If you’re running from the high prices and sometimes-sneaky tactics of post-paid cell phone plans, or you just don’t use your phone much, it’s tough to sort through the many, many prepaid plans available.
From prices to features to coverage and overall value, it’s a lot to wrap your head around.
To alleviate this, we trawled through the many many providers and broke down our prepaid phone plans comparison into several categories: best overall prepaid plan, best low-data plan, best data plan, best pay-as-you-go, and finally the best prepaid family plan. We’ll show you our picks, tell you why, and answer some FAQs at the end.
After that, the choice is yours to decide which carrier works best for you– so let’s begin.
Best overall prepaid plan: Simple Mobile
Simple Mobile takes the cake for us as the best prepaid plan overall. They’ve got lots of plans, which is great, but we like their two, identically named Truly Unlimited plans the most. Although in the past Simple may have been less than forthright about data deprioritization, we had no problem finding out about it now: you get 40GB of 4G LTE speeds before you face any throttling, which is pretty generous.
Starting at just $50 per month, you get the most data for the price when compared with other prepaid plans, too– there’s little watering down here. Plus, they have other great options, like their 1GB, 2 GB, and 6GB plans, so you get plenty of variety, which competitors like Virgin Mobile can’t say the same about.
They also run on T-Mobile’s network, so you’ll get decent speeds in cities and the surrounding areas.
Alternatives - AT&T Prepaid 8GB + T-Mobile Simply Prepaid
As alternate options, you can check out AT&T’s Prepaid 8GB plan. For a little bit cheaper, you get HD streaming and unused data rolls over (keep in mind, HD video will eat up that much smaller 8GB cap much faster). T-Mobile’s Simply Prepaid isn’t a bad option, either.
Best low-data plan: AT&T Prepaid 1GB
AT&T’s 1GB prepaid plan is a good bet if you’re a light data-user. At just $35 a month, with unlimited talk and text, and data rollover, you’ll be sitting in a good spot. Plus, AT&T has the 2nd-best coverage in the nation, so you’ll have a great signal in the cities and a decent one in many rural areas, too.
FreedomPop is a cool alternative if even 1GB of data is too much for you– or, you need more than 1GB but less than 8. They offer a totally free plan (for 1 year) that gives you 200 or 500MB of data each month, depending on your phone type. They also offer 2 and 5GB plans for very affordable rates– just no unlimited talk or text.
|Plans||12 mo. prepaid||6 mo. prepaid||3 mo. prepaid||1 mo. prepaid|
|2 GB plan||$9.99/mo.||$11.99/mo.||$13.99/mo.||$24.99/mo.|
Best prepaid data plans: StraightTalk 25GB
|Plans||Features||Price - 1 month||Price - 3 months||Price - 6 months||Price - 1 year|
|2 GB plan||
||$45 ($45 total)||$43.33/mo. ($130 total)||$42.50/mo. ($255 total)||$41.25/mo. ($495 total)|
When you compare StraightTalk’s 25GB plan to other carriers, you get roughly twice the data for the same price. You start at $45 for 30 days of the plan, but you can cut down on that price with 3-month, 6-month, and 12-month increments instead.
Plus, you won’t have to worry about your signal too much– StraightTalk contracts with every one of the Big 4: Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint. Which one you wind up on just depends on your location and phone type.
Alternatives: Simple Mobile 10GB
The truth is, few other prepaid carriers can even come close to matching the data-for-dollar value of StraightTalk. Simple Mobile’s 10GB plan isn’t bad, though, with 10GB of 4G LTE data for $40 a month.
Best pay-as-you-go phone plans: T-Mobile + AT&T
It’s hard to pick one winner here with such great options for pay-as-you-go plans– on the one hand, T-Mobile lets you pay a straight $3 and gives a set total of 30 texts and minutes for the month; on the other, you only pay $2 per 24-hour time period when you use AT&T’s pay-as-you-go– but if you use it twice in a month, you’ll wind up paying more than T-Mobile.
Best prepaid family plan: Total Wireless
|Plans||Number of lines||Pricing||View Plans|
|15GB (shared data)||2||$57/month*||View plans|
|20GB (shared data)||3||$80.70/month*||View plans|
*Price with auto-refill
Total Wireless offers you up to 25GB per month of shared data when you grab 4 lines from them – for just $95 a month after setting up auto-refill. Sure, Sprint’s family plans are frankly awesome – 4 lines of unlimited data for $100 bucks? Sign me up! – but that’s postpaid. Their prepaid family plan isn’t even in the same galaxy with Total.
And Cricket Wireless – Total Wireless’s closest competitor in prepaid – gives you unlimited data for 4 lines for $100 a month. But Total Wireless wins out for us with faster speeds overall.
Alternatives: Boost Mobile + Cricket Wireless
We already mentioned Cricket Wireless, and they aren’t a bad alternative. Boost Mobile offers a similar deal to Cricket, as well: 4 lines for $100 a month, but Boost offers HD streaming, while Cricket offers just SD (480p).
|Plans||Features||Price for 4 lines||View Plans|
|Plans||Features||Price for 4 lines||View Plans|
- Best overall: Simply Mobile, for their variety and the price of their unlimited plans.
- Best low data: AT&T for network reliability, affordable price, and data rollover.
- Best data: StraightTalk, for overall data amount for the price.
- Best pay-as-you-go: T-Mobile for it’s flat-rate, straightforward offering; AT&T for it’s truly “pay when you use it” model.
- Best prepaid family: Total Wireless for their speeds for the price.
What’s the difference between a prepaid and postpaid plan?
The basic difference is that with a prepaid wireless plan, you pay ahead of time, instead of after a month of using your phone. Otherwise, the main difference is that many carriers who focus on prepaid plans offer less-than-new phone models and don’t often have the latest ones.
Why choose a prepaid plan?
Choosing a prepaid plan is a great way to protect yourself against surprise charges, for one. It can actually save you hundreds a year, particularly if you’re currently using the most expensive of the Big 4 (Verizon and AT&T).
But there are other benefits, too. You don’t need a credit check, you have the flexibility to cancel at any time, there are no contracts, and prepaid plans offer many multi-line discounts for families, as well.
How do I choose a prepaid plan?
Choosing a prepaid plan is pretty easy. Ask yourself:
- What’s my monthly budget?
- How much data do I need for a month?
- How many calls do I make?
- How many texts do I send?
After that, it’s as simple as choosing a plan. But that said, you should watch out for a few other things, too.
- Small carriers will typically have better offerings than the prepaid options at larger carriers (usually, not always).
- Read the fine print on cheap deals, as some elements may be removed to make them more affordable (see “Cricket Wireless” under the “Best prepaid family plan” section above).
- Going with autopay saves you money. Typically up to $5 a month, but some plans, like those from AT&T, can save $10 a month. If you are on a budget, that can be significant, since it is about $60 a year.