plan now costs $65/month after a recent price cut, with discounts available on additional lines. More importantly, you can use your Google Fi Unlimited Plus plan when you travel to more than 200 other countries with no disruption in service or extra charges; that makes Google Fi Unlimited Plus one of the best international phone plans (opens in new tab).

Pros: Good for international travel, optimized for Pixel phones
Cons: Cheaper options available elsewhere

Family cell phone plans

When shopping for the best family cell phone plan, cheaper isn't always better. More expensive options tend to have larger data caps (or unlimited data), better coverage and more perks. 

The best value does tend to be around the four-line mark but there are also plenty of two-line plans if that suits you better. Realistically, for four lines of data, you should expect to pay in excess of $100 and anywhere up to $200 depending on the plan and carrier. 

Carrier planDataMonthly cost (4 lines)
T-Mobile MagentaUnlimited$160
Verizon 5G StartUnlimited$140
Visible Party PlanUnlimited$100
Mint Family Plan4GB (per line)$60

T-Mobile Magenta | 4-line family plan | $160/month - Best value family plan (opens in new tab)
Even as carriers offer multiple tiers of unlimited data plans, T-Mobile Magenta is still the best choice for families. It gives a family of four unlimited data for $160 a month once you factor in an autopay discount. Occasionally, T-Mobile will waive the cost of the third line, lowering your bill even further.

Pros: Free Netflix, 5G available, data speeds aren't slowed unless you use 100GB
Cons: Can’t mix-and-match unlimited plans

Verizon 5G Start | 4-line family plan | $140/month - Best family plan for coverage (opens in new tab)
This is Verizon's basic unlimited plan, and it's all right for families on a budget who want extensive LTE coverage with Verizon's nationwide 5G thrown in. You won't be able to access Verizon's Ultra Wideband 5G, which is considerably faster and is about to become more widely available (opens in new tab) later in January. If you have a 5G-capable phone and want the fastest speeds, the 5G Play More for Get More plans (both $180/month for four lines) might be more to your liking.

Pros: Excellent coverage, unlimited hotspot on all plans
Cons: No high-speed 5G access on 5G Start, T-Mobile's plan offer more value

Visible Party Pay | 4-line plan | $100/month - A family plan for non-families (opens in new tab)
Visible's family plan is slightly different for the rest because... well, it's not necessarily for families. Called "Party Pay," you can bundle together multiple Visible users under a single party, scoring a discount on each individual line. Everyone has their own plan with separate data, calls and texts caps and their own bills — just at a discounted price. This works great for groups of friends, housemates and more and is arguably one of the cheapest family plans around. And Visible's Bring a Friend program drops your monthly bill to just $5 for the next month after you refer a new customer to the carrier. 

Pros: Big discounts available, don't have to be a family
Cons:
Can get complicated

Mint 4GB Plan | 4-line plan | $60/month - Disounts on every line (opens in new tab)
Mint now includes new family plans, though it takes a different approach from other carriers on this list. Instead of increasing the discount as you add lines of data, Mint extends the same discount to everyone on the plan, provided you pay for the service in advance. (You get a discounted rate for the first three months, then you commit to a full year to keep the low rate.) That means everyone on your plan can get 4GB of data for the same $15 per line. Mint also lets families mix and match its different plans.

Pros: Low cost, ability to mix and match different plans for each line
Cons: You have to pay in advance to get the biggest discount

Prepaid cell phone plans

For a lot of people, the best prepaid phone plans are going to be the ideal way to go. They are often some of the most affordable plans around, offering flexible contracts that usually have no contracts or credit checks.

If you don't want to get tied to a contract, that flexibility to cancel anytime will be a huge bonus. While these plans tend to focus on more affordable, low data contracts, you can also get unlimited data plans or slightly more expensive options with more benefits.

CarrierDataMonthly cost
Mint Mobile10GB$20
AT&T8GB$25 (must pay 12 months in advance)
Metro by T-Mobile10GB$40
Cricket10GB$40

Mint Mobile | 10GB | $20/month - Best value prepaid plan (opens in new tab)
Mint Mobile is arguably one of the best providers of prepaid plans in the US. While it has quite a few available options, the overall best value seems to be its 10GB for $20. While that isn't the cheapest price available at Mint, it's the best mix of data and costs. Mint Mobile piggybacks off of T-Mobile and offers free hot spotting and access to 5G where it is available. But "prepaid" at Mint really does mean prepaid — to get the lowest possible rate, you've got to buy a year of service in advance after your first three discounted months.

Pros: Very affordable price, free hot spotting
Cons: Might not be enough data for some

AT&T | 8GB 12-month prepaid | $25/month - Great value on AT&T (opens in new tab)
The main carriers rarely offer the best value prepaid plans and these tend to be more common from MVNOs. However, AT&T can be slightly more affordable and flexible than the likes of Sprint or Verizon. While you can pay for one month at a time, the best price is going to come from investing in a 12-month prepaid with AT&T, offering 8GB for $25 a month. If you prefer to go month by month, you can get 15GB for $40 after a $5 autopay discount.

Pros: Major carrier, good amount of data for price
Cons: Best prices require a longer contract

Metro by T-Mobile | 10GB | $40/month - Best tiered prepaid plan on T-Mobile's network (opens in new tab)
Metro by T-Mobile uses T-Mobile's network — including the carrier's extensive 5G coverage — to provide cell phone service. While Metro can't match Mint and other prepaid rivals for cost, it does offer a big pool of data, at 10GB. A Music Unlimited perk lets you stream music from 40 services without it counting against your monthly data, allowing to stretch your allotment further.

Pros: Includes coverage from T-Mobile's 5G network, streaming music doesn't count against your data plan
Cons: Cheaper plans available elsewhere

Cricket Wireless | 10GB | $40/month - A competitive alternative to Metro (opens in new tab)
It used to be easy to dismiss Cricket's prepaid plans because of an 8 Mbps speed cap imposed on downloads. But Cricket's lifted that now and added 5G coverage to all its plans, so this 10GB offering is more compelling than it used to be. You can save $5 per month if you enroll in automatic payments.

Pros: No more speed caps on Cricket's plans, autopay discounts, includes 5G access
Cons: Limited perks

How we pick the best cell phone plans

Picking the best cell phone plans requires extensive research on exactly what each carrier offers. That means we're checking the plans available at each of the three major carriers as you would expect, but we also extend our search to lesser know MVNOs, who often offer lower-priced plans.

Once we've gathered all the data on available smartphone plans, we single out the lowest cost options. But because the best cell phone plan isn't a one-size-fits-all choice, we look at the best options from the most popular carriers, as well as compelling values from discount carriers, giving you a wide variety of options to choose the best plan for you. (More on making that decision in a moment.)

We don't just peruse cell phone plan prices once; instead, we update our rankings at least once a month, changing our picks when new plans come along.

How to choose the best cell phone plan for you

Price is a big consideration when looking for the best cell phone plans, especially if you’re getting more than one line for other members of your family. Most carriers offer escalating discounts as you add lines, so you’ll want to compare the total cost of your plan based on the number of lines that require service.

Cell phone plans are about more than just the amount on your bill each month, though. You also need to consider who offers the best coverage in your area and whether they support the phone you’ll want to use. Our guide to the best phone carriers can answer some of those questions, but you’ll also want to ask friends, neighbors and co-workers about how a specific carrier’s coverage is at your home and office, if you’re looking to switch wireless providers.

Speaking of switching carriers, the major carriers are all willing to pick up some of the cost to get you to switch. These promotions can vary over time, so we'd suggest keeping an eye on any new carrier deals when you're mulling a switch, as you could find extra ways to save money.

Wireless carriers have spent the past several years building out their 5G coverage, and if you’ve got the right 5G phone, you can benefit from faster speeds if a carrier offers 5G service in your area. T-Mobile includes 5G coverage with its Magenta Plan, and Metro By T-Mobile customers with unlimited plans can also access T-Mobile's 5G towers with a compatible smartphone. AT&T had required you to sign up for its most expensive unlimited data plan options for 5G, but now any unlimited plan qualifies for coverage. Verizon includes full 5G coverage in three of its four unlimited plans currently, but the cheapest plan, Start Unlimited lacks 5G Ultra Wideband coverage. Both AT&T and Verizon have extended 5G coverage to prepaid customers with unlimited data plans.

What kind of cell phone plan do I need?

eSIM

(Image credit: AndreyPopov)

As you would expect, there is no simple answer to this and the question is more about what is the best plan for you. This will obviously depend on a wide variety of factors.

For those on a budget and looking for some flexibility, a prepaid cell phone plan will be an excellent way to go. These are often the cheapest options and the lack of contracts is going to be a massive bonus, especially if you like to change up carriers frequently.

If you frequently stream Netflix on the go, like to play games on your phone or just generally drain your data at impressive speeds, an unlimited plan is an excellent way to go — especially as 5G becomes more common.

Family cell phone plans are an excellent way to save money, especially as many carriers offer discounts as you add more lines to your plan. It will be no surprise that this is the way to go for the average family.

If you are simply after the lowest price possible, carriers including Mint Mobile and Tello can offer you really low costs if you don't mind sacrificing some data. 

Realistically, cell phone plans tend to fall into one of these categories: cheap, prepaid, family, unlimited, kids or seniors. If you work out which one you fit into best you can narrow your search drastically.

MVNOs and main carriers: what's the difference?

MVNOs are a slightly strange concept but they do offer an excellent way to get a cell phone plan on a budget. So what are they and how do they differ from the main carriers.

Firstly, it's important to note the main carriers. These are: AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, which absorbed Sprint in 2020. You can also include US Cellular in that group, though its coverage remains regional compared to the Big Three carriers. These brands use their own technology and run their own regional cellular networks.

MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators) on the other hand are brands that don't own and operate their own technology and instead 'piggyback' off of the services of one of the above brands. This allows them to be far cheaper than the main carriers but does mean they are the first to be restricted during peak usage periods and don't get access to as many additional benefits.

MVNOs used to have limited 5G coverage, though that seems to be changing, as carriers build out their coverage. \We explain more about this in our MVNO guide, but the main players are:

  • Mint Mobile: runs on T-Mobile
  • Metro by T-Mobile: runs on T-Mobile
  • Cricket Wireless: runs on AT&T
  • Visible: runs on Verizon
  • Boost Mobile: runs on T-Mobile and is transitioning to AT&T

Cell phone plans comparison

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Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.