The best cheap cell phone plans can stop you from spending your money on cellular data you don't need. As good as unlimited data plans are — and we can help you find the best unlimited data plan if that's what you prefer — not everyone needs that much data. And they certainly don't need to pay a big monthly fee for a super-sized data plan.
Fortunately, there's life beyond unlimited data for your monthly smartphone service. A number of carriers — some you've heard of, some you haven't — offer smaller pools of data for less money. And while you may have to make some trade-offs on service, in many cases, the best cheap cell phone plans can deliver just what you need for your monthly coverage for a much lower price than what you're probably paying now.
We've looked at carriers big and small as part of our search for the best cell phone plans overall. Along the way, we've spotted a number of deals that can deliver just enough data while keeping your monthly bill under $40. Some are even happy to give you unlimited data for that low rate.
With the iPhone 12 now available and the Galaxy S21 arriving later this month, you might be looking for a new cell phone plan, especially one that helps you save money. Here's a closer look at the best cheap cell phone plans that are out there right now.
What are the best cheap cell phone plans?
For a long time, we've thought that Metro by T-Mobile — the renamed MetroPCS service — is the best of the bunch when it comes to offering the best cheap cell phone plans. Metro uses a far-reaching network with fast LTE speeds, while also offering attractively priced data plans that start at $30 for 2GB.
But Metro has been pipped by its own parent company. To mark its successful merger with Sprint last year, T-Mobile added T-Mobile Connect. That's a $15-a-month prepaid plan that also gives you 2GB of data. It's the cheapest data plan out there, especially after similarly priced offers from rival carriers have expired.
If you still want unlimited data, you can find it without blowing your $40 monthly budget for wireless service. Visible charges $40 a month for its unlimited data service, and it's lifted caps on data speeds, making this an attractive option for iPhone and Android users alike. Mint's unlimited plan is even cheaper at $30 a month, though you have to commit to a year of service to keep that rate.
For bargain hunters who don't need that much data, Republic Wireless offers the most flexibility, charging just $5 per month for each gigabyte on top of a $15 base rate for unlimited talk and text. TextNow doesn't charge you anything for talk and text, though you will need a data plan if you plan on connecting with anything other than Wi-Fi. Google Fi, formerly known as Project Fi, provides great coverage, particularly for overseas travelers, and it’s more accessible as Google has extended support to devices beyond its own Pixel phones.
The best cheap cell phone plans under $40
T-Mobile's prepaid plans used to be nothing to write home about — and largely out of the reach of anyone who wanted to only spend $40 a month on their smartphone service. Then the T-Mobile-Sprint merger went through, and the combined company put its expanded cellular network to use with a new T-Mobile Connect offering.
For $15 a month, you get 2GB of data along with unlimited talk and text. If that's too constricting, you can upgrade to 5GB for $25 a month. Because T-Mobile's 5G network has nationwide reach, that data allotment covers 5G coverage as well as LTE, though you'll need a 5G-capable phone to take advantage of that.
There's a big caveat to T-Mobile Connect: Once you hit your data cap, you're out of data until the next billing cycle begins. Other discount carriers with slightly more expensive plans will merely slow your data for the rest of your monthly billing cycle.
To prove that it's serious about that last point, T-Mobile says it's going to boost the data of T-Mobile Connect customers for each year they use the service. Every year, your plan will grow by another 500MB until you've been with the carrier for five years. That's a way to expand your data allotment by 2.5GB without a corresponding raise in monthly rates.
If you find the amount of data in T-Mobile's Connect plan too restrictive, you can always turn to another T-Mobile-owned outfit to find the best cheap cell phone plans. Metro by T-Mobile is owned and operated by the Uncarrier, and it reaps the benefits of its parent company’s network.
In our latest wireless network testing, T-Mobile was neck-and-neck with AT&T for LTE speed. And that benefits Metro subscribers, as there’s no noticeable performance gap between T-Mobile and Metro. (T-Mobile does reserve the right to prioritize its own traffic ahead of other carriers on its network, but in only a few testing instances, did we notice any difference between T-Mobile and Metro speeds.)
In some of the locations where we tested, Metro turned in faster times than its parent company. Subscribe to Metro and you can be confident that anywhere T-Mobile’s network reaches, you’ll enjoy solid service. You can also get 5G coverage if you live in an area where T-Mobile offers 5G service, assuming you have a compatible phone like the Galaxy A51 5G, Galaxy S20 FE or Revvl 5G— all of which Metro has.
Metro features a 2GB plan for $30 — double what T-Mobile charges — so the best cheap cell phone plan Metro has to offer is its $40 package which gives you 10GB of data each month. That's a generous amount of data, even if you are restricted to 480p resolution on video streaming. Taxes and fees are included in the cost, so your monthly bill will never be a surprise.
Metro also offers a decent selection of phones, including flagships such as the iPhone 12. But Metro's focus is really on low-cost handsets like the Moto G Stylus or iPhone SE. Of the 29 phones currently on offer at Metro, nine will cost you less than $200. (You can find additional savings if you bring over a number to Metro, though you'll be on the hook for taxes and an activation fee.)
Republic Wireless takes an attractive approach to the best cheap cell phone plan, charging you a flat rate for talk text — $15 — and then making you only pay $5 for each gigabyte of data you use. If you truly don't use a lot of data, you can really shrink your cell phone bill. Under Republic's way of doing things, 2GB of data would cost a total of $25 per month, with talk and text included.
The savings increase if you sign up for an annual payment on your cell phone plan. Say you use 2GB of LTE data per month. That would cost you $25 per month normally, but paying annually reduces that monthly payment to $20.83 — essentially giving you two months of service for free.
You can bring your own device to Republic, so long as it's an Android phone. (There's no support for the iPhone in other words.) Republic sells phones, too, including the long-lasting Moto G Power. You also find Samsung flagships, including the Galaxy S20, as well as more budget-focused Samsung phones like the Galaxy A51.
Republic keeps costs low by using Wi-Fi to handle calls, texts and data when available; otherwise, you’re using the cellular network of either Sprint or T-Mobile. Adaptive coverage blends Wi-Fi and cellular to deliver improved call quality.
Read our full Republic Wireless carrier report.
If you want lots of data but don't want the higher monthly bill that comes with one of the major carriers' unlimited data plans, consider turning to Visible. This Verizon-owned low-cost carrier gives you unlimited talk, text and data for $40 a month, with taxes and fees folded into that rate.
There are trade-offs. Verizon prioritizes its own traffic over Visible, so your speeds can be slowed if the network's congested. Visible seems to have permanently dropped a 5 Mbps cap on download speeds, which is good news for the carrier's overall performance. Other caps remain: you still can only stream video at 480p resolution — not HD — and hotspot speeds are capped at 5 Mbps. (A previous restriction on music streaming speeds has been lifted, the carrier tells us.)
Visible customers will also appreciate that you can now get family plans through the wireless carrier, with Visible discounting the rate as you add more lines. Two lines of data cost $35 each, for example, or $70 a month total, while four lines reduces the per line cost to $25 a month, or $100 total.
After debuting as an iPhone-only carrier — and it still offers lots of Apple phones, including the iPhone 12 later this month — Visible added support for Android devices in 2019. It now features handsets like the Galaxy S20 lineup, the latest Google Pixels and a few lower cost Android devices.
Visible has started offering 5G coverage, with iPhone 12 users now able to take advantage of it as part of their data plan. Visible plans to add support for Android devices soon. Visible's 5G coverage works wherever Verizon 5G reaches.
Read our full Visible carrier report.
Mint Mobile offers customers low rates on a large amount of data, but it comes with a catch. When you sign up for Mint, you pay for the first three months in advance, getting a reduced rate in return. If you want to maintain that lower rate, though, you have to commit to a full-year of service. While some people will willing make that trade-off, it does get rid of the flexibility that comes from using a prepaid service.
Here's how it works. Say you opt for Mint's 8GB plan. That will cost you $20 a month for the first three months — a very attractive rate. To keep that rate, you'll sign up for another year of service; otherwise, you'd pay $35 a month. As you can see, the savings for committing to Mint are very substantial.
Mint's newest plan packs in even more data. For $30 a month, you can get an unlimited talk, text and data. That's less than Visible's $40 plan, though Visible lets you go month-to-month without a year-long commitment.
Mint says it now offers 5G coverage via T-Mobile's network. You'll need a 5G-ready phone and service will be available wherever T-Mobile 5G reaches. Your phone will either connect to 5G or 4G depending on which network is stronger where you are.
Read our full Mint Mobile carrier report.
With T-Mobile offering a 2GB plan for $15 a month, Boost has decided to one-up its rival (and the company that provides its cellular towers). Boost features a 2GB plan of its own for the same $15 rate. (Occasionally, Boost will cut that to $10 a month, so check to see if that promotion returns.)
Boost has other plans including a $45-a-month Shrink-It option that gives you 15GB of data and cuts your rate by $5 if you stick with the plan for three and six months. That means after half-a-year, you're paying $35 a month for that same amount of data. We also like Boost's regular $35 a month plan which offers the same 10GB Metro By T-Mobile does, but for $5 less.
There are cheaper plans than what Google offers through its own cellular service, Google Fi. But if you do a lot of traveling — and don't use a lot of data — then Google Fi offers one of the best cheap phone plans.
You get unlimited talk and text for $20 a month and each gigabyte of data adds another $10 to your monthly bill. That's double what Republic charges per gigabyte, but Google Fi credits you for the data that goes unused on your plan, so judicious web surfing rewards you with a lower monthly bill.
In those months where you need to use a lot of data, Google Fi's Bill Protection feature caps your monthly cost at $80 even if you use more than the 6GB of data that would buy. Subscribers with an eye on monthly costs likely won't want to take advantage of this feature regularly, but it's nice to know that it's there when you need it.
Google Fi also helps keep your data usage down by employing Wi-Fi when available. Otherwise, you switch seamlessly between the networks of Sprint, T-Mobile and US Cellular, at least if you use a Fi-certified phone like Google's own Pixel phones, including the Pixel 4a and Pixel 5. Google Fi now includes a wider selection of phones optimized for its network, with Galaxy S20 and Galaxy Note 20 flagships joining cheaper devices like the Moto G Stylus and Moto G Power.
That said, you can use almost an Android phone and even iPhones with Google Fi, though you'll have to stick with either T-Mobile or Sprint's network with no seamless switching between the two.
Google Fi is particularly appealing when you travel. In more than 200-plus countries, you continue to draw from the same pool of data you would in the U.S. at no addition cost.
Read our full Google Fi carrier report.
Consumer Cellular has proven to be a hit for older cell phone users who don't need a lot of data each month. (The 5% discount on monthly service offered to AARP members likely boosts that appeal.)
You'll pay $20 for unlimited talk, though you can save $5 on that, if you only need 250 minutes of talk time each month. Data is billed separately, in chunks as small as 500MB a month ($5) all the way up to 25GB ($40). The best option for people who want to keep their monthly cell phone bill low is a plan that bundles unlimited talk with 3GB of data, which costs a total of $30. Unlimited testing is included with every Consumer Cellular plan, and customers who sign up by the end of September will get one month of service for free.
Consumer Cellular gives you the option of changing your plan during a billing cycle if you find you're not going to use as much talk or data as you had planned. If you're going over your limit, you'll be automatically upgraded to the next tier of service.
Read our full Consumer Cellular carrier report.
You don't necessarily need to pay a dime for your cell phone service, so long as you don't plan on using a lot of data. TextNow offers a free tier of its wireless service that includes the ability to make calls and send texts over both cellular and Wi-Fi. Cellular coverage is provided via Sprint's network.
There are some caveats to the free tier of service at TextNow, as you'd probably expect. Ads are a fact of life if you opt for free calling and texting in the form of a banner ad at the bottom of the TextNow app as well as full screen ads at the end of phone calls. And if you ever need to use data to surf the web, browse social media or handle any of the other functions that put the "smart" in "smartphone," you'll need to pay for a data plan. For $20 a month, you can add 2GB of LTE data, plus the ability to use your phone as a hotspot. If you don't need data, but would like to ditch the ads, that costs $10 a month.
That pricing likely won't cut it for people who still require more than 2GB of cellular data, especially with more attractively priced plans still available. But if you find yourself spending more time at home and around Wi-Fi, TextNow's free plan could be a way to cut the cost of your monthly cell phone bill.
Read our full TextNow carrier report.
What to look for when shopping for the best cheap cell phone plans
Obviously, price is going to be paramount when considering a cheap cell phone plan. After all, if money is no object, there are plenty of pricey plans that will deliver maximum perks and data.
But price isn’t the only criteria to look at. You'll want to consider who wants to provide the best cell phone coverage in your area and whether the discount carrier you're considering uses that carrier's network. With the exception of T-Mobile, none of the discount carriers we've mentioned here operate their own network. Rather, as mobile virtual network operators, or MVNOs, they piggyback on the cellular networks built by one or more of the major carriers. Some carriers, such as Republic Wireless and Google Fi, also offload calls and texts to Wi-Fi when available, as part of their efforts to keep monthly costs low.
You'll also want to look at the variety of plans each carrier offered and whether you could move to a different plan if your talk, text and data needs change. We've focused on plans for individuals, but if you're searching for the best family cell phone plan, look into whether a carrier offers discounts on multiple lines. While perks generally aren't included with cheap cell phone plans, look to see if there are some added benefits such as hotspot data.