Best prepaid phone plans in 2023

best prepaid phone plans
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The best prepaid phone plans remove any uncertainty about what your monthly wireless service is going to cost. By paying in advance, you know exactly how much you're going to spend for phone coverage, without any surprise charges for going over your allotted data. Even better — a great prepaid plan can save you money overall by costing less than other types of smartphone plans.

The best prepaid phone plans at a glance

1. Mint Mobile - Best value
2. Verizon - Best coverage
3. Visible  - Best unlimited data
4. AT&T - Best prepaid deal

Our search for the best prepaid plans highlights low-cost offerings that include enough data to meet the needs of a typical smartphone user. During our research into the best cell phone plans overall, we take note of the best prepaid options from carriers big and small.

We're not just considering price, though. We look at the network a prepaid service uses. (AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon obviously use their own networks for prepaid coverage, but mobile virtual network operators — or MVNOs — like Mint, Tello and Cricket use other carriers' networks.) We note when a prepaid carrier might slow down your service and what happens to your coverage when you use up all your data.

In addition, we consider the perks that come with the best prepaid plans, though be aware that extra benefits are one thing you may have to sacrifice for prepaid plans' lower rates. Still, plans that offer hotspot data or international calling are worth considering.

Here's our picks for the best prepaid phone plans covering a wide array of prices and data allotments.

The best prepaid cell phone plans for your smartphone

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The best value prepaid phone plan

Mint Mobile | 15GB | $20/month - Best value prepaid plan

Mint Mobile | 15GB | $20/month - Best value prepaid plan
If you've been contemplating a switch to Mint, an ongoing promotion makes this the perfect time to switch. Right now, you'll pay $15/month for your first three months of service, regardless of which plan you pick. That includes this 15GB offering, which normally goes for $20/month. After three months are up, your rate goes back to the regular price, assuming you pay for a year of Mint's service in advance; that the only way to lock in the lowest rate. (So you'll pay $240 a year to keep your 15GB plan at $20 per month.) If you're looking to add multiple lines for a family plan, every line on your Mint plan receives the  same discounted price. Mint slows down your data when you hit your monthly limit, though you can buy extra data. Your service comes from T-Mobile's network and includes 5G coverage.

Pros: Very affordable price, free hot spot data
Cons: Best prices require longer commitment

Best prepaid plan for coverage

Verizon | 15GB prepaid | $35/month - Best prepaid for coverage

Verizon | 15GB prepaid | $35/month - Best prepaid for coverage
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. Use up your data before the month is out and Verizon slows your coverage to 2G speeds.

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

Visible | Visible Plus| $45/month - The best unlimited data prepaid on a budget
Verizon-owned Visible may have cut its entry-level plan to $25, but we think Visible Plus is the way to go. This $45/month option features a lot of perks, such as access Verizon's faster Ultra Wideband network for 5G coverage. Visible Plus customers also can make calls to more than 30 countries from the U.S. at no extra cost and get up to 50GB of data without seeing their speeds slowed by Verizon.

Pros: Very affordable, 5G unlimited data
There are cheaper prepaid plans, no more discounts for multiple lines

Best prepaid deal from a major carrier

AT&T | 16GB 12-month prepaid | $25/month - Great value prepaid on AT&T

AT&T | 16GB 12-month prepaid | $25/month - Great value prepaid on AT&T
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 16GB plan, which costs just $25 a month when you prepay for a full year. (Go over that 16GB limit in a month, and AT&T slows down your speeds.) 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

Best prepaid plan for students

AT&T | Unlimited data plan | $40/month - Best prepaid phone plan for students

AT&T | Unlimited data plan | $40/month - Best prepaid phone plan for students
Before you head back to school, take a look at AT&T's prepaid unlimited data plan if you're hoping to save money on your wireless service. Normally, AT&T's unlimited option costs $50/month after a $10 autopay discount. Students can save another $10/month for 12 months when they sign up with AT&T. In addition to unlimited data, you'll get 5GB of hotspot data in this online-only deal. Just be aware that AT&T can slow down your speeds at any time when its network is congested.

Pros: Unlimited data at a discounted rate
Cons: Only available to students

Most flexible prepaid plan for families

Metro by T-Mobile | Unlimited data plan | 4 lines | $100/month - A good option for families

Metro by T-Mobile | Unlimited data plan | 4 lines | $100/month - A good option for families
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 get unlimited data (though after 35GB of use, your speeds may be slowed) as well as 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 free prepaid plan

TextNow | 0GB | Free - Free calling and texting

TextNow | 0GB | Free - Free calling and texting
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

Other prepaid plans worth checking out

Tello Economy | 5GB | $19/month - Low-priced cell phone plans

Tello Economy | 5GB | $19/month - Low-priced cell phone plans
Like Mint, Tello offers a range of plans at different prices and data allotments. 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. Even better, Tello's currently taking $4 off your first month of service for this plan. If you need more data, there are also 10GB and unlimited options that are also quite affordable. Tello uses T-Mobile's network, and slows you down to 2G speeds should you go over your allotted data.

Pros: Wide range of plans including the cheapest option, unlimited calls and texts
Limited phone selection

T-Mobile Connect | 3.5GB data | $15/month - Low cost cell phone plan from a big name carrier

T-Mobile Connect | 3.5GB data | $15/month - Low cost cell phone plan from a big name carrier
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. (Those 500MB bumps will continue through 2025.) 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

Cricket | 10GB | $40/month - No more speed caps on data

Cricket | 10GB | $40/month - No more speed caps on data
If you haven't checked out Cricket in a while, it's worth revisiting this AT&T-owned service. Cricket used to impose speed caps on all but its most expensive unlimited data plan, but those caps are gone now. (Your speeds are reduced if you go over 10GB before your monthly billing cycle is done, though.) That makes 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

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.

For more on MVNOs, read our guides to AT&T MVNOs, T-Mobile MVNOs and Verizon MVNOs — we'll tell you which discount carriers use which parent networks. 

The best prepaid phone plans and free trials

Some of the carriers we've highlighted above offer free trials, in which you can test out their service on your current phone without having to switch carriers first. It's a convenient way of seeing if a prepaid carrier's coverage is strong in your area.

Mint Mobile's free trial lets you sample the service for seven days. You're given 250MB of data, 250 minutes of talk time and 250 texts to see what Mint's service is all about.

Cricket's free trial runs for 14 days and lets you use up to 3GB of data.

Visible's free trial runs the longest at 15 days, but it's limited to iPhones only. 

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.

Philip Michaels

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.

  • Mighty Sea Tide 💪🌊
    I've been using Total Wireless, which is one of TracFone's subsidiaries and an MVNO for 2+ years, and they are fantastic. For $35 a month I get unlimited talk and text, 5 GB of high speed data on Verizon's network that I've never noticed being throttled, and if I would use all 5 GB, which I never have, I still have data but the speed would drop to 3G or slower. I have a Moto G7 phone--their phones are very affordable and they have frequent flash sales on various phones on their website. The voice network quality is outstanding, as is the data network availability and speed. I've used Virgin Mobile, regular (not prepaid) AT&T, and Straight Talk in the past and none of them even come close to the quality and value for the cost compared to Total Wireless. I very highly recommend Total Wireless.
  • Ksc65
    Verizon's purchase of TracFone is worrisome to me. I dropped straight talk after 7 years because of the bad customer service. I'm now on AT&T prepaid $75 plan which is $60 with autopay and it's incredibly better. The perks include Better customer service, 5G access, Visual voicemail Unlimited everything with a hotspot. Hard to beat that deal!
  • Wolfshadw
    Thread is over a year old.