Product Use case Rating
AT&T Best Individual Prepaid Plan N/A
MetroPCS Runner Up, Best Prepaid Plan N/A
Republic Wireless Best Plan Under $30 N/A
Boost N/A
Cricket N/A
Straight Talk N/A
Virgin N/A

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.

Based on our testing and analysis, AT&T's 8GB plan has stolen the prepaid crown from MetroPCS. While the $50 plan costs more than MetroPCS's $40 offering out of the gate, you can enroll in AT&T's autopay to reduce your monthly by $10. That's more data than MetroPCS for the same amount of money.

MetroPCS still offers the best unlimited plan for prepaid customers, especially if you don't mind streaming video at lower-resolution. Families have a choice between MetroPCS and Boost Mobile, which charge the same amount for four lines of unlimited data; we think MetroPCS gets the edge for its better performing network, though Boost is a good alternative. Verizon also offers very attractive discounts on its prepaid plans, especially if you're adding four lines of data.

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 (and that's not expected to happen until at least 2019), 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 MetroPCS 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.

MORE: Prepaid vs. Postpaid Phone Service: What's Better for You?

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: AT&T, 8GB for $40 a month

Who Should Get It: Data-hungry users who like AT&T's network

AT&T wins on data with a $40 plan (after a $10 autopay discount) that provides a whopping 8GB of LTE data every month. You can stream video at HD resolution under AT&T's prepaid plan, and also use your data when travel to Canada or Mexico. You get unlimited calls and texts to those two countries, too.

If your data needs aren't as extensive, AT&T has a 1GB plan that costs $35 a month. Here, the autopay discount only knocks $5 off your bill, though, and you don't enjoy the Canada/Mexico benefits available to the 8GB plan.

Runner-Up: MetroPCS, 5GB for $40 a month

Who Should Get It: Prepaid customers who want the best network performance

MetroPCS is a good alternative because of the superior network of parent company T-Mobile. MetroPCS's $40 plan also doesn't put any limits on download speeds, as Cricket does.

After tinkering with just how much data it offers for $40 last year, MetroPCS has settled on a 5GB allotment. That's a generous hunk of data, with only AT&T offering more at this price point (and only after you enroll in autopay with AT&T). MetroPCS also includes nice bonuses like the ability to stream music from more than 40 services without it counting against your monthly data allotment.

Metro's $30 a month plan remains at 2GB, better than AT&T's similarly priced plan, but not as good as the 3GB-for-$35 plan available at Boost.

Other prepaid options include:

• Cricket, 5GB for $40 a month: Cricket matches MetroPCS's 5GB data allotment with its $40 monthly plan; with Cricket's autopay discount, you can bring your monthly bill down to $35. 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 after that the carrier joined MetroPCS and Cricket in folding taxes and fees into its monthly rates. Boost uses Sprint's slower network.

Straight Talk, 10GB for $60 a month: You can get the 10GB plan for $45 from Straight Talk, which has rejiggered its plans to expand your options and increase the amount of data you get. (Low-data users also have an option at Straight Talk, now that the carrier also has a 2GB plan for an attractive $35 a month, though both MetroPCS and Boost have better options in that price range.) We prefer the more expensive of Straight Talk's 10GB 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). You can find additional savings through Straight Talk's Extended Plans, where you can prepay for 3 months, 6 months or a year on Straight Talk's $45-a-month plan. Paying for a year of service saves you $45 over going month-to-month, though that's an awfully long time to commit to a prepaid carrier.

• 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, though only the Moto G6 appears to be in stock as of this writing.) Virgin offers 5GB of LTE data for $35 a month and 10GB for $45; there's also an unlimited option.

Low-Cost Plans

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.

MORE: The Best Discount Cellphone Carrier

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
1GB
$30
AT&T, T-Mobile
5 percent discount for AARP members
FreedomPop
Unlimited
Unlimited
2GB
$25
AT&T, Sprint
Also offers family plans, bulk discounts for ordering multiple months in advance
Mint Mobile
Unlimited
Unlimited
2GB
$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
2GB
$30
Verizon
Includes unlimited international texts, plus $10 of international calling credit
Project Fi
Unlimited
Unlimited
1GB
$30
Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular
Get refunds for unused data; Google now caps monthly bills at $80 even if  you use more data
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
The People's Operator
Unlimited
Unlimited
2GB
$25
Sprint, T-Mobile
Includes $5 discount for autopay enrollment
Ting
500 minutes
100 texts
500MB
$28
Sprint, T-Mobile
Plan reflects "pay what you use" pricing
Unreal Mobile
Unlimited
Unlimited
5GB
$30
Sprint, AT&T
Plans start at $15 for 2GB of high-speed data
US Mobile
500 minutes
1,000 texts
1GB
$27
T-Mobile, Verizon
Pricing varies if you opt for GSM or CDMA network
Visible
Unlimited
Unlimited
Unlimited
$40
Verizon
Currently invite-only

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's Project Fi, provided you've got a phone that works with the service. (Project Fi used to be restricted to Google's Pixel phones, but it's expanded to include other models, including lower-cost options like the Moto G6.) Project 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 now caps monthly bills at $80 even if you use more than 6GB of data, effectively creating an unlimited data plan. Another new change lets you add children under 13 years of age to your plan by using Google's Family Link service.

The People's Operator and FreedomPop also offer 2GB plans with unlimited talk and text for $25 a month. The People's Operator uses the networks of Sprint and T-Mobile, while FreedomPop operates on AT&T and Sprint. For the most data, turn to TextNow, which now lets you get 5GB for less than $30; pay $40 a month and you can get an unlimited data plan at TextNow. Big-data users can also consider Tello, which offers 4GB for $29 a month, and 10GB if you tack on another $10.


Mint Mobile has one the lowest-priced options at $15 a month for 2GB of LTE data, but there are some catches. You have to prepay for three months and prices go up after that period unless you commit to a year of service. You'll also need your own phone as Mint only sells SIM cards. A newly launched provider named Unreal Mobile (it's a spinoff of FreedomPop) also offers 2GB of high-speed data for $15 a month without requiring you to prepay for additional months of service; because Unreal is just getting off the ground, though, you will have to check for availability in your area; Unreal just added support for GSM phones after launching on Sprint's CDMA network.

Consumer Cellular updated its pricing last year, streamlining its talk plan options to just 250 minutes ($15 a month) or unlimited minutes ($20 a month). Data plans, which include unlimited texting, are more generous now too, as you can get 1GB of data for $10. Combine that with an unlimited talk plan, and you'll pay $30 monthly at Consumer Cellular, with AARP members eligible for a 5 percent discount.

Visible is another new entry to the discount wireless service market. Backed by Verizon, it's promising an unlimited data plan for $40 a month, which is very competitively priced, even compared to the likes of MetroPCS and Boost. Visible is only accepting customers by invitation at this time.

Unlimited Prepaid Plans

Best Unlimited Prepaid Plan: MetroPCS, $50 a month

Who Should Get It: Data-hungry cell phone users who want the fastest network

MetroPCS 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 MetroPCS's better performing network, make the choice easier. Switchers can currently get two months of unlimited data for free with MetroPCS.

A second MetroPCS unlimited option costs $60 a month and gives you 10GB of LTE hotspot data. That plan used to let you stream video at HD resolution, but that's no longer included; instead, that's a $10 monthly add-on. For HD video streaming, you'll want to look at Boost's $60 Unlimited Plus plan, which offers HD video streaming plus 20GB of LTE hotspot data; Boost bills this as a limited time offer, though, that's currently set to expire on April 16. (Boost has been known to extend promotions.)

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, which now appears to be a permanent part of Boost's data plan arsenal. 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 at the end of August, though it's still on Boost's website as of this writing.

• Virgin, $60 a month: Virgin's newly priced unlimited plan costs the same as the more premium offerings at Boost and MetroPCS, 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 MetroPCS and Boost, but an autopay discount knocks $5 off the $60 rate for Cricket's Unlimited Max plan. As with other Cricket plans, this option caps data speeds at 8 Mbps for LTE. You can stream video at full resolution once you turn off Cricket's Stream More feature that restricts video streams to 480p resolution. You also get 8GB of hotspot data.

There's a second unlimited data plan — simply named Unlimited — priced at $50 a month, after an autopay discount. There's a catch, though: This Unlimited plans cap data speeds at 3 Mbps.

• 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, $75 a month: Like its Cricket subsidiary, AT&T has two unlimited options for prepaid customers. In this case, the more expensive $75-a-month plan (which factors in a $10 autopay discount) is the better deal, as it lets you stream HD video and now offers 10GB of hotspot data. The $55 unlimited plan (which also includes a $10 autopay discount) limits video streams to 480p resolution and offers no hotspot data. At least this option seems to have dropped a very big restriction where data speeds were capped at 3 Mbps; instead AT&T now says the $55 unlimited plan could see its data speeds slowed if the network has a lot of traffic on it.

• 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, $70 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 the same price. You'll get the same restrictions as the T-Mobile One plan — video streams at 480p and hotspot data is slowed to 3G speeds — so you may want to consider one of T-Mobile's less expensive prepaid options instead.

• Verizon, $75 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.

• US Mobile, $35 to $75 a month: Now that it can piggyback on Verizon's network, US Mobile offers its customers unlimited data plan options. Rates vary widely depending on what speed you get your data at (options range from 1 Mbps to a more expensive uncapped plan) and just how much talk time and texting you do on top of your unlimited data.

Family Plans

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: MetroPCS'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. For MetroPCS, you can add another line to any plan for $30 per line regardless of which plan you have. That means bigger discount for pricier plans. Both MetroPCS 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 MetroPCS because it uses T-Mobile's network, which outperforms Sprint (the parent company of Boost) in our testing.

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. 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.) A current promotion at Cricket lets a family of four get unlimited data for $100 a month, but that's on the Cricket Unlimited plan with reduced data speeds.

• 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 two lines of unlimited data for $120 for prepaid customers. If you're paying attention, you'll notice that's the same price T-Mobile One customers pay for two lines.

• 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 a second line of its $40 3GB plan and $15 off the $50 7GB plan. Extra lines get a $20 discount on Verizon's 10GB ($60) and unlimited ($75) prepaid plans. Add a fourth line and the savings escalate further. For example, three 7GB lines cost $120 a month, but you can currently add a fourth line for just $5 more. Considering Verizon lets you roll-over unused data, that makes Verizon's 7GB plan a compelling alternative for families who don't need unlimited data at MetroPCS or Boost.

Big Four Prepaid Plans

Carrier
Prepaid Data Plans
Monthly Cost
Notes
AT&T
1GB/6GB/Unlimited
$30/$40/$55 - $75
Includes $5 autopay discount; 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
4GB/6GB
$45/$55
Only tiered data plans available at T-Mobile
Verizon
500MB/3GB/7GB/10GB/Unlimited
$30/$40/$50/$60/$75
Tiered plans offer rollover data; Unlimited plan caps video streaming at 480p

Besides AT&T, the other 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 7GB for $50 a month, respectively, and the carrier added a $30 entry-level option with just 500MB of data.

Sprint's prepaid options include 4GB for $40 plus its $60 unlimited plan. T-Mobile's $45, 4GB prepaid option is compelling only if you still want to subscribe to that carrier's wireless service but don't want a pricier unlimited data plan.

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  • wizodd
    Republic offers wi-fi only service very cheap.

    Their plans may be much cheaper than this review implies--if you spend most of your time in places with wi-fi available.

    I first signed with them because I NEED wi-fi access at home as I live in a dead zone. But about the only time I need cell service is for trips.

    They also offer the ability to change plans easily if you need more or fewer features.

    Unfortunately, they don't yet support the iPhone.
  • rgd1101
    Republic wireless just changed their plan, the article didn't have the updated info.
  • socrfan1
    Boost Mobile offers at least 23 GB with no throttling for $45 a month with auto pay.
  • akashra
    Is this a review of the worst value for your money plans? Sure looks like it...

    Can get the same service as any of these providers for much cheaper on their smaller partner networks. Silly review.
  • kep55
    Just what the heck is Verizon's Smartphone Access fee? Pure profit?
  • jon.r.barnard
    T-Mobile's plan is even better than you suggest: There's no throttling until 50 GB, not 30 GB!
  • jon.r.barnard
    Also, Verizon's throttling begins at 22GB, not 50gb.
  • jon.r.barnard
    You are mixed up about throttling for the unlimited plans: T-Mobile's throttling doesn't start until 50 gb (not 30), and Verizon's starts at 22 gb, not 30. (All of which makes T-Mobile's unlimited plan the even better choice.)
  • ryan.small
    What other carriers did you test. I think mine (Ting) beats all the competitors. It's post-pay with no contract. With 4 devices, you could use a monthly aggregate of 2000 minutes, 5000 messages, and 5GB, all for $120.50 before fees/taxes.

    They provide credits for referrals.
    They have credited us for sim card purchases when we mistakenly ordered the wrong sim or had compatibility issues.
    They have always provide super fast service on live chats and support calls.
    You can use GSM or CDMA.

    I've not been able to find any reasons to switch to any other carrier. You might want to test their service and plans. Thank you!
  • robinjoe1
    I get 5 lines, unlimited talk and text, 5GB per phone for $100/month with Cricket. I switched 3 years ago and LOVE them.
  • protocol48
    Over 55 years old? My T-Mobile "over 55" plan gets unlimited everything for a flat $50 a month (must be set up as auto-pay). Verizon was charging me $72 a month for 0.5 gB.
    I asked for a better deal. A 20 year history with Verizon did nothing- Profit trumps loyalty. Of all the carriers , Verizon is consistently the most costly. They offered me the same unlimited package for $70 a month. (oh, plus taxes, etc.). I like like my T-mobile account.
  • mchan1
    Be careful about any 'fees' that are added In Addition to your monthly access fee.
    Verizon's $20/m fee is ridiculous as their plans are already considered as one of the Most expensive plans available. Also, you'll need to get a New phone so it won't run on GSM phones.

    MetroPCS runs on TMo's backbone and the rates are relatively good esp. if you live/work near many Wifi areas and can get Wifi. That'll help reduce your cellular data usage so you can get their unltd calling/text plans with $30/m plan for 2Gb, $40/m ups the data to 5Gb/m and $50/m Unltd data plan. Best thing is that you can switch between one plan to another to fit your needs.
  • tharskjold
    I am very happy with the fact that I have less than 60 days until we are free from Sprint. It has been a 2 year nightmare. Corporate said we could transfer a 3rd phone with the BOGO Free deal, then it didn't work. Called corporate and got a $14 SIM card for it. It still didn't work. Went to the local store verified that phone would never transfer. BOGO is the only reason we are locked in and when we offered to pay for the other phone over the phone with corporate then they said, 'Yes'. Then they charged us for both phones. So to get back in the program we wanted a refund or I would protest through the bank. Instead they said they would apply it to the bills. Weeks later they turned off my phone for non-payment with a $600 balance.
    The 1st year I was having to make monthly hour long calls (x11) to correct billing, features or data plan problems. Then 3rd party companies are charging us for services we never signed up for. Sprint doesn't question it gives us grief when we try to get them removed. With the Unlimited data plan they block reception/cellular connection if you have your WiFi on and it sees any WiFi sources. So we have to turn off our WiFi just get usage of the phone. Probably to reduce network sharing costs.
    The Sprint forced firmware updates have caused us to call tech support and get technical support because the settings of the update restricted Unlimited usage as part of the update. "It was intentional". The worst cellular company and just a poorly run business overall. If you own stock, Sell, Sell, Sell! Can't wait to go back to AT&T and only left because of the cost of new phones. Never had any problems with AT&T worldwide.
  • thirdelvis
    Not sure why you'd list Republic Wireless as best plan for under $30. Project Fi should get the nod. I've had both services (had RW for couple yrs and now Fi for over year and half) and Fi is better. My monthly bill for Fi is rarely over $24. that gets me the base $20 plan w 1gb of data (of which part is always refunded to me since i don't use much data.) Maybe RW is slightly cheaper per month, but since your dollar amount given is 'Under $30' then you have to go woth Fi, esp since it has access to an additional set of towers (US Cellular) and also has phone support that calls you back within 2 mins anytime you have a porblem (which is rare). You can also use chat or email for support if you prefer. Additionally, the Fi app is puresimplicity and offers complete transparency of your account, incl data useage and days left, etc. This is also where you can add numbers to block. Fi also has automatic VPN that secures any unknown network that the phone attaches to. Lastly, with additon of Moto x4 and the new Moto G6, there are now excellent budget phones from which to use, which can be purchased using interest free payments over 24 months. It's really a no brainer.
  • deborah.shaka
    If your family includes adults who are over 55 years old, it may be a better deal to go with T-Mobile's One plan (2 lines, unlimited, auto-pay, for $65/mo, then add the kids in separately).