The best prepaid phone plans in 2024

best prepaid phone plans
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The best prepaid phone plans put a hard cap on your monthly cell phone bill so that you always know what the cost will be. With a prepaid plan, you pay in advance — sometimes up to a year in advance in exchange for a lower rate — removing any chance of overage charges when your bill arrives. Even better, prepaid plans usually cost less than postpaid plans from big-name phone carriers.

The trick to finding a top prepaid plan is to broaden your search. Yes, AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon have prepaid plans of their own — some of them are quite good — but you can find 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, as you can see with our pick for the best prepaid plan overall at Mint Mobile.

A prepaid plan doesn't necessarily mean settling for limits on how much data you get each month. The best cheap phone plans do include some options 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 whether your data might be slowed if there's a lot of traffic. We also look at what happens to your service when you use up all your data in a given month. Using that criteria, here are our picks for the best prepaid phone plans.

The quick list

The best prepaid phone plan overall

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

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. (Mint is now owned by T-Mobile.) A promotion at Mint cuts the first three months of coverage to $15/month for every plan right now.

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

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, the best AT&T phone plans include an unlimited data option through AT&T's prpaid service, costing 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 | 15GB prepaid | $35/month - Best prepaid for coverage
Among the best Verizon phone plans, you'll find a prepaid option with 15GB of data for $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

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 to 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. You now get a Global Pass that gives you one day of text, talk and data usage in 140 countries. Visible Plus customers can also add a smartwatch to their plan at no addition cost. Right now, a promotion cuts the price of Visible Plus to $25 for the first month of service when you sign up with the "VIP20" promo code.

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

Best low-cost prepaid plan

T-Mobile Connect | 5GB data | $15/month - Low cost cell phone plan from a big name carrier
Pro: Con:

T-Mobile Connect | 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 reached 5GB after T-Mobile added more data for the year. If you need more data, the $25 monthly plan now features a generous 8GB. 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, includes 5G service
Con: Out of data once you hit your cap

The best range of prepaid phone plans

Tello Economy | 5GB | $14/month - Low-priced cell 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
Limited phone selection

The best prepaid plan for families

Cricket Wireless | Unlimited data plan | 4 lines | $130/month — A good option for familiesPros:Cons:

Cricket Wireless | Unlimited data plan | 4 lines | $130/month — A good option for families
Cricket gives you discounts as you add extra lines to your unlimited data plan, so that a family of four would pay $130 each month. That's actually $25 less than what you'd spend on a rival unlimited data plan from Metro by T-Mobile. Cricket's perks also stand out among prepaid carriers, as this plan includes 15GB of hotspot data, 150GB of cloud storage and access to the ad-supported tier of the Max streaming service.

Pros: Uses AT&T's network including 5G coverage, includes streaming service subscription
Cons: There are cheaper plans offering unlimited data

The best free phone plan

TextNow | 0GB | Free - Free calling and textingPros: Cons:

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 $4.99 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. (A day pass costs $4.99 for 2GB of high-speed data while a month with 10GB of high speed data will run you $39.99; use up your high-speed data and you get unlimited data at slower speeds.) However, TextNow's free plan now includes data for specific apps to check email, look up directions, use ride-sharing services and other essential apps.

Pros: No charge for unlimited talk and text, essential services (email, maps) now included in free plan
Cons: App features ads, more data costs extra

Best low-data prepaid plan

Ultra Mobile | 250MB | $15/month — Low-cost plan for low data usersPros:Cons:

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 $8 thanks to a sale going on as of this writing. 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. Like Mint, Ultra Mobile is now owned by T-Mobile.

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.

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 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.

Visible's free trial runs the longest at 15 days. In addition to iPhones, it's now open to Samsung and Google Pixel devices that can support eSIM. 

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.

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.