Any time you buy a new phone — whether it's the Galaxy S10 all the way down to a budget handset — 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 T-Mobile One unlimited data offering 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 a decent amount of data for less than $30 a month. Otherwise, Verizon offers the most compelling individual cellphone plan, costing $55 a month for 5GB. Metro by T-Mobile — the new name for the old MetroPCS service — still offers the best prepaid plans for both individuals and families thanks to a strong network and appealing perks.
Note: T-Mobile and Sprint have announced plans to merge. While major changes are unlikely until the merger goes through (and that's still awaiting regulatory approval), it could mean less aggressive pricing promotions from the combined company. T-Mobile CEO John Legere has promised the same or better rates will remain in place for three years after the merger goes through.
These are the best cellular plans available right now.
Best Cellphone Plans: Our Top Picks
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 will launch faster 5G networks in some cities this year, but even the first 5G networks coming online by April, we've yet to hear much detail about pricing for plans that access the higher-speed network. Verizon, which is launching its 5G service in Minneapolis and Chicago on April 11, will charge customers $10 per month for unlimited 5G data on top of the carrier's regular unlimited LTE data plans. T-Mobile has said that its 5G plans will cost the same as its current unlimited data offerings.
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 still offers a particularly attractive incentive to leave your current carrier behind: It will give you free unlimited data for the next year, though you're still on the hook for taxes and fees. After April 30, 2020, your bill reverts to Sprint's standard rate for unlimited data, which is listed as $60 for a single line. The big caveat: You need to bring over an eligible phone to qualify for free data. (Since the deal is geared toward AT&T and Verizon customers, there's a better chance your phone is eligible if it came from those carriers.) The offer is listed as a limited-time deal, but Sprint has kept it around for more than a year now.