Turn to one of the best prepaid phone plans if you're looking for a way to get a handle on what you spend each month. With a prepaid plan, you pay in advance — sometimes up to a year in advance — which removes any chance of overage charges when your bill arrives. And prepaid plans usually cost less than postpaid plans from big-name phone carriers.
1. The quick list
2. Best prepaid phone plan overall
3. Best value plan
4. Best prepaid plan from a big carrier
5. Best prepaid unlimited data plan
6. Best prepaid plan for families
7. Cheapest prepaid plan
8. Best free prepaid plan
9. Best variety of prepaid plans
10. Best low-data prepaid plan
11. What is a prepaid phone plan?
12. What to consider
13. Free trials
14. How we pick the best prepaid plans
The trick to finding a top prepaid plan is to broaden your search beyond the major carriers. Yes, AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon have prepaid plans of their own — some of them are quite good — but you can find some additional savings if you consider mobile virtual network operators (also known as MVNOs). These services use other carriers' networks and cut back on perks to offer lower-priced plans.
For that reason, a prepaid plan doesn't necessarily mean settling for limits on how much data you get each month. There are very cheap plans aimed at low-data users, but our picks for the best prepaid phone plans also include unlimited data for a lot less than what you'd pay elsewhere.
When we research the best cell phone plans overall, we're also looking at prepaid plans from carriers big and small. That means considering price and data as well as what kind of coverage you can expect. (Go with an MVNO, for example, and you might see your data speeds slowed if there's a lot of traffic.) We also look at what happens to your service when you use up all your dat in a given month.
With that in mind, here are our picks for the best prepaid phone plans covering a wide array of prices and data allotments.
The quick list
15GB for $20 at Mint Mobile
Anyone of Mint's four prepaid phone plans would be an excellent choice depending on your needs, but 15GB is plenty for most people. After three months at $20, you pay for a full year to keep that low rate.
16GB for $25 at AT&T
AT&T offers a generous amount of data if you're willing to prepay for a full year of service. By paying $300 up front, you reduce your monthly cost to just $25, and you get a ton of data — 16GB before your speeds are throttled — on a great network in return.
Best big carrier plan
15GB for $35 at Verizon
Verizon's best prepaid plan offers the most data of any big carrier for a reasonable monthly price. Sign up for autopay, and your monthly bill drops $10 to $35, and you'll get 15GB as part of the deal. 5G coverage is included.
Best unlimited plan
Unlimited data for $45 at Visible
Of Visible's two unlimited data plans, the $45/month Unlimited Plus option is the best (especially when you can get it at a discounted rate). You can faster 5G coverage on Verizon's network and the ability to make overseas calls. Taxes and fees are included.
Best for families
Unlimited data (four lines) for $100 at Metro
Metro by T-Mobile is one of the few carriers to offer escalating discounts as you add more lines to your plan. An in-store offer delivers unlimited data to four lines for just $25 per line each month.
Best free plan
0GB for free at TextNow
TextNow doesn't actually charge for its phone service, letting you call and text on T-Mobile's network for free. Data comes via Wi-Fi connectivity by default, but you can add extra data over cellular for a fee.
Best variety of plans
5GB for $14 at Tello
We're focusing on the 5GB plan at Tello, as that's a decent amount of data, but the low-cost carrier has a whole range of offerings whether you need just 1GB or unlimited data. Tello uses T-Mobile's network for its service.
The best prepaid phone plan overall
Mint Mobile | 15GB | $20/month - Best value prepaid plan
Mint Mobile has a good range of plans, with the carrier's 15GB offering providing a nice chunk of data at a low monthly price. That $20 monthly charge comes with a caveat, though — that's what you pay for the first three months of service but if you want the low-rate continue, you'll need to pony up for a full year in advance. That means you'll pay $240 a year to keep your 15GB plan at $20 per month. 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 value
AT&T | Unlimited 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 features an unlimited data plan, which costs just $25 a month when you prepay for a full year. While you get unlimited data, your speeds will slow down to 1.5Mbps speeds after you hit your 16GB limit. (16GB is still a big chunk of data for most people.) AT&T's plan requires $300 in one upfront payment, but you get some perks in exchange, including hotspot data, HD video streaming and 5G service.
Pros: Outstanding amount of data for price
Cons: Requires you to prepay for a full year, speeds slowed significantly after 16GB
The best prepaid plan from a big carrier
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
The best prepaid unlimited data plan
Visible | Visible Plus| $45/month - The best unlimited data prepaid on a budget
Verizon-owned Visible's entry-level plan may cost just $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. A current promotion at Visible lets you save $10 every month for 24 months on the Visible Plus plan when you use the 'VISIBLE24' promo code to sign up before February 14.
Pros: Very affordable, 5G unlimited data
Cons: There are cheaper prepaid plans, no more discounts for multiple lines
The best prepaid plan 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 low-cost prepaid plan
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
The best free phone plan
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
The best range of prepaid phone plans
Tello Economy | 5GB | $14/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 $9 a month — most of us will find the 5GB plan to be enough data for our needs, at a reduced price of $14 a month. If you need more data, there are 10GB, 15GB and unlimited options that are also quite affordable, with the most expensive plan topping out at $25/month. 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
Cons: Limited phone selection
Best low-data prepaid plan
Ultra Mobile | 250MB | $15/month — Low-cost plan for low data users
Not everyone needs a lot of data, which is where Ultra Mobile's entry-level plan comes in. For $15/month, you get unlimited talk and text, plus 250MB of data for those times when you do need to connect. Paying for a year in advance lowers your monthly cost even further down to $10. Need more data? Ultra Mobile has an extensive range of plans, between 3GB and unlimited data, all delivered on T-Mobile's top performing network.
Pros: Low monthly cost, coverage through T-Mobile
Cons: Low data cap isn't for everyone
What is a prepaid phone plan
There are two kinds of cell phone plans — prepaid and postpaid. With a prepaid plan, you pay for data at the beginning of the month; that way, you know your precise costs for budgeting purposes. (Prepaid plans also don't require credit checks, so it's easier to get service if you've got a low credit score.)
Should you use up your allotted data for a month, many carriers will just slow down your data speeds for the rest of the billing cycle. In some cases, you'll need to top off your plan with data. That's why it's important to pick a prepaid phone plan with the right amount of data for your needs.
Many phone carriers prioritize traffic from postpaid customers, so it's possible that data rates can be slowed if you're using a prepaid plan. That's especially true when you use a mobile virtual network operator, or MVNO, such as Mint, Metro or Cricket, where your phone service is piggy-backing on another carrier's network.
Best prepaid phone plans: What you should consider
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 — notably, Metro By T-Mobile — 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, making it a good choice for families.
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. MVNOs use the cellular networks of AT&T, T-Mobile or Verizon for their coverage. 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. As we mentioned above, MVNOs can see their traffic slowed if a carrier’s network gets too crowded.
5G coverage is included with most MVNO service by now. 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.
The best prepaid phone plans and free trials
Some prepaid carriers 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.
The free trial at Cricket, which AT&T owns and operates, runs for 14 days and lets you use up to 3GB of data.
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 also research 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.
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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.
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.Reply
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!Reply
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