What Are the Best Prepaid/Value Plans?
If you’re looking to save money on your monthly cellphone bill, opting for prepaid wireless service may be the way to go, especially as carriers offer a wider selection of phones to their prepaid customers. And you’ve got a lot of top plans to choose from, depending on your specific needs.
Based on our testing and analysis, is the best overall prepaid choice with its $40-a-month 6GB plan, thanks to its superior network performance. MetroPCS also has the best unlimited plan, especially if you don’t mind streaming video at lower-resolution. While AT&T normally offers the most attractive rates for families, thanks to escalating discounts as you add more lines, MetroPCS has gotten more aggressive in this area. If you can take advantage of the carrier’s current rates for adding extra lines, MetroPCS is our choice for families who want unlimited data.
Now that Virgin has dropped its generous tiered data to only offer a single unlimited data plan to iPhone users, customers who want the most data for the least amount of dollars should consider AT&T’s 6GB plan, which costs $40 a month with an autopay discount. If saving money is more important that maximizing data, though, you could turn to a host of discount carriers for an even lower monthly bill. Republic Wireless offers the best balance of cost and data, with a $20-a-month 1GB plan.
How We Picked the Best Prepaid Plans: You’ve got a vast number of choices when it comes to prepaid and discount carriers. To help simplify things, we divided plans into different categories. First, we looked at the best overall plans, using 3GB as the ideal amount of data an average user would need each month. Because a growing number of discount carriers now offer unlimited data, we also picked the best plan for people who want the fewest limitations on their monthly cellphone plan.
In addition, we determined which carrier offers the most attractive pricing for families who need multiple lines of data. In all of these categories, we took network performance, including our own 4G testing, into account.
Because some wireless customers want an even lower monthly bill, we broadened our search to include additional discount carriers, which allow you to mix and match the amount of talk minutes, text and data you have in your monthly bill. We picked the best plan for less than $30 that had the most attractive combination of service and price.
MORE: The Best Discount Cellphone Carrier
Best Prepaid Plans for Individuals
Best Overall Prepaid Plan: MetroPCS, 6GB for $40 a month
Who Should Get It: Prepaid customers who want the best network performance
MetroPCS stands out because of the superior network of parent company T-Mobile. MetroPCS’s $40 plan doesn’t put any limits on download speeds, as Cricket does, and MetroPCS recently doubled the size of the plan’s data allotment to 6GB. While that’s a limited-time promotion, if you sign up for the 6GB plan now, you’ll keep that data allotment so long as your MetroPCS account remains in good standing. MetroPCS also includes nice bonuses like the ability to stream music from more than 40 services without it counting against your monthly data allotment.
Metro also boosted the data allotment on its $30 a month plan to 2GB, if you don’t consume much data. You may be better off with Boost’s tiered data plan, though, which offers 1GB more of data for just $5 extra each month.
Runner-Up: AT&T, 6GB for $40 a month
Who Should Get It: Data-hungry users who like AT&T’s network
Virgin dropped its 5GB for $35 plan, leaving AT&T as the alternative choice for users with big data needs. AT&T offers a 6GB plan for $45, but you can knock $5 off your monthly bill by enrolling in autopay. Any data you don’t use with AT&T rolls over to the next month. A current AT&T promotion gives you two free months of data, but the credit only appears for the third and 12th month of service, meaning you’ve got to stick with AT&T for a year to reap the rewards of that offer.
Other prepaid options include:
• Cricket, 4GB for $40 a month: Enroll in autopay and you can bring your monthly bill down to $35, which is cheaper than what MetroPCS and AT&T charge. Cricket also uses AT&T’s network, which performs well. Unfortunately, Cricket caps data speeds at 8 Mbps so you take a performance hit.
• Boost, 3GB for $35 a month: Boost’s tiered data plan isn’t a bad choice, especially now that the carrier has joined MetroPCS and Cricket in folding taxes and fees into its monthly rates. Boost uses Sprint’s slower network.
• Straight Talk, 8GB for $60 a month: You can get the 8GB plan for $45 from Straight Talk, which recently rejiggered its plans to expand your options and increase the amount of data you get. (Low-data users finally have an option at Straight Talk, now that the carrier also has a 2GB plan for an attractive $35 a month, though both MetroPCS and Boost have cheaper options still.) The more expensive of Straight Talk’s 8GB plans adds unlimited mobile-to-mobile calling to Mexico, Canada, China and India. Be aware that Straight Talk finished at the bottom of our annual carrier rankings.
If you want to save even more money on your monthly bill, other discount carriers let you mix and match talk, text and data allotments. By turning to one of these options, you can cut your bill down to size if you don’t really use a lot of data each month or you prefer texting to talking.
The perfect low-cost plan depends upon your needs, but to find the carrier that offers the best mix of options, we set a budget of $30. Then we tried to build a plan that offered the best mix of talk, text and data without exceeding our monthly limit. We gave extra marks to plans that came in well under budget while still giving us a good allotment.