Looking for a more reliable way to reduce your cell phone bill? It could be time for you to switch wireless carriers.
Fortunately, cheap cell phone plans abound. Prepaid plans generally cost less than monthly plans, especially if your usage is low. And a number of budget carriers offer cheaper coverage, some while operating as subsidiaries of the “Big Three” — Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile — or using those companies’ networks as online-only “mobile virtual network operators” (MVNOs).
Read on for our list of the best cheap cell phone plans on the market today.
Best Cheap Cell Phone Plans
These are the best cheap cell phone plans available right now.
Each excels at one particular thing, whether it’s offering favorable pricing for people willing to pay for 6 or 12 months of service in advance or keeping travelers connected in remote locations. Our top overall pick, T-Mobile Connect, offers an ideal mix of reasonable pricing, unlimited talk and text, generous data, and value-adds like a free smartphone when you sign up.
Best Overall: T-Mobile Connect
T-Mobile Connect has two category-leading prepaid plans starting at just $15/month. The $15/mo base plan provides unlimited talk and text plus 2.5GB data, while the $25/mo premium plan keeps unlimited talk and text and adds 3GB data (for 5.5GB total each month). And if you need even more data, upgrade to T-Mobile Simply Prepaid to find data-rich plans starting at $40/mo.
- Add-on data pass available for purchase if you run through your monthly allotment
- Annual data upgrade of 500MB each year through 2025
- Purchase a $150 Simply Prepaid credit to get a free smartphone
For up-to-date plan pricing and features, see T-Mobile Connect’s plans page.
Best for Value-Added Features: Metro by T-Mobile
Metro by T-Mobile is the former MetroPCS, a familiar name to seasoned prepaid wireless consumers. Now a subsidiary of T-Mobile, this service stands out for its unusually wide lineup of included and optional value-added features and services:
- A 5G phone for as little as $9.99 when you add a new line
- $200 off the latest iPhone with a new phone line on an unlimited plan
- A free eligible tablet when you add a tablet line to an unlimited plan
- Exclusive access to tickets for a rotating lineup of A-list shows and festivals
For up-to-date plan pricing and features, see Metro by T-Mobile’s plans page.
Best for Data Network Speed: US Mobile
US Mobile’s plan pricing isn’t much different from Visible’s Party Pay pricing, though its more standard family-style plan structure has more strings attached. The real US Mobile difference lies in its 5G data speeds, which — per impartial third-party speed tests — are best in class. To make the point, US Mobile dubs its 5G service “Warp Speed 5G.”
- Unlimited data plans come with your choice of add-ons like Netflix, Disney+, Spotify, and PS Plus
- Free international data roaming plans with unlimited data in select countries, including the U.K. and Germany
- 24/7 customer support
For up-to-date plan pricing and features, see US Mobile’s plans page.
Best for Unlimited Data: Visible
Visible has one of the lowest-priced unlimited data plans of any mobile carrier, prepaid or otherwise.
The secret is a unique social buying feature called Party Pay, where you and as many friends and family members as you like can pool your purchasing power to pay for Visible service.
Party Pay’s value maxes out for groups of four or more; members pay $25/mo/line, compared with $40/mo/line for one-party customers. Importantly, Party Pay doesn’t mean sharing data, minutes, or anything else — not unlike group health insurance, it’s simply a means to leverage bulk buying for individual savings.
- Verizon 5G network
- Unlimited talk, text, and data
- Free WiFi hotspot and calling on compatible devices
- Free calling to Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands
For up-to-date plan pricing and features, see Visible’s plan page.
Best for Multi-Month Discounts: Mint Mobile
Mint Mobile is a popular MVNO that runs on the T-Mobile network. While it has a lot going for it, the standout feature is a generous pricing structure that rewards customers willing to pay for longer service terms in advance.
Every new Mint Mobile customer gets 3 months free when they sign up for 6 months of initial service, regardless of plan choice. So the base 4GB plan ($15/mo) costs $45 for 6 months instead of $90; the unlimited data plan costs $90 for 6 months instead of $180.
The catch is that when you renew your plan, your plan price will spike — unless you commit to buying another 12 months’ service in advance.
- Free 5G WiFi hotspot with the unlimited plan
- Free 3-in-1 SIM card (not standard with many other carriers)
- WiFi text and calling at no additional charge
- Free calling to Canada and Mexico
For up-to-date plan pricing and features, see Mint Mobile’s plans page.
Best for Non-Smartphone Users: Consumer Cellular
Consumer Cellular is one of the few discount carriers that still advertises a data-less plan. At just $15/mo, that plan is a big hit. Throw in award-winning customer service and extremely reliable nationwide coverage, it’s the best bet for anyone without a smartphone.
- Unlimited talk/text plans with data allowances start at $20/mo for 1GB data
- Unlimited talk/text/data for $55/mo
- Free 5G access where available
- Discounted roadside assistance service ($3/mo) with Signature Motor Club Roadside Assistance, a service of Allstate
For up-to-date plan pricing and features, see Consumer Cellular’s plans page.
Best for Frequent Travelers: Google Fi
Google Fi has the broadest international talk, text, and data allowance of any of the providers on this list.
Its $50/mo Unlimited Plus plans includes 3 lines at no additional cost and free unlimited data in more than 200 countries worldwide, making it ideal for users who regularly spend time abroad. The $17/mo Flexible plan offers free unlimited talk and text in 200 countries, so it’s the most cost-effective choice for users who don’t use much data abroad.
- High-speed hotspot tethering with Flexible and Unlimited Plus
- Unlimited data in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico with the Unlimited plan
- 100 GB of Google One cloud storage with Unlimited Plus
For up-to-date plan pricing and features, see Google Fi’s plans page
Best for International Calling: Ultra Mobile
Ultra Mobile’s plans aren’t particularly competitive when it comes to U.S.-based talk, text, and data allowances. But they really shine for U.S.-based users who frequently place international calls. All plans come with:
- Free global text
- Free unlimited calling to 80-plus countries
- Free WiFi calling and texts
- Free 3-in-1 SIM card
One additional feature worth noting: substantial pay-in-advance discounts for longer-term plans. Depending on your plan, you can save up to 33% per month when you pay in advance for a 12-month plan.
For up-to-date plan pricing and features, see Ultra Mobile’s plans page.
Methodology: How We Select the Best Cell Phone Plans
We use 7 key metrics to evaluate wireless carriers and cell phone plans. Each affects the user experience, whether objectively (like cost or network coverage, which are what they are) or subjectively (like plan and hardware options, about which reasonable people can disagree).
These cheap cell phone carriers all compare favorably to major carriers’ plans when it comes to pricing. But no two budget carriers’ pricing structures are the same.
To understand a plan’s true value or lack thereof, you need to understand the actual costs you’re likely to incur as a user. That depends on how much you talk, text, and surf the web, and how much your carrier charges for those respective activities.
Network Coverage and Reliability
It’s essential to have a network that keeps you covered in the areas where you spend the most time. Verizon’s network was the strongest overall in a 2019 study by RootMetrics, but it’s not worth paying more for it if your home territory is covered just as well by another carrier’s. Check out coverage maps, and also ask your neighbors how good their reception is with the providers they use.
If you spend most of your time in densely populated areas that fall under the umbrella of Wi-Fi, it’s possible you can get by with Wi-Fi only and you don’t need to worry about network data coverage. On the other hand, if you travel a lot, Google Fi’s flexible network offers a good way to make sure you’re covered wherever you go.
The network you use doesn’t just determine your area of coverage. It also affects your upload and download speeds.
Depending on your location, 4G LTE and/or 5G speeds matter most with uploads, so if you spend a lot of time uploading, access to a 4G LTE or 5G network should be a priority for you. On the other hand, if you use your phone mostly for talking and texting, it’s likely you can get by with 3G or even slower speeds.
At this point, most populated areas of the United States have reliable 4G LTE coverage. And the major carriers are rapidly rolling out 5G coverage across much of the country, to the benefit both of their direct customers and customers of discount carriers that use their networks. That said, if you live in an isolated area far from any significant population center, your default data speed may well be 3G.
Not all of these carriers have plans. For those that do, the most important considerations for would-be users include:
- How much data you can use on a monthly basis
- How much free talk and text you get each month
- How much it costs to add a line (and how adding a line affects your total monthly plan cost)
If your phone is truly for emergencies only, then you can get by with a bare-bones plan that offers a limited number of minutes and little or no data use. If you do a lot of calling and texting but little web surfing, you should opt for a plan with unlimited talk and text but not worry too much about data limits.
By contrast, if you spend a lot of time listening to music or watching video on your phone, the best plan is the one that gives you the most data at the best price. AT&T’s data usage calculator can help you figure out how much data you need in your plan.
If you have your heart set on a particular cell phone, or if you’re strongly attached to the phone you have now, then you need a carrier that supports that phone. However, if you’re willing to switch phones to get the lowest monthly rate, that opens up a wider range of low-cost options.
International Calling and Coverage
If you often make calls to friends abroad, you need a plan that includes international calling.
If you frequently spend time abroad yourself, it’s important to choose a provider that can keep you connected while you’re out of the country. This means you need 4G LTE coverage, the current worldwide standard.
You also need to make sure the phone you’re using is compatible with the specific frequencies used in the countries you visit most often.
Become a Wireless Carrier Expert: Your Cell Phone Plan Questions Answered
You have questions about cheap cell phone plans. We have answers.
Why Do Cheap Cell Phone Plans Cost Less Than Major Carriers Like Verizon?
It depends on the plan. Generally speaking, low-key brands have lower overhead costs than brands that spend millions on advertising and operating retail storefronts every year, and they can pass the savings on to customers.
That only explains part of the difference though. Besides, some of the carriers on this list advertise heavily and have lots of storefronts.
A larger part of the answer relates to how these carriers treat the core products they offer: data, talk, and text.
Prepaid and pay-as-you-go plans essentially ration these products. This allows customers who don’t use their phones very much to keep their costs low by paying only for what they use.
Meanwhile, mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) create their “virtual networks” by buying and reselling minutes and data from the three major carriers. Their plans offer increased flexibility and, in many cases, lower costs. The downside is that they don’t offer the same reliable customer service as the leading providers — another factor in those providers’ higher costs.
Which Cheap Cell Phone Carriers Have the Best Coverage?
All of the cheap cell phone carriers on this list have reliable cellular coverage within the United States. Data coverage is much more variable and depends largely on the extent of the 4G LTE and 5G networks to which the carrier has access.
The speed of the 5G rollout is such that any definitive answers about “who has the best 5G coverage” become outdated almost immediately. What that means for users like you is that, at any given point in time, you’ll want to compare discount carriers’ data coverage in your geographical area — not on a zoomed-out map of the United States. That’s the best way to find a carrier that you can trust to keep you online without ripping you off.
How Do You Choose the Best Cheap Phone Plan?
Decide which features and capabilities are most important to you, then choose a carrier that ticks as many boxes as possible at a reasonable price. Use our key cell phone plan metrics to guide you:
- Network coverage and reliability
- Network speed
- Plan options and cost to add lines
- Data usage allowance
- Hardware options
- International calling and coverage abroad
- Overall pricing and value
Do These Plans Work With Unlocked Phones?
Yes. In fact, some discount carriers require you to bring an unlocked phone to the relationship. This is as much a technological necessity as anything else — if your discount carrier runs on T-Mobile’s network, you can’t very well expect it to work with a Verizon-locked phone.
Fun Facts About Cellular Services
- Engineer Martin Cooper made the first cell phone call in 1973 using a noncommercial prototype network. Cell phones wouldn’t become available to the general public for another decade.
- Ameritech’s Advanced Mobile Phone System (AMPS), the world’s first commercial cellular network, debuted on October 13, 1983. Ameritech president Bob Barnett marked the occasion with a call to Alexander Graham Bell’s grandson.
- Cell phones could send and receive text messages as early as 1991, when the world’s first SMS-enabled 2G network rolled out. But the practice didn’t really catch on with consumers until the turn of the century.
- The first prepaid cell phone plans came online in the early to mid-1990s. In some countries, like Ireland, prepaid cell service is now more common and better-liked than monthly-paid service.