Best prepaid phone plans in 2021

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Best prepaid phone plans in 2021

Best prepaid phone plans in 2021

(Image credit: Wayhome Studio/Shutterstock)

The best prepaid phone plans can help you keep your smartphone costs down by serving up a lower cell phone bill every month. Unlike the best unlimited data plans or tiered data plans from big-name wireless carriers, these plans often don’t cost much more than $40 a month. And even unlimited data isn’t out of reach these days if you turn to a prepaid carrier.

You do have to make some tradeoffs, even for the very best prepaid phone plans, and that usually means skipping out on some of the perks and benefits the leading carriers like AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon include with their high-priced plans. Forget about free subscriptions to streaming services or using your monthly data allotment when you travel overseas. At most, you’re likely to get some hotspot data (though a few discount carriers dangle a handful of extras). And you’re also subject to slower speeds if the network your prepaid carrier uses is clogged with traffic.

Fastest wireless network: Which carrier offers the best performance?Best family cell phone planFind the best cheap phones to use with your cellular service

Still, these sacrifices may be worth it, especially if the best prepaid phone plans give you dependable cell phone service at a low monthly cost. You’ll find a variety of options from prepaid carriers — some for families, some for individuals — that may fit your needs for wireless coverage.

Here are the best prepaid phone plans we’ve found for smartphone service, after looking through options from the Big Four carriers, prepaid service providers and other lesser known carriers.

What are the best prepaid phone plans?

Verizon offers the most compelling amount of data for the lowest price, making its 15GB plan the best prepaid phone plan currently available. The plan costs $45 a month after a $5 autopay discount, and you can earn additional discounts by sticking with Verizon’s prepaid service.

Otherwise, your next best option for individual prepaid plans comes from AT&T, which revamped its prepaid plans to offer a 15GB plan for $40 a month. Metro By T-Mobile is still the place to go for the best unlimited phone 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 you need multiple lines, prepaid plans don’t always offer substantial discounts as you add lines. But Visible, which operates on Verizon’s network, offers very attractive discounts for each line of service you add, making it the best prepaid choice for families.

If saving money is more important than maximizing data, you could turn to a host of discount carriers to find the best cheap cell phone plans. Republic Wireless offers a great 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; pay for a full year of service, and you can reduce your costs further. Right now, though, T-Mobile’s -Mobile Connect plan has the best value — 2GB of data for just $15 a month; Boost is attempting to undercut that with a limited-time 2GB for $10 promotion.

Anyone who travels overseas regularly will want to check out Google Fi, the Google-owned wireless service, which charges a reasonable amount for data while also letting you use your data plan with no restrictions when you’re traveling in 200-plus countries. Meanwhile, Consumer Cellular offers attractive prices for seniors, particularly if you can take advantage of the carrier’s discounted rate for AARP members.

The best prepaid phone plans for your smartphone

(Image credit: Verizon)

1. Verizon Prepaid Phone Plan

Best prepaid phone plan overall

Name of Plan: Verizon 15GB Prepaid Plan | Monthly Cost: $45 | Amount of Data: 15GB | Special features: Discounts for sticking with the plan for 3 and 9 months

Lots of data

LTE hotspot data

Speeds can be throttled if Verizon’s network is congested

No 5G

Verizon’s prepaid plans offer generous amounts of data, led by the carrier’s 15GB option. That will cost you $45 a month (after you enroll in autopay for a $5 discount), so you’re only paying $5 more than Metro By T-Mobile’s $40 monthly plan for five extra gigabytes of data. (Verizon’s plan used to include 16GB of data, but it’s shrunk by a gigabyte in a recent reshuffling.)

Discounts don’t stop with autopay. If you hold onto your Verizon plan for three months, the carrier takes another $5 off your monthly rate, and you get an additional $5 discount after nine months. That means, you’re paying $35 a month for 15GB of data, which is a terrific value.

The discounts apply to Verizon’s other prepaid options — a $60-a-month unlimited plan and a $35-a-month 5GB offering. A current promotion at Verizon gives you $60 back when you sign up for the 15GB or unlimited data plan and bring your own phone number to Verizon.

We like Verizon’s service because you’re benefiting from the carrier’s extensive LTE network, which ranked first in our last round of testing for the fastest wireless network. (Among Verizon’s prepaid plans, only the most expensive unlimited data option qualifies for 5G coverage.) If you don’t need 15GB of data, you can find lower prices elsewhere, but it’s hard to find a better prepaid plan than what Verizon offers.

(Image credit: AT&T)

2. AT&T 15GB Data Plan

Best alternative prepaid phone plan

Name of Plan: AT&T 15GB Data Plan | Monthly Cost: $40 | Amount of Data: 15GB | Special features: Rollover data; 15GB LTE hotspot data; Use plan in Canada and Mexico

Tons of data

Rollover data

Doesn’t included 5G coverage

AT&T retooled its prepaid plans to match Verizon on data, and the carrier’s 15GB plan is a decent alternative — especially if you want to save $5 a month over what Verizon charges customers. AT&T also offers more data than Metro By T-Mobile’s identically priced 10GB plan.

Those 15GB give you a pretty sizable pool of data and anything you don’t use rolls over to the next month, so it’s hard to imagine coming up short on data with AT&T’s plan. The carrier also includes 15GB of hot-spot data along with unlimited talk and text to Mexico and Canada. You can use your data plan when traveling in both countries.

AT&T’s $30 prepaid plan gives budget-conscious users a respectable 5GB, and unlimited prepaid plans start at $50 a month. But this 15GB option is the best of the choices now available at AT&T.

(Image credit: T-Mobile)

3. T-Mobile Prepaid Phone Plan

Best prepaid phone plan value

Name of Plan: T-Mobile Connect Plan | Monthly Cost: $15 | Amount of Data: 2GB | Special features: Plans grows by 500MB every year

500MB of data added to plan each year

Low cost

Once you hit 2GB, you’re out of data

As T-Mobile absorbed Sprint in a merger last year, the carrier introduced a compelling value for prepaid plans. The T-Mobile Connect Plan gives you 2GB of data each month for a mere $15. If that proves too little data, you can opt for the 5GB, $25 monthly plan instead.

There’s one big catch here, and it’s that you only get 2GB of data with your plan. Once you use that up, you’re out of data until the next billing cycle. That’s not uncommon with prepaid plans, though some carriers will simply slow down your data once you got over your allotment.

T-Mobile offers you an incentive not to go to other carriers, though. Each year you stick with T-Mobile Connect, you’ll get another 500MB of data added to your allotment for five years. So that’s potentially another 2.5GB of data over time.

(Image credit: Republic Wireless)

4. Republic Wireless Prepaid Phone Plan

Best alternative prepaid phone plan under $30

Name of Plan: Republic Wireless Plan | Monthly Cost: $25 | Amount of Data: 2GB | Special features: Additional discounts if you pay annually

Uses Sprint and T-Mobile networks

Rates correspond to data usage

Doesn’t support iPhones

You shouldn’t have to pay up for cellular service if you don’t need a lot of data, and Republic Wireless provides the best alternative to bloated high-data plans that price tags to match. You pay just $15 for talk and text each month at Republic. Any data you use costs $5 per gigabyte. That means if you keep your data use down to less than 3GB, your monthly bill won’t go over $30.

You can opt for specific 1GB ($20) and 2GB ($25) plans when you sign up for Republic’s service, or you can just pay by the gigabyte you use. Pay for a year of service, and Republic reduces your monthly rate to the point where you’ll get 12 months of service for the cost of 10.

Republic has ways to keep your cellular use down so that you don’t have to splurge on data. In addition to Sprint’s cellular towers for its LTE coverage, Republic also makes use of Wi-Fi hotspots to save you from racking up heavy data charges. If you demand unlimited data or prefer iPhones, you’ll want to look elsewhere — Republic only supports Android phones. But anyone who doesn’t constantly hop online to stream, tweet or upload files, will find Republic’s approach to data a relief on their wallet.

(Image credit: Visible)

5. Visible Prepaid Phone Plan

Best prepaid phone plan for families

Name of Plan: Visible Party Pay | Monthly Cost: $100 (for 4 lines of data) | Amount of Data: Unlimited | Special features: Hotspot data

Uses Verizon’s network

No caps on speed

Speeds can be throttled when network is congested

5G coverage limited to select phones

Visible brings Verizon’s extensive network reach to prepaid service while leaving its parent company’s high prices behind. Using Verizon’s network, Visible offers just one plan — a $40 unlimited data option that lets you consume as much data as you please for a fraction of what you’d pay at one of the Big Four carriers. Even better, Visible has lifted a speed cap on its plans that used to limit you to 5 Gbps download speeds, though it’s not clear if that cap could one day return.

Visible’s plan is even better once you add additional lines. The more lines you add, the bigger the discounts, to the point where four lines of unlimited data at Visible cost $100. Visible also bills each person on a multi-line plan, so it’s easier for friends to share their cell phone plan.

Visible has launched 5G service using Verizon’s network, though it’s only available for customers with the iPhone, Galaxy S20 Plus, Galaxy S20 Ultra and Blade X1 5G at the moment.

(Image credit: Metro by T-Mobile)

6. Metro By T-Mobile Unlimited Data Plan

Best prepaid phone plan with unlimited data

Name of Plan: Metro Unlimited High-Speed | Monthly Cost: $50 | Amount of Data: Unlimited | Special features: 5GB of LTE hotspot data; 100GB of Google One storage; 5G coverage with compatible phone

Hotspot data and cloud storage included

Works on T-Mobile’s network

More expensive than other prepaid unlimited data plans

Video resolution capped at 480p

Metro’s unlimited data plan isn’t the cheapest option out there — Visible undercuts it by $10 a month. But this $50 plan from the T-Mobile-owned Metro is still one of the best prepaid plans with unlimited data.

While you still have to stream video at 480p resolution — a pretty common restriction on prepaid plans with unlimited data with the exception of the AT&T Unlimited Plus plan — Metro does include 5GB of hotspot data along with 100GB of online storage. Opt for the carrier’s $60 unlimited plan and the hotspot data increases to 15GB while you also get an Amazon Prime subscription.

Adding extra lines to Metro’s plans costs $30 per line, so two people could enjoy unlimited data for as little as $80 per month, with taxes and fees included. On Metro’s more expensive unlimited plan, the carrier will wave that $30 fee on the fourth line of data.

Regardless of which unlimited plan you choose, you get access to T-Mobile’s 5G network, which means faster data speeds if you’ve also got a compatible phone.

(Image credit: Boost)

7. Boost Mobile Unlimited Plan

Best alternative prepaid plan with unlimited data

Name of Plan: Go Unlimited | Monthly Cost: $50 | Amount of Data: Unlimited | Special features: 12GB LTE hotspot data

Price matches Metro by T-Mobile’s

Lots of hotspot data

HD video streaming costs extra

Boost offers a nearly comparable unlimited data plan to what you can find at Metro By T-Mobile, starting with the $50 monthly price. You even get more mobile hotspot data with Boost’s unlimited plan. However, Boost not only caps streaming video resolution at 480p, there are also limits on music and game streaming speeds, too, which strikes us as a little restrictive. (Opting for Boost’s $60-a-month unlimited plan allows HD streaming for video.)

Boost has some other options like a Shrink-It plan that starts at $45 a month for 15GB of data, but sheds $5 at the 3- and 6-month marks. That reduces your monthly bill to $35 if you stick with Boost.

(Image credit: Google)

9. Google Fi Unlimited Plan

Best prepaid phone plan for international travel

Name of Plan: Fi Unlimited | Monthly Cost: $70 | Amount of Data: Unlimited | Special features: Uses service from multiple carriers; Free texting and data when traveling

Great international coverage

Supports a wider variety of phones than before

Optimized features limited to select phones

Cheaper plans available elsewhere

At $70 a month, Google Fi’s unlimited plan is pricey as far as the best prepaid phone plans go. But if you do a lot of traveling, Google’s wireless service is the option for you, as Google Fi lets you use your data and texting when you travel to more than 200 countries just like you would at home. Your data speeds aren’t even slowed. Few other prepaid plans offer that kind of coverage to travelers, making Google Fi’s coverage the best international phone plan.

Google Fi now works with all phones, though some phones — like Google’s own Pixel devices, the Galaxy S20 and Galaxy Note 20 flagships, and the Moto G Power and Moto G Stylus — are optimized to work on the carrier’s network, which blends coverage from T-Mobile, Sprint and US Cellular.

If that $70 a month rate is too high for your tastes or you don’t need unlimited data, Google Fi also features a plan that costs $20 a month for talk and text, plus $10 for each GB of data you use. Google doesn’t charge you for unused data so your bill will be adjusted down to the cent.

(Image credit: Consumer Cellular)

10. Consumer Cellular Prepaid Phone Plan

Best prepaid phone plan for seniors

Name of Plan: Consumer Cellular Connect Plan | Monthly Cost: $30 | Amount of Data: 3GB | Special features: AARP members get a 5% discount on monthly service

Flexible options for data and talk

Unlimited text with every plan

Discounts for seniors

Cheaper plans elsewhere if you use lots of data

If you don’t use a lot of data every month, you’ve got several options for wireless service from providers without as big a profile as the Big Four carriers. One of the best for seniors is Consumer Cellular, which offers a 5% discount on monthly service to AARP members.

Even without that discount, Consumer Cellular already offers low rates, at least if you don’t use a lot of data. Opt for unlimited talk and text along with 3GB of data, and you’ll pay $30 a month; you can save $5 on that plan by selecting only 250 minutes of talk time to go with your unlimited texts and 3GB pool of data. Adding a second line adds another $15 to your bill.

You enjoy the best value at Consumer Cellular if you don’t need too much data each month, though you can opt for unlimited data if you’re willing to pay $60 a month.

(Image credit: Mint Mobile)

11. Mint Mobile Prepaid Phone Plan

Good annual rates

Name of Plan: Mint 8GB plan | Monthly Cost: $20 | Amount of Data: 10GB | Special features: Mobile hotspot feature; Discounted rates on annual service

Uses T-Mobile’s network

Low-cost data plans

Plans now include more data

Annual plans required for best discounts

Mint Mobile offers nationwide coverage using T-Mobile’s network with surprisingly low rates for a lot of data. Sign up for Mint’s most popular plan, for example, and you get 10GB of LTE data plus unlimited talk and text for just $20 a month for the first three months of service. (That’s an increase from 8GB previously, as Mint has boosted the amount of data in its three tiered plans.)

It’s after those three months are up that Mint’s low rates come with a catch. If you go month-to-month with service, your rate increases to $35 a month. If you want that $20 rate to stay, you’ve got to sign up for a year of service. You can also sign up for six months for a slightly less generous discount, and there are 4GB, 15GB options and unlimited data options at Mint, too

Committing to a year of service giving up some of the flexibility of prepaid service in exchange for a low monthly cell phone bill, but that’s a tradeoff some people will be happy to make — especially since Mint’s prepaid rate is lower than similar buy-in-advance pricing from AT&T. Mint’s $30 unlimited plan is also cheaper than the $40 Visible charges for a single line of data, but Visible doesn’t require you to commit to a year’s worth of service as Mint does for its lower rate.

(Image credit: Cricket Wireless)

12. Cricket Unlimited Data Plan

Cricket’s best prepaid phone plan

Name of Plan: Cricket Unlimited & 15GB Mobile Hotspot | Monthly Cost: $60 | Amount of Data: Unlimited | Special features: 15GB of LTE hotspot data; Includes usage in Canada and Mexico; 5G coverage with compatible phone

Unlimited plan comes with hotspot data

Can use plan when in Canada and Mexico

Now includes 5G service

Other Cricket plans cap data speeds

Unlimited plan is more expensive than rival offerings

Cricket Wireless seems like a good proposition if you’re looking for a low-cost phone provider, as it uses the far-reaching network of its parent company, AT&T. But the only plan worth considering at Cricket is the company’s most expensive one — a $60 unlimited data plan. (You can get a $5 monthly discount by signing up for autopay.)

What makes the $60 unlimited plan so appealing is that it’s Cricket’s only plan where you reap the full benefits of AT&T’s network. There’s no speed cap on this plan, and you get 15GB of LTE hotspot data included. This unlimited plan now includes 5G coverage using AT&T’s nationwide network, provided you’ve got a compatible phone. (Right now, the only 5G device available through Cricket is the Galaxy S20 Plus.)

Cricket’s tiered data plans — 2GB for $30 a month and 10GB for $40 — cap speeds at 8 Mbps, while Cricket’s cheapest unlimited option puts a 3 Mbps cap on download speeds. Go big with Cricket’s unlimited plan, or go elsewhere for your cellular service.

(Image credit: Straight Talk)

13. Straight Talk Prepaid Phone Plan

Straight Talk’s best prepaid phone plan

Name of Plan: Straight Talk Ultimate Unlimited Nationwide | Monthly Cost: $55 | Amount of Data: Unlimited | Special features: 10GB of hotspot data

Ideal for international callers

Lots of data

Expensive

Minimal autopay discounts

After a reshuffling of options, the best prepaid phone plan at Straight Talk is the carrier’s unlimited data plan. It costs $55 a month, but autopay enrollment saves you $5 on your monthly bill. That’s the only Straight Talk plan with hotspot data — you get 10GB, though customers who opt for an AT&T sim card with Straight Talk aren’t eligible for hotspot data.

Straight Talk’s other data plans are less compelling. The cheapest option costs $35 a month and gives you 5GB of data a month. Another plan offers 25GB of data, with a $45 monthly rate.

Straight Talk gets its wireless coverage from all Big Four carriers, so you can opt to get a SIM card that uses the towers of the carrier with best coverage in your area.

How to pick the best prepaid phone plans

When shopping for a prepaid phone plan, price is paramount. That’s because prepaid plans don’t often come with the kind of benefits postpaid cell phone phone plans offer. That said, some carriers — such as Metro By T-Mobile and Boost — do work in a few perks, so be aware of those when picking your plans.

You’ll also want to pay attention to discounts and special offers. Often, larger carriers like AT&T and Verizon will increase the size of their autopay discount, which can make a pricier plan more attractive. Metro by T-Mobile has been known to increase the size of the discount for when you add multiple lines of data.

Besides price one of the most important things to consider is what carrier offers the best coverage around your home and workplace. That’s true even if you look beyond the Big Four carriers for service. Other wireless services — known as mobile virtual network operators, or MVNOs — use the cellular networks of AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile or Verizon for their coverage. (Some MVNOs turn to multiple carriers.) So if Verizon’s network is particularly strong where you are, for example, MVNOs that use Verizon’s network for coverage will perform well, too. Just be aware that MVNOs can see their traffic slowed if a carrier’s network gets too crowded.

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