What Are the Best Prepaid/Value Plans?
If you’re looking to save money on your monthly cellphone bill, opting for prepaid wireless service may be the way to go, especially as carriers offer a wider selection of phones to their prepaid customers. With prepaid plans, you pay ahead of time instead of at the end of each billing cycle. Prepaid plans let you get wireless service without a credit check, and you're not tied to any contract.
Metro by T-Mobile — a rebranded version of MetroPCS — offers a lot of data for a reasonable monthly fee: 10GB of LTE data for $40 a month (with taxes included). It's a great way to get yourself a lot of data while enjoying the benefits of T-Mobile's high-performing cellular network. (An alternative? Go with T-Mobile itself, which reshuffled its own prepaid offerings to create a matching 10GB-for-$40 prepaid plan, though you are on the hook for taxes and fees.)
Metro also offers the best unlimited plan for prepaid customers. The carrier's $50 and $60 unlimited options match Boost Mobile on price, though you get a better network with Metro plus other perks like Google One storage. (Boost's unlimited plans give you more hotspot data, if that's something important to your needs.
If saving money is more important that maximizing data, you could turn to a host of discount carriers for an even lower monthly bill. Republic Wireless offers the best balance of cost and data: you pay $5 per gigabyte on top of a $15 charge for unlimited talk and text, so 2GB of data would cost you a mere $25 a month.
Note: T-Mobile and Sprint have agreed to merge, though that deal requires regulatory approval. If it goes through, the T-Mobile-Sprint merger could impact pricing not only on prepaid plans from those two carriers, but also from their respective subsidiaries such as Metro and Boost.
How We Picked the Best Prepaid Plans: You've got a vast number of choices when it comes to prepaid and discount carriers. To help simplify things, we divided plans into different categories. First, we looked at the best overall plans, using 3GB as the ideal amount of data an average user would need each month. Because a growing number of discount carriers now offer unlimited data, we also picked the best plan for people who want the fewest limitations on their monthly cellphone plan.
In addition, we determined which carrier offers the most attractive pricing for families who need multiple lines of data. In all of these categories, we took network performance, including our own 4G testing, into account.
Because some wireless customers want an even lower monthly bill, we broadened our search to include additional discount carriers, which allow you to mix and match the amount of talk minutes, text and data you have in your monthly bill. We picked the best plan for less than $30 that had the most attractive combination of service and price.
Best Prepaid Plans for Individuals
Best Overall Prepaid Plan: Metro by T-Mobile, 10GB for $40 a month
Who Should Get It: Users who want a lot of data on a top-performing network
The rebranded MetroPCS service may be emphasizing unlimited data plans, but its tiered data plan remains a good deal for individuals, especially with the allotted data doubling to 10GB. You'll give up some perks you'd get from other Metro by T-Mobile plans — there's no Google One or Amazon Prime tie-ins and you won't get any hotspot data — but that $40 a month charge includes taxes and fees.
Runner-Up: T-Mobile, 10GB for $40 a month
Who Should Get It: Users who want a lot of data, but prefer dealing with T-Mobile directly
If you're not convinced by MetroPCS's rebranded service, you can get the same offer directly from T-Mobile, which now has the same 10GB for $40-a-month plan as its subsidiary. The difference with T-Mobile is that its prepaid pricing doesn't include taxes and fees, while those are folded into Metro's rate. Network performance should be the same, though T-Mobile reserves the right to de-prioritize prepaid traffic if there's a lot of congestion on its network.
Both AT&T and Verizon have competitive prepaid plans of their own if you prefer those respective networks. AT&T gives you 8GB of high-speed data for $40 a month (after you enroll in autopay for a $10 discount). Verizon's best prepaid plan — 8GB of data — costs $5 extra at $45 a month.
Other prepaid options include:
• Cricket, 5GB for $40 a month: Cricket offers 5GB data with its $40 monthly plan, but you can bring your monthly bill down to $35 by signing up for autopay. Unfortunately, Cricket, which uses AT&T's network, caps LTE speeds at 8 Mbps so you take a performance hit. Cricket doubled the size of its low-cost $30 a month plan to 2GB as well.
• Boost, 3GB for $35 a month: Boost's lone tiered data plan isn't a bad choice, especially since the carrier matches Metro and Cricket by folding taxes and fees into its monthly rates. Boost uses Sprint's slower network.
• Straight Talk, 15GB for $60 a month: Straight Talk has once again boosted how much data it gives you with its tiered plans, and the new 15GB option starts at $45 a month. (Low-data users can turn to Straight Talk's 3GB plan which costs $35, though Cricket's similarly priced plan still offers more data.) We prefer the more expensive of Straight Talk's 15GB plans because it adds unlimited mobile-to-mobile calling to Mexico, Canada, China and India. If international calling doesn't meet your needs or you want more data, consider Straight Talk's $55 unlimited option (which we'll discuss further below).
• Virgin, 5GB for $35 a month: After trying to reinvent itself as an iPhone carrier with just a single unlimited data plan, Virgin has shuffled things up. (It's also selling Android devices again.) Virgin offers 5GB of LTE data for $35 a month and 10GB for $45; there's also an unlimited option.
If you want to save even more money on your monthly bill, other discount carriers let you mix and match talk, text and data allotments. By turning to one of these options, you can cut your bill down to size if you don't really use a lot of data each month or you prefer texting to talking.
The perfect low-cost plan depends upon your needs, but to find the carrier that offers the best mix of options, we set a budget of $30. Then we tried to build a plan that offered the best mix of talk, text and data without exceeding our monthly limit. We gave extra marks to plans that came in well under budget while still giving us a good allotment.
|Carrier||Talk Time||Texts||LTE Data||Monthly Cost||Network||Notes|
|Consumer Cellular||Unlimited||Unlimited||2GB||$30||AT&T, T-Mobile||5 percent discount for AARP members; recently introduced new data plans|
|FreedomPop||Unlimited||Unlimited||2GB||$25||AT&T, Sprint||Also offers family plans, bulk discounts for ordering multiple months in advance|
|Google Fi||Unlimited||Unlimited||1GB||$30||Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular||Get refunds for unused data; Bills capped at $80 even if you use more data; Now works with more phones|
|Mint Mobile||Unlimited||Unlimited||3GB||$15||T-Mobile||Requires $45 payment for 3-month commitment; price increases after 3 months to $23 a month unless you commit to a full year|
|PagePlus||Unlimited||Unlimited||3GB||$30||Verizon||Includes unlimited international texts, plus $10 of international calling credit|
|Republic Wireless||Unlimited||Unlimited||2GB||$25||Sprint, T-Mobile||Uses Wi-Fi for calls and text when possible; add data for $5 per gigabyte|
|Tello||Unlimited||Unlimited||4GB||$29||Sprint||Plans cover calls to Canada and Mexico|
|TextNow||Unlimited||Unlimited||5GB||$29||Sprint||Family plan discounts let you add another 5GB line for $22|
|Ting||500 minutes||100 texts||500MB||$28||Sprint, T-Mobile||Plan reflects "pay what you use" pricing; first month of service gets a $25 credit|
|Unreal Mobile||Unlimited||Unlimited||5GB||$30||Sprint, AT&T||Plans start at $15 for 2GB of high-speed data|
|US Mobile||600 minutes||1,000 texts||3GB||$31||T-Mobile, Verizon||Recently revamped plans, including attractively priced unlimited data options|
|Visible||Unlimited||Unlimited||Unlimited||$40||Verizon||Now supports some Android devices in addition to iPhone|
Our favorite low-cost plan comes from Republic Wireless, which offers 1GB of data along with unlimited talk and text for $20 a month. You can up your data allotment by $5 for every extra gigabyte, meaning 2GB brings your cost to $25. Republic keeps monthly prices low by using Wi-Fi networks to handle much of your calling, texting and data needs; when Wi-Fi's not available, it turns to the mobile networks of Sprint and T-Mobile.
Another compelling choice is Google Fi, the rebranded version of Google's Project Fi wireless service. Google Fi charges $20 for unlimited talk and text, with LTE data available for $10 per gigabyte. You're only charged for the exact data you use, and Google also caps monthly bills at $80 even if you use more than 6GB of data, effectively creating an unlimited data plan. While Google used to limit its wireless service to its own phones and a few select Android devices, you can now use just about any phone with Google Fi, including iPhones.
Another carrier that just expanded which phones work with its service is Verizon-owned Visible, which offers a single $40 unlimited plan. Visible used to be limited just to iPhones (and you had to bring your own device, too), but now support has been expanded to the Galaxy S9 and S9+; Visible's now selling phones, too. Other high-data options include TextNow, which also offers a $40 unlimited plan, and Tello, which has 4GB ($29) and 10GB ($39) options.
Mint Mobile has one the lowest-priced options at $15 a month which gets you 3GB of LTE data as of Jan. 29. There's a catch to that price, though: You have to prepay for three months at the start, and prices go up after that period unless you commit to a year of service. Seniors should check out Consumer Cellular, where you can get 2GB plan of data plus unlimited talk and text for $30 a month — and that's before a 5 percent discount for AARP members.
Unlimited Prepaid Plans
Best Unlimited Prepaid Plan: Metro by T-Mobile, $50 a month
Who Should Get It: Data-hungry cell phone users who want a fast network
Metro by T-Mobile and Boost have the best regular price on unlimited data at $50 a month, though both carriers restrict video streaming to 480p. Boost goes a step further by also imposing speed limits on game and music streaming for unlimited customers. That, plus Metro's better performing T-Mobile network and perks like 100GB of cloud storage via Google One, make the choice easier. Boost does offer more hotspot data — 8GB versus 5GB — with its $50 plan.
A second Metro unlimited option costs $60 a month and will give you 15GB of LTE hotspot data. Video streaming is still limited to 480p, but you'll get Google One storage plus an Amazon Prime membership through Metro's more expensive unlimited plan. If HD video streaming is important to you, look at Boost's $60 Unlimited Plus plan, which offers HD video streaming plus 20GB of LTE hotspot data.
Other unlimited plans include:
• Boost, $50 a month: As noted above, under Boost's unlimited plan, music will stream at 500 Kbps, and streaming games will be limited to 2 Mbps on top of the 480p streaming video restriction. You can pay $10 extra each month to stream video at 1080p and you'll get 20GB of LTE hotspot data, too as part of the Unlimited Plus plan. A third unlimited plan ups LTE hotspot data to 40GB and adds access to the Tidal Premium music streaming service, along with international calling and texting perks; this $80-a-month Ultimate Unlimited plan was supposed to disappear in early January, but it remains on Boost's website, as of this writing.
• Virgin, $60 a month: Virgin's unlimited plan costs the same as the more premium offerings at Boost and Metro, but includes more restrictions. You can only stream video at 480p, and there are caps on data speeds for music and game streaming, too.
• Cricket, $55 a month: Unlimited data costs more at Cricket than with Metro and Boost, but an autopay discount knocks $5 off the $60 rate for Cricket's Unlimited Extra plan. This plan just became more attractive, as Cricket has removed the 8 Mbps data speed cap it imposes on other plans. You're restricted to streaming video at 480p resolution, and hotspot data costs extra.
• Straight Talk, $55 a month: Straight Talk joins the ranks of prepaid carriers with an unlimited data option for a relatively affordable $55 a month, matching Cricket's pricing. As with other prepaid unlimited plans, expect videos to stream at 480p resolution. Autopay enrollment knocks a single dollar off your monthly rate.
• AT&T, $85 a month: Like its Cricket subsidiary, AT&T has two unlimited options for prepaid customers. In this case, the more expensive $85-a-month plan is the better deal. It lets you stream HD video and offers 10GB of hotspot data. An autopay discount lowers the price to $75 a month. (It had been $65, but that limited time $20 discount has gone away.) A $65 unlimited plan — also subject to a $10 autopay discount — limits video streams to 480p resolution and offers no hotspot data.
• Sprint, $60 a month: Sprint has an unlimited option for prepaid customers that costs $60. You can only stream video at 480p resolution on this plan, and there are caps on streaming music (500 Kbps) and games (2 Mbps).
• T-Mobile, $50 a month: Prepaid customers who don't want the credit check that comes with the regular T-Mobile One plan can get a prepaid version of that plan for less money, though taxes and fees aren't included as they are with the T-Mobile One plan for postpaid customers. You'll also have to pay extra for coverage in Canada and Mexico as well as international calls with the prepaid version of T-Mobile's unlimited plan, while other restrictions (480p video streaming, 3G hotspot data) remain in place.
• TextNow, $40 a month: In addition to its tiered data plans, discount carrier TextNow has a $40 unlimited option. That matches Visible's price, and at TextNow, you're not restricted to using an iPhone.
• Verizon, $70 a month: Verizon has dropped the price on its prepaid unlimited plan and added 3G hotspot data. You're still limited to streaming video at 480p resolution, though. Sign up for autopay and you can lower your monthly bill to $65.
• Visible, $40 a month: As noted above, Visible has one plan and one plan only — a $40 monthly plan with unlimited data on top of talk and text. The good news is that you get to use Verizon's top-performing network. The bad news is you'll have to live with a 5 Mbps cap on data speeds. Still, it's one of the lowest cost unlimited plans for prepaid customers and it now supports more phones.
• US Mobile, $40 to $55 a month: US Mobile adjusted the pricing on its unlimited plans, and the result is more attractive rates. You'll pay $10 for unlimited talk and text, plus another $30 for unlimited data. However, that $40 a month total caps speeds at 1 Mbps. You can either boost that cap to 5 Mbps for another $5 a month or remove the speed limit entirely for an additional $15.
If you're shopping for multiple prepaid lines, seven carriers are worth considering — AT&T, Boost, Cricket, MetroPCS, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon. They offer discounts when you add multiple lines. In the case of AT&T and Cricket, those discounts escalate the more lines you add.
Best Plan: Metro by T-Mobile's unlimited plan for four lines of data, $140
Who Should Get It: Families with big data needs who want to save money
The best prepaid family plan usually comes down to who's offering the better discounts on additional lines. With Metro's new plans now available, you can add another line to any plan for $30 per line regardless of which plan you have, so the discount is bigger on pricier plans. Both Metro and Boost offer $50 unlimited plans, with extra lines costing $30 each; that means a family of four pays the same at either carrier. We'll give the nod to Metro because it uses T-Mobile's network, which outperforms Sprint (the parent company of Boost) in our testing, and it offers Google One storage as a perk.
Check for special discounts and offers on family plan pricing. As of this writing, both Boost and Metro offer four lines of unlimited data for $100 a month. Metro is also waiving the cost of the fourth line of data on its premium unlimited plan. (You'd pay $120 four four lines of this plan, instead of $150.)
Other options for families include:
• AT&T: AT&T has tweaked the escalating discounts it gives to multiple lines. Add a second or third line of prepaid data, and the carrier knocks $10 off the cost of each line. (That $40 8GB plan costs $30 for the second and third lines, in other words.) Add a fourth line and AT&T ups the discount to $20. Autopay discounts also remain in effect for each line of data. A family of four that opts for four lines with 8GB of data each will pay $120, once you factor in all those discounts. That same family can mix and match plans, too, adding a cheaper 1GB plan if there's a member of the family who doesn't use as much data as the rest.
• Boost: As noted above, you pay $30 for each additional line at Boost. That's not much of a discount on the carrier's 3GB plan (though Boost applies the discount to all 3GB lines, so a family of four pays $120 a month). It's decent savings on the $50 unlimited plan, though. (Additional lines on the carrier's Unlimited Plus plan cost $40 per line while the limited-time Ultimate Unlimited plan features additional lines for $60 each.)
• Cricket: Cricket used to be a much more attractive option for families when it offered steeper discounts on extra lines. While not as generous, the revamped discounts from families still let you save. On tiered data plans, you can knock $10 off the price of a second line and $20 off the price for any lines after that. Under this pricing, a family of four each gets 5GB of data for $110 a month. (Unfortunately, Cricket's group savings aren't eligible for autopay credits.)
It gets a little more complicated with adding extra lines to Cricket's two unlimited plans. Under Cricket's less expensive unlimited plan — the one that caps data speeds at 3 Mbps — you can get four lines for $100 a month. Additional lines for the Unlimited Extra plan — which has no cap on data speeds — cost $30 per line.
• Sprint: Sprint's revamped prepaid plan adds a discounted rate when you add more lines. The first line of 4GB of LTE data costs $40 a month with autopay enrollment, but subsequent lines cost $30 each. For unlimited plans, Sprint charges $100 for two lines of data — $60 for the first line, $40 for the second — with additional lines costing $20 each.
• T-Mobile: T-Mobile now offers four lines of unlimited data for $140 for prepaid customers. Four lines with 10GB each will cost you $10 less, at $130 per month.
• Verizon: Verizon follows fellow Big Four carriers AT&T and Sprint by offering discounts as you add prepaid lines, with the size of the discount depending on what plan you have. The carrier will knock $10 off additional lines of its $40 3GB plan and $15 off extra lines the $50 8GB plan. The unlimited plan gets $20 discounts on extra lines. You can can knock off $5 on each line when you enroll in autopay.
Big Four Prepaid Plans
|Carrier||Prepaid Data Plans||Monthly Cost||Notes|
|AT&T||1GB/8GB/Unlimited||$30/$40/$55 - $75||Pricing reflects autopay discounts; Cheaper unlimited plan caps video streaming at 480p|
|Sprint||4GB/Unlimited||$40/$60||Includes $5 autopay discount, with unlimited international texting and hotspot data|
|T-Mobile||10GB/Unlimited||$40/$50||Pricing and data caps recently changed|
|Verizon||500MB/3GB/8GB/Unlimited||$30/$40/$50/$70||Take another $5 off each plan with autopay discounts|
All four major carriers offer prepaid plans, though they're not as appealing as the options outlined above. Recent changes to prepaid pricing at Verizon give you 3GB for $40 a month or 8GB for $50 a month, respectively, with both plans eligible for a $5 autopay discount; the carrier also has a $30 entry-level option with just 500MB of data. As of this writing, Verizon is taking a bonus 7GB onto its 8GB prepaid plan, though that's a limited-time offer. AT&T offers an 8GB option of its own, but charges less than Verizon, once autopay discounts bring your monthly rate down to $40.
Sprint's prepaid options include 4GB for $40 plus its $60 unlimited plan. As noted above, T-Mobile has the most compelling option for $40 with its new 10GB plan.