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The best cheap cell phone plans in 2021 (under $40 per month)

best cheap cell phone plans under $40
(Image credit: H_Ko/Shutterstock)

The best cheap cell phone plans prove you don't need to shell out a lot of money each month if you need a plan with a lot of data. By broadening your search beyond the big phone carriers, you can find a plan that's as generous with data as its monthly price is low. 

Best cheap cell phone plans at a glance

1. Best value: Mint Mobile
2. Lowest price: Tello
3. Best coverage: Verizon
4. Best cheap unlimited: Visible
5. Best value from a main carrier: T-Mobile

In fact, we'd wager that you could spend as little as $40 a month on the best cheap phone plans and still come away with enough data to meet your needs.

In some cases, that's a lot of data, and you'd be surprised what $40 can buy you — unlimited data from some wireless carriers, as it turns out. In other instances, you can stretch your dollar even further by opting for a plan with less data that make an equally minor dent in your monthly budget. Because if you don't need all that data, why spend extra for it?

As part of our search for the best cell phone plans overall, we've kept an eye out for the best cheap cell phone plans under $40 a month. Our search takes into account the  merits of prepaid vs. postpaid phone service while also examining whether MVNOs are worth the money. As it turns out, you may be as surprised as we were by what you can get for $40 or less, including unlimited data cell phone plans at some carriers.


With the iPhone 12 and Galaxy S21 topping the list of available smartphones, you might be looking for a new cell phone plan, especially one that helps you save money. But even if you're sticking with your current phone, it could be worth it to your bottom line to consider one of the best cheap cell phone plans that are out there right now.

The best cheap cell phone plans

The best overall cheap cell phone plan:

Mint Mobile | 4GB | $15/month - Best overall cheap cell phone plan
Mint Mobile currently stands out as the best overall value when it comes to cheap cell phone plans. Go for its 4GB option, and you'll pay just $15 each month. It is however important to note that Mint Mobile's best prices require you to give up some flexibility. After a three-month discounted rate, you'll keep the best price when you sign up for a year of service. You can also opt for three- and six-month plans. Mint also includes hotspot features and 5G access.

Pros:
Very affordable, decent amount of data
Cons:
Offer changes after 3 monthsView Deal

The lowest priced cell phone plan

Tello Economy | 1GB | $10/month - Lowest priced cell phone plan
Tello offers the cheapest of the cheap when it comes to a new cell phone plan... but it is slightly limiting. You only pay $10 a month but you will find yourself with just 1GB of data. However, for that price Tello is throwing in unlimited calls and texts, free mobile tethering and no contract to tie you in. In other words, this is the perfect plan for anyone on a budget who doesn't need much data. Right now, new customers pay $7.50/month for the first six months of service before the $10 monthly rate kicks in.

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

An excellent price from one of the major carriers

T-Mobile Connect | 2.5GB data | $15/month - Low cost cell phone plan from a big name carrier
The two plans above offer some of the lowest prices around, but for the best coverage and access, looking for a plan from one of the major wireless carriers will be the way to go. This T-Mobile Connect offer currently 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. T-Mobile's price also 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

Best cheap plan with extensive coverage

Verizon | 5GB prepaid | $40/month - Best plan for coverage
Verizon and cheap aren't two words often found near each other, and at first blush, the price of its 5GB plan doesn't compare favorably to the best cheap cell phone plans. But take off $5 for enrolling in autopay, and your monthly fee goes dow to $35. Then, Verizon will cut another $5 when you stick with the plan for three months plus $5 more for staying put for nine months. That brings the cost to $20 over time. This plan's main bonus is the access to Verizon's leading speeds and great 5G coverage (though only prepaid customers with a more expensive unlimited data plan can access Verizon's fastest 5G).

Pros:
Great coverage and speeds, Monthly rate drops over time
Cons: Not the cheapest prepaid aroundView Deal

The cheapest unlimited data

Visible | unlimited data | $40/month - The best unlimited data prepaid on a budget
Visible doesn't exactly go all out on prepaid plans and you'll find yourself limited to just one option. The good news is that the one available choice is pretty great — unlimited data for half of what you'd pay at a big carrier. Plus as a Verizon MVNO, Visible uses Verizon's speedy network, and you can even get 5G access depending on which phone you use.

Pros: Very affordable, 5G unlimited data
Cons:
There are cheaper prepaid plans, 5G data speeds are cappedView Deal

A fantastic value option that uses T-Mobile's network

Metro by T-Mobile | 10GB cell phone plan | $40/month - A great value cell phone plan on T-Mobile
If you like T-Mobile's coverage and speeds but not the limited data of the plan above, Metro by T-Mobile could be a great alternative. Metro offers 5G coverage and with its 10GB plan, you only have to pay $40. While that isn't the cheapest price around, it beats out the price of Verizon's 15GB plan while offering similar coverage. Plus, taxes and fees are included in the price. The big downside is that you do not get hotspot data with the 10GB plan as you would with Metro's more expensive unlimited data options. A Music Unlimited feature means that streaming music from 40-plus services won't count against your data allotment.

Pros:
Taxes and fees included in price, lots of data, uses T-Mobile
Cons: No hotspot data, speeds slowed if T-Mobile is congestedView Deal

The best cheap AT&T cell phone plan

AT&T | 8GB 12-month prepaid | $25/month - Great value on AT&T
Usually, the main carriers stay clear of offering cheap cell phone plans and yet, this AT&T prepaid plan offers some overall excellent value. For just $25 each month, you're getting an 8GB data cap. While that isn't as cheap as Mint Mobile or Tello, it is a great price to pay for AT&T. While you can pay for a month at a time — AT&T charges $30 a month for 5GB and $40 for 15GB — investing in a full year can get you the best price possible.

Pros:
Major carrier, good amount of data for price
Cons: Best price requires a longer contractView Deal

Best limited time deal for unlimited data

Ting | 3 month contract| Unlimited data | $25/month for first three months - A great deal on cheap unlimited data
Ting's unlimited data plan normally costs $45 a month. But under a current promotion, you'll only pay $25 a month for three months when you sign up with Ting. That's better than the unlimited prices for both Mint and Visible. Along with unlimited talk, text and data, you get 12GB of hotspot data plus 5G coverage. Should Ting's offer disappear, you can always get a 12GB plan for $35 a month or 5GB for $25.

Pros:
Hotspot data, 5G coverage
Cons: Lower price ends after three months
View Deal

What to look for with 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 provides 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 AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, 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.

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.
  • PhilipMichaels
    Archived comments are found here: http://www.tomsguide.com/forum/id-3463496/cheap-cell-phone-plans-month.html
    Reply
  • equsnarnd
    One wonders how you do your testing. It seems little more than an expansion of a sales brochure with no real knowledge of the carriers that you rate.

    For example, Straight Talk gives you 10GB of data, unlimited text and calls, all for $45 a month. Yet after being with Straight Talk for a few years I couldn't leave the plan fast enough. They lie, deceive, do things that are borderline corrupt and otherwise are an entirely rotten experience not worth any price. However, on paper they look great.

    If all you're doing is regurgitating their sales info or citing customer stats then you are offering no service at all and it would be better to stop doing these comparisons.

    What do I mean? Let me illustrate.

    1. Straight Talk doesn't tell you when you sign with them that whether you're choosing Verizon, AT&T or T-Mobile as your network that you will be a 2nd class citizen, that you will have not only slower service but the quality of the signal is poorer. In areas where a plan has coverage it may not have high capacity so you won't have any coverage at all. When ST shows, eg, a coverage map from Verizon, that doesn't mean you have that coverage. Verizon customers do but you don't! That's lying.
    2. Buy a phone from ST and you will NEVER get updated to the next version of the OS like Verizon or AT&T and T-Mobile customers do. This is never mentioned anywhere. That's deception.
    3. If ST sends you the wrong phone because they screwed up, they will expect you to mail the phone back to them at your cost. That's corrupt.
    4. If 8 months into your plan, you want to upgrade your phone they are more than happy to oblige. But when you ask them to unlock your old phone so you can sell it they will tell you "NO." Why? They have a RULE. Their rule is they won't unlock any phone that has not had a year of service on it. Pretty unreasonable. And they'll do this with a phone they've sent you by mistake that you paid for. Ask them to unlock it so you can sell it rather than pay to return it and the answer is NO. See the rule.
    5. If you terminate service on your auto pay date so that you don't lose service time you've paid for, watch out. I told them three weeks ahead of time that I wanted to terminate service on my next auto pay date. They said fine and in the last week they sent me a text a day reminding me that my service would terminate and did I want to buy more minutes. What they never bothered to tell me is that if I didn't request to have my phone # ported to my new carrier before the termination took effect that they would not port it. RULE No phone number will be ported that is not an active #. The service ended at noon and I was asking to have it ported by 4 the same afternoon.

    These are the sorts of things that Straight Talk does that can turn a business relationship into pure hell. Now, how many of these companies that you have reported on have you queried about these things, queried their customers about? How much do you actually know about what it is like to deal with MetroPCS? My guess is, not much at all.

    And just so you don't think I'm biased against Straight Talk, let me tell you something Verizon does that, as corporate policy, is idiotic, anti-customer, anti-marketing, violates any business or common sense: I have an LG V10 with an FM radio chip in it that can pick up FM broadcasts. Verizon turns off that function so that if you want to use the FM radio you are forced to stream it as part of your paid for data stream. They charge $50 a month for 7GB of data and $10 for each 1GB over that. How petty of them and what a great way to create enmity among their customers. One wonders where their upper management went to business school. Seems more like the Mafia than Whartons.

    A review of carriers as businesses, their ethics, their practices as regards their customers would be welcomed and valuable.
    Reply
  • rernst75
    MERGED QUESTIONQuestion from rernst75 : "One word: Consumer Cellular- Fantastic!"
    What about Consumer Cellular for low-cost excellent wireless phone carriers? I have used their service for 3 years and never once, did i have a problem! I pay only $28.50 per month for unlimited data, talk,and text. I love their service which is in the United States!!
    Reply
  • mddbkzr
    My "Best pricing options" suggestions:

    Mint Mobile: $15/mo for unlimited talk and text, and 2GB data. Uses T-mobile towers. Great for GSM phones. They have some you can buy or they allow BYOP. Also allows you to use the phone as a hotspot.

    Secondary option for people with CDMA phones: PagePlus $26/mo (with autopay) for unlimited talk/text, and 2GB data (beyond 2GB it is throttled down to "2G" speed but still chugs along), AND it uses Verizon towers for the best US coverage.

    I suggest removing any NVMO that uses Sprint, they have the worst coverage, and even their own coverage maps lie. Can be in an area 5 miles from city limits along a major interstate that shows full 4G on their map and you're sitting there with no service, not even analog 1X. I ran into this way too often a few years ago during my travels through the southeastern US. 98% of the time on the road even in remote rural areas, my wife had Verizon 3G/4G signal, versus 65% of the traveling I had ZERO signal with Sprint (well a compatible company, FreedomPop, but I had same problem with Sprint directly previous to FP). Oh and while we're talking about FreedomPop, with their scam extra fees (their free plan actually charges you $2.95-$4.95 per month), and their HORRIBLE customer service, the only positive with that company is they do not charge you to leave them (but I'm sure they will find a way to charge a "deactivation fee" soon enough).
    Reply
  • mcgregorsteve78
    good article, yet interested why you would choose a company that makes you use wifi as best deal for $25 with 2GB. I fired Repbblic because I was sick of the wifi goofiness. I found twigby and it is the same price AND I get to use Verizon and Sprint combined. I don't think any of these carriers let you do that. I dont know about your scoring, but Coverage is a big deal to me. Just thought I would point this out. Do with what you want with it
    Reply
  • thatpcdudellc
    I have been approached about a plan being sold via MLM called MCS Telecom AKA MCS USA. They are claiming to sell a plan that costs you $300 up front (plus $48 if you wish to port your existing number) and you will get service for 9 YEARS at no additional charge. They use the GSM networks and provide service to 93 countries. They give you SIM card that you put in your unlocked phone and PRESTO you have service for 9 years. Unlimited voice, text and Internet (although the fine print says they may throttle after 2 GB).

    mcstelecom . com

    When asked on how they will generate revenue to carry the company for 9 years, they CLAIM that they (and ALL the major carriers) make money just by having the phone on. He went on to claim that the major carriers could give us all our plan for free and still make money, LOTS of money. Somehow I doubt these claims and feel this is all too good to be true. Any comments on how this kind of business plan could work?
    Reply
  • rgd1101
    21254464 said:
    I have been approached about a plan being sold via MLM called MCS Telecom AKA MCS USA. They are claiming to sell a plan that costs you $300 up front (plus $48 if you wish to port your existing number) and you will get service for 9 YEARS at no additional charge. They use the GSM networks and provide service to 93 countries. They give you SIM card that you put in your unlocked phone and PRESTO you have service for 9 years. Unlimited voice, text and Internet (although the fine print says they may throttle after 2 GB).

    mcstelecom . com

    When asked on how they will generate revenue to carry the company for 9 years, they CLAIM that they (and ALL the major carriers) make money just by having the phone on. He went on to claim that the major carriers could give us all our plan for free and still make money, LOTS of money. Somehow I doubt these claims and feel this is all too good to be true. Any comments on how this kind of business plan could work?

    Look a lot like scam
    Reply
  • Dark Lord of Tech
    TOTAL Wireless is on the Verizon Network and is the best in my opinion.
    35.00 a month for unlimited talk and text and 5GB of Data. If you purchase a refill at Walmart you get 6GB of Data instead of the standard 5GB.
    Reply
  • kjwfromnh
    You’ve obviously not used MetroPCS. They were horrible. I traveled for work during the time I used Metro and in half of my locations I had no service. They sold knock-off phones that quit in months (I went thru 3 phones in about 14 months). Their customer service wasn’t just bad, they were dishonest. Stay. away.
    Reply
  • hrsweet3
    My carrier is RedPocket through whom I get Verizon service. I pay $10 + tax per month for 500 minutes, 500 text messages, and 500 MB of data. This is fine for a low usage user. RedPocket also has plans offering higher service levels.
    Reply