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Best prepaid phone plans in 2022

best prepaid phone plans
(Image credit: Wayhome Studio/Shutterstock)

The best prepaid phone plans are your key to fighting back against rising prices. With a prepaid plan, you can lock in the cost of your wireless service, paying the same amount each month — and you can usually get a plan for much less than what postpaid cell phone plans cost. 

You need to make some tradeoffs when opting for prepaid service, but at least you'll be accessing the same network used by customers with postpaid plans. In some cases, you'll even get 5G coverage as part of your service. Best of all, you don't necessarily need to cut down on data to enjoy a lower rate. Sure, the less data you need, the less you'll have to pay, but even the best unlimited data plans can be surprisingly affordable from prepaid carriers.

So turning to one of the best prepaid plans is one of the top ways to save money on your smartphone bill. And as we've learned by researching your options, you can choose from a wide variety of prepaid plans with different data levels — and prices — that address your particular needs.

We mentioned some tradeoffs with even the best prepaid phone plans, which don't offer the same perks that come with more expensive plans from the big carriers. Forget about free subscriptions to streaming services included in your plan or using your monthly data allotment when you travel overseas. At most, you’re likely to get some hotspot data. And you’re also subject to slower speeds if the network your prepaid carrier uses is clogged with traffic. If you've need multiple lines, you may want to look elsewhere for the best family cell phone plan, as only a few of the options below offer discounts on extra lines.

Even with all that, though, there's a lot to be said for a lower monthly bill, especially right now. And whether you're shopping for a new phone and need a new wireless plan or just want to make sure that your current plan is among the best cell phone plans overall, it pays to consider the best prepaid phone plans as money-saving options. You'll find our picks below, followed by an explanation of what we look for when choosing the best prepaid phone plans.

The best prepaid phone plans for your smartphone

The best value prepaid cell phone plan:

Mint Mobile | 10GB | $15/month - Best value prepaid plan (opens in new tab)
Mint Mobile stands out as the best overall value prepaid plan available because it offers you 10GB of data at a low rate. Normally, that's $20 a month, but Mint is cutting the price on all of its data plans to $15/month for the first three months in a limited-time offer. After those three months, you will have to decide whether you want to sign up for three, six or 12 months. The longer you sign up, the better the price with a 12-month renewal offering the old $20 price. If you're looking to add multiple lines for a family plan, every line on your Mint plan will receive that same discount.

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

Best prepaid plan for coverage:

Verizon | 15GB prepaid | $45/month - Best prepaid for coverage (opens in new tab)
Verizon is certainly not the most affordable way to go for prepaid cell phone plans, but it does offer the best coverage and speeds. Verizon's best value option is its 15GB prepaid plan, costing $45 a month after a $5 discount for enrolling in auto pay. You'll get 5G coverage — though not the fast Ultra Wideband coverage that's about to expand dramatically (opens in new tab) — and the ability to use your phone as a mobil hotspot. Plus, if you hold onto your plan for three months, Verizon will cut another $5 from the monthly price and an additional $5 after nine months. That means you can lower your monthly rate to $35 a month by sticking with Verizon.

Pros: Lots of data under current promotion, great coverage and speeds, bigger discounts the longer you stay, 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 | unlimited data | $40/month - The best unlimited data prepaid on a budget (opens in new tab)
While you can get unlimited data for cheaper with Mint Mobile at $30 a month, Visible has the overall best value unlimited prepaid plan. For $40 a month, you get unlimited data, calls and texts as well as free mobile hot spotting. You won't get capped on 5G usage and you can use Visible's new family plan system to get a lower price per line. If you bundle together four unlimited data Visible plans, you'll all be paying just $25 a month for each line. The best Visible deals (opens in new tab) can help you save even more on your service.

Pros: Very affordable, 5G unlimited data
There are cheaper prepaid plans

The cheapest plan of all:

Tello Economy | 1GB | $10/month - Lowest priced cell phone plan (opens in new tab)
If you think Mint and Visible don't charge a lot for service, check out Tello. The carrier's Economy plan costs just $10 a month. The trade-off for that low price is very little data — just 1GB. You do get unlimited calls and texts, though, so if you don't spend a lot of time surfing the web or streaming, this is definitely a great option for saving money by not paying for data you don't use. Tello has also cut prices on plans with higher data limits, including an unlimited data plan that now costs $29.

Pros: Cheapest cell phone plan, unlimited calls and texts, new plans include better data options for less
1GB is a very limited amount of data

Great value from a major carrier:

AT&T | 8GB 12-month prepaid | $25/month - Great value prepaid on AT&T (opens in new tab)
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 8GB plan, which costs just $25 a month when you prepay for a full year. That adds up to $300 in up front costs. If you can't swing a full year, there's also a three-month plan where your rate will be $33 a month when you pay in advance. 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: Good amount of data for price
Cons: Requires you to prepay for a full year, no 5G coverage

Best unlimited data prepaid cell phone plan from a retailer:

AT&T | unlimited data | $45/month - A cheap unlimited plan through Walmart (opens in new tab)
AT&T's best prepaid plan normally costs $60 a month (though a current promotion ups the autopay discount, lowering the cost to $50). It not only includes 5G coverage, but the ability to stream HD video. As part of a promotion with Walmart (opens in new tab), you can get that same plan for $45 a month, when you buy a phone at the retailer and activate it in store.

Pros: Lowest price on an AT&T unlimited data plan; 5G coverage included
Cons: Limited to Walmart customers

Low cost-plan from T-Mobile:

T-Mobile Connect | 3GB data | $15/month - Low cost cell phone plan from a big name carrier (opens in new tab)
The amount of data in the T-Mobile Connect plans keep growing, even as the price remains fixed. Right now, for $15/month, you can get 3GB of data, with the promise of another 0.5GB being added to your plan next year. 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 6GB. 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
Con: Out of data once you hit your cap

A plan worth a second look:

Cricket | 10GB | $40/month - No more speed caps on data (opens in new tab)
It was hard to recommend Cricket Wireless in the past, even though the carrier benefits from using the network of parent company AT&T. But Cricket slapped speed caps on every plan but its most expensive unlimited data plan. Those caps are gone now, making 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

Most flexible prepaid for families:

Boost Mobile | Unlimited data | three lines | $90/month - Flexible family plans from Boost (opens in new tab)
Bring your own phones to Boost Mobile, and you can get three lines of unlimited data for $30 each. That translates to $90 a month, which is a good value for unlimited talk, text and data. Just be aware that Boost customers may see slower speeds when traffic is heavy on its parent network — Boost is in the middle of moving its service from T-Mobile to AT&T.

Flexible options for added lines, affordable prices
Cons: May face slower speeds when T-Mobile's network  is congested 

Best free prepaid plan:

TextNow | 0GB | Free - Free calling and texting (opens in new tab)
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

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 increase the size of their autopay discount, which can make a pricier plan more attractive. Metro by T-Mobile has been known to increase the size of the discount for when you add multiple lines of data.

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 some 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, while both AT&T prepaid and Cricket customers can get on 5G with the most expensive prepaid plans at each carrier.

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. 

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 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.