Best Cell Phone Plans
Next time you're in the market for a new smartphone — whether it's one of Apple's three iPhone 11 models, Samsung's newly launched Galaxy S20, or one of the best cheap phones — you may find yourself needing to pick out a new cell phone plan, too. And getting just the right plan can be tricky.
Beyond just dollars and cents, you need to consider which phones are supported by which wireless carriers and what coverage and data speeds are like in the area where you’ll use your phone the most. Throw in carriers’ near-continual plan changes — including multiple tiers of unlimited plans — and it’s a recipe for confusion.
To make the decision easier, we’ve gone through each carriers’ plans to figure out which one is the best for your particular needs. Though there are less expensive options, T-Mobile's Magenta unlimited data plan is the best family plan, offering better value than what you'll find at AT&T and Verizon. T-Mobile's $70 plan is also the best unlimited data plan for individuals, though you can get a bare-bones unlimited data plan from the carrier for $10 less.
If saving money without compromising too much on data is the most important thing to you, Republic Wireless offers an adequate amount of data for less than $30 a month. Otherwise, Verizon offers the most compelling individual cellphone plan, costing $55 a month for 5GB. Prepaid customers should take advantage of Verizon's supersized prepaid plans, which deliver 16GB of data for $45 a month; should that offer evaporate, Metro by T-Mobile also offers the best prepaid plans for individuals, while Visible's discounts on multiline plans should appeal to families.
Note: We may have finally reached the conclusion of the T-Mobile-Sprint merger, after a court ruled to let the deal go ahead over the objection of some state attorneys general. The two carriers still have to nail down a few more details, but we're expecting the merger to be completed soon, and that will have an impact on cellphone plans (including a cheaper plan from the New T-Mobile, as the combined carrier will be called. We'll update this overview once more details are announced.)
These are the best cellular plans available right now.
Best Family Plan
T-Mobile, $160 a month for 4 lines
Even as carriers offer multiple tiers of unlimited data plans, the renamed T-Mobile Magenta plan is still the best choice for families. It gives a family of four unlimited data for $160 a month (though occasional discounts to additional lines sometimes lower that cost). We wish T-Mobile let you stream HD video as part of its Magenta plan, but for most users, 480p video on a smartphone-sized screen will be good enough. (Families can pay an extra $10 per month per line for Magenta Plus if they really want HD streaming.) T-Mobile's network delivers comparable performance to Verizon, which still charges more for its best unlimited family plan even after a recent price cut. Both Verizon and Sprint let you mix and match different unlimited options for each line of your family plan if you prefer flexibility.View Deal
Best Unlimited Individual Plan
T-Mobile, $70 a month
All four major carriers offer different tiers of unlimited data plans. We think T-Mobile's $70 option provides the best mix of value and performance. Sprint's basic unlimited plan is cheaper than T-Mobile Magenta, but its network isn't as fast (and it will soon be folded into T-Mobile anyhow). The entry-level plans from Verizon And AT&T both carry too many restrictions, relative to T-Mobile's $70 plan. (And if you don't mind restrictions, T-Mobile Essentials is cheaper still at $60 a month.) T-Mobile Magenta features a good price on a strong network, and if you want to upgrade from 480p video streaming to HD, it's just $15 more per month for individuals; if HD streaming is what you prize, though, consider Verizon's $80-a-month Play More plan, which also includes an Apple Music subscription along with 720p video support.View Deal
Best Individual Plan (Tiered Data)
Verizon, $55 a month (5GB)
Verizon has pared back its tiered data plans to just one option for individuals, but it's a really good option. Verizon's 5GB for $55-a-month plan is tough to beat if you don't see yourself needing an unlimited amount of data. (And the truth is, most individual users don't.) Verizon's plan gives you a healthy chunk of data at a reasonable rate, and you can rollover unused data to the next month. Turn on Verizon's Safety Mode, and you'll avoid overage fees if you do go over your allotment.View Deal
Best Prepaid Individual Plan
Verizon, $45 a month (16GB)
Verizon's regular $45-a-month plan used to get you a decent amount of LTE data — 8GB. But last year, Verizon doubled that to a staggering 16GB and has kept this "limited time" around so long, it feels permanent now (or as permanent as phone plans can be). Should the size of Verizon's data allocation shrink back to its previous amount, your best bet is Metro by T-Mobile, which gives you 10GB for $40 a month and includes the taxes and fees in that amount.View Deal
Best Plan Under $30
Republic Wireless, $25 a month (2GB)
If you're looking to really save money on your monthly bill, nearly a dozen low-cost carriers are competing for your business by letting you mix-and-match your talk, text and data limits. Republic Wireless offers the best mix while keeping your plan under $30. Every plan features unlimited talk and text for $15 a month; just tack on $5 for each gigabyte of LTE data you use, meaning you can get 2GB along with talk and text for a grand total of $25 every month.View Deal
Best Unlimited Prepaid Plan
Metro by T-Mobile, $50 a month
Several prepaid carriers offer monthly plans with unlimited 4G LTE data, but Metro by T-Mobile remains the best, thanks to its superior network performance and perks. Metro gives you unlimited data for $50 a month, with 5GB of LTE hotspot data and access to Google One cloud storage. Upgrade to the $60 plan, and you get 15GB of hotspot data plus an Amazon Prime membership on top of Google One. That tops Boost's similarly priced unlimited plans, though Boost does offer more hotspot data, and you can get HD video streaming with its $60 plan.View Deal
Best Prepaid Family Plan
Visible, $100 a month (unlimited data)
Visible, the Verizon-owned prepaid service, just beat Metro by T-Mobile and Boost Mobile at their own game by offering very attractive discounts when you add multiple lines. Visible has just one option — an unlimited data plan for $40 a month — and adding a second line reduces the per-line cost to $35 each. Four lines of unlimited data cost $25 each for a total of $100 a month — $40 less than what four lines of unlimited data cost at Metro and Boost. Best of all, Visible doesn't cap data speeds at present, so you get the full benefit of Verizon's top-performing network.View Deal
Best International Plan
Google Fi, $70 a month for unlimited talk, text and data
Sign up for Google Fi (the wireless service from Google previously known as Project Fi), and you need never worry about running out of data when you're overseas. The carrier offers a $70 unlimited plan that covers all of your talk, text and data needs and compares favorably to T-Mobile's best plan, at least for individuals. (Families should look beyond Google Fi for coverage; the multiline discounts aren't as generous.) Don't need all that data? Google Fi's tiered plans cost $20 a month for talk and text, plus $10 for each gigabyte of data you use, and you're credited for any data you don't use.
When you travel, Google Fi lets you draw from your regular high-speed data in more than 200 countries with no roaming charges. Unlimited international texting comes with every plan and calls cost just 20 cents a minute. Google Fi used to be limited to a handful of select Android devices, but now you can use it with just about any phone, including iPhones. (Fi-certified devices still enjoy some advantages, though, like the ability to switch seamlessly between networks.)
If you'd prefer a different carrier, T-Mobile remains a strong alternative for international travelers, letting T-Mobile One subscribers use data in more than 210 countries, though at 2G speeds. You can talk and text for free in Canada and Mexico, though T-Mobile limits you to 5GB of LTE data in those countries. (Be aware that the carrier's lower cost T-Mobile Essentials unlimited plan doesn't include these international perks.) View Deal
How we pick the best wireless plans
In evaluating plans, we looked at the four major U.S. carriers — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon — and what they offer. We also looked at five discount carriers: Boost Mobile, Cricket, MetroPCS, Straight Talk and Virgin, and to help you stretch your dollar even further, we rounded up plans from several smaller discount carriers. In addition to price, we considered network coverage and performance, including results from our own 4G network testing in eight cities. In some cases, total savings on one carrier’s plan outweighed the performance edge another carrier might enjoy; other times, network performance was a deciding factor in our choice.
What about 5G?
Wireless carriers launched faster 5G networks in some cities during 2019, and now that a number of 5G phones are available, we're seeing what carriers are charing for the faster service.
Verizon, which has launched its 5G service in 31 cities by the end of last year, is charging customers $10 per month for unlimited 5G data on top of the its regular unlimited LTE data plans, though it's currently waiving that fee on three of its four unlimited plans as part of a limited time promotion.
Sprint isn't charging extra for 5G coverage in nine cities, but you do have to get its most expensive unlimited plan, Unlimited Premium, for $80 a month.
With T-Mobile now offering a 5G network with national reach, it's following Sprint's lead and including 5G service with its $70 Magenta unlimited plan.
AT&T also launched a more widely available 5G network in December. You don't pay extra for 5G coverage at AT&T, but you will need either an Unlimited Extra or Unlimited Elite plan, which cost $75 and $85, respectively.
Should you switch?
If these are the best plans, does that mean you should drop your current carrier for one of the above plans that best covers your needs? (That assumes, of course, that the carrier we recommend provides ample coverage for your area.) Yes, but only if you can switch without consequences.
If you can't wait until your deal is up with your current carrier, the major carriers are all willing to pick up some of the cost to get you to switch. Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile all offer incentives for each phone you switch over to pay off your phone purchases and early termination fees. These promotions can vary over time, so we'd suggest keeping an eye on the best carrier deals when you're mulling a switch, as you could find extra ways to save money.
As of this writing, Sprint offers an incentive in the form of a low-cost unlimited for you to leave your current carrier behind. When you bring you current number over to Sprint, you can qualify for an Unlimited Kickstart Plan which gives you unlimited talk, text and data for $35 per line. In exchange for that low cost, you'll give up some of the perks that Sprint offers for its higher priced unlimited plans. Video streaming is restricted to 480p and there are speed limits on music and game streaming, too. You also don't get Hulu bundled with your service as you do on Sprint's other plans. However, Sprint does include free text and 2G data in more than 200 countries with Unlimited Kickstart.
T-Mobile launched a promotion where it will honor some discounts offered by rival carriers to convince people to switch to its network. You'll need to bring in a bill to T-Mobile showing an eligible corporate, affiliate, military or senior discount, and T-Mobile will try to match that discount in $5 increments up to $15 for one line and $30 for two or more lines.