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Best prepaid phone plans in 2021

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

Choosing one of the best prepaid phone plans can help you pay less each month for your cell phone service. While postpaid services promise big data allotments, they also charge big bucks. A prepaid plan is often cheaper, especially if you're willing to look beyond AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon for your wireless phone service.

The best prepaid phone plans at a glance

1. Mint Mobile - The best overall value
2. Verizon - Best for coverage
3. Visible  - Best unlimited data prepaid
4. Boost Mobile - Best for families
5. AT&T - Best price from a main carrier

Those lower rates require some tradeoffs — you won't get the 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.

Once you consider the prepaid vs. postpaid phone service question, you may decide these sacrifices may be worth it, especially if the best prepaid phone plans give you dependable cell phone service at a low monthly cost. You’ll find a variety of options from prepaid carriers — some for families, some for individuals and even a few unlimited data cell phone plans — that may fit your needs for wireless coverage. 

Here are the best prepaid phone plans we’ve found for smartphone service, after looking through options from the major carriers, prepaid service providers and other lesser known carriers.

The best prepaid phone plans for your smartphone

The best value prepaid cell phone plan:

Mint Mobile | 10GB | $20/month - Best value prepaid plan
Mint Mobile stands out as the best overall value prepaid plan available because it offers you 10GB of data for just $20 a month. While that is extremely affordable, that price only lasts for 3 months. After that, 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 continuing the $20 price.

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

Best prepaid plan for coverage:

Verizon | 15GB prepaid | $45/month - Best prepaid for coverage
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 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 aroundView Deal

Great value from a major carrier:

AT&T | 8GB 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 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: Major carrier, good amount of data for price
Cons: Requires you to prepay for a full year, no 5G coverage
View Deal

Best unlimited data prepaid cell phone plan:

Visible | unlimited data | $40/month - The best unlimited data prepaid on a budget
While you can get unlimited 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. And when you refer a new customer to Visible, for one month, you'll only have to pay $5 for service. It is important to note that Visible data speeds can be slowed on Verizon's network if there's a lot of congestion.

Pros: Very affordable, 5G unlimited data
Cons:
There are cheaper prepaid plansView Deal

Low cost-plan from T-Mobile:

T-Mobile Connect | 2.5GB data | $15/month - Low cost cell phone plan from a big name carrier
This T-Mobile Connect offer supplies you with 2.5GB of data at a price of $15. While that isn't a huge amount of data, T-Mobile will give you a 500MB data boost annually. That price includes unlimited calls and texts and 5G access. However, once you hit your data cap, you're out of data until your next cycle begins instead of simply being limited on speeds.

Pro: Low costs, 500MB data boosts annually
Con: Out of data once you hit your capView Deal

The cheapest plan of all:

Tello Economy | 1GB | $10/month - Lowest priced cell phone plan
If you think T-Mobile and Mint don't charge a lot for service, check out Tello. The carrier's Economy plan costs just $10 a month. (Actually, for the first six months, it's $7.50.) 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.

Pros: Cheapest cell phone plan, unlimited calls and texts
Cons:
Very limited on dataView Deal

Most flexible prepaid for families:

Boost Mobile | Unlimited data | three lines | $90/month - Flexible family plans from Boost
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 on T-Mobile's cellular network. Just be aware that Boost customers may see slower speeds when traffic is heavy and T-Mobile prioritizes its own subscribers.

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

An unlimited prepaid plan with lots of benefits:

Metro by T-Mobile | unlimited data | $50/month - Unlimited data with added benefits
For pure price, the best unlimited prepaid plans are going to come from either Visible or Mint Mobile. But for a little bit more each month, Metro's unlimited plan is pretty great, too. Your costs jump up to $50 for an unlimited plan, and your video resolution is capped at 480p. But Metro offers 5GB of hotspot data, 5G access on T-Mobile's network and 100GB of online storage. Extra lines can be added for just $30 each.

Pros:
Hotspot data and cloud storage included, 5G compatible
Cons:
Video resolution capped at 480p, cheaper unlimited options elsewhereView Deal

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 starting to find its way to MVNOs as well. 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. 

Philip Michaels
Philip Michaels is a senior editor at Tom's Guide. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics and old movies. 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.
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  • 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!
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    Thread is over a year old.

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