For all the convenience and utility mobile phones provide, they don’t come cheap. Between phone costs and monthly service plans, you could spend more than $1000 per year with ease.
Rates in recent years are on a downward trend. If you haven’t checked out the competition in the past few months—or don’t have service at all—there’s a good chance you can save money with the right choice.
We’ve researched the best prepaid mobile plans available in 2018 to bring you this guide. Should you need a little more or less than our picks provide, you’ll find similar deals sticking to the same carrier we recommend.
If you’re looking to compare options yourself or don’t see an choice that fits your needs, be sure to check our plan comparison tool. We scour the major carrier sites for the best deals and recent updates to make sure that the tool is always up-to-date and ready to help!
Let’s get started!
Choosing the best phone plan for your needs is tricky. Recommending them even more so. How I use my phone might not match up with how you use yours. We feel each of the plans listed here offer great value, but be sure that the specific features meet your needs.
We didn’t feel it was fair—or accurate—to break things up into price tiers or a single factor, such as bandwidth amounts. Instead, we’ve filtered through the best plans available and made suggestions based on common ways people use their phones.
From plans that let you use your phone like a mini-computer and photography studio or to budget-friendly basics with a handful of voice minutes for emergencies, we’ve got you covered!
Now on to the picks!
Best for Heavy Data Users and Media Lovers
Whether you get tons of email or spend lots of time on the road where Wi-Fi isn’t easy to find, you need a plan that won’t make you scream when you go to top-off for the month.
Ideal plan features include: High data caps, fast data speeds and low overage fees
Our pick for this category goes to MetroPCS. Their $60 Unlimited plan offers everything you could need in a plan and maybe even things you don’t. Since they use the T-Mobile network, you’ll find great coverage in most areas. The site mentions possible data throttling at around 28GB, but this is more than enough data for most users.
Don’t need Wi-Fi hotspot features? You can shave off another $10 a month.
NOTE: While Sprint’s network doesn’t quite offer the coverage of MetroPCS, Boost Mobile offers a $50 Unlimited plan on their network. Data from OpenSignal suggests their network speeds are slower than MetroPCS. However, if they have a better signal in your area, the savings might be worth consideration. MetroPCS’ parent company -- T-Mobile -- is also attempting to buy Sprint. Should this deal go through, that could definitely improve coverage and bring Boost’s plans on par with the MetroPCS deal.
Best for Travellers
Whether for work or play, you’re often away from home. You need a plan that will let you keep in touch with family and friends regardless of where you’re located today, tomorrow or next month.
Ideal plan features include: Unlocked phones, free or low-fee roaming
In recent years, carriers have offered roaming in Canada and Mexico at no added charge on postpaid plans. This feature is slowly trickling down to prepaid plans.
At the time of writing, the most affordable options are T-Mobile’s Simply Prepaid plans . The lowest plan offers unlimited talk and text with 4GB of LTE data for $45 per month. You can add roaming in and calls to Mexico and Canada for only $5 more per month.
If you need more data, the
T-Mobile ONE Prepaid plan
offers unlimited data, talk and text with roaming in and calls to Mexico and Canada for $75. However, tethering is limited to 3G speeds.
NOTE: If you’re travelling outside the US, Canada or Mexico, picking up a prepaid SIM or travelling SIM and using it in an unlocked phone is likely cheaper than most carrier offerings. You might even pick up a cheap phone just for travel and still see savings over our pick. If you’ll be travelling to multiple destinations, a Knowroaming SIM offers flexibility and savings over carrier roaming rates.
Best for Those Calling Abroad
Keeping in touch with Uncle Jaime is great until the bill rolls in. You’ve used VoIP apps or calling cards, but they’re a pain. You need a plan that won’t leave you counting minutes or jumping through hoops while working on projects with work colleagues abroad or keeping the kids in touch with grandma and grandpa.
Ideal plan features include: Affordable international calling with generous allotments
There’s a good chance you haven’t heard of Ultra Mobile before. For international calling rates, no other carrier comes close to their deals. While they might not be a big name in mobile service, they use the same network as a name you’ve likely heard—T-Mobile.
Their mid-tier plan offers unlimited calls to more than 75 countries, 4GB of 4G LTE data, $5 toward countries not on the free calling list and $5 worth of roaming credits that roll over each month for only $29!
Lines of service also include Call Me Free numbers. If your contacts live in areas with a Call Me Free number, they can reach you at the same rate as a local call.
NOTE: If you want to keep a spare phone for international calls or don’t need much data, Ultra Mobile also offers a $19 plan with the same calling feature but only 500MB of data. That’s savings of $120 per year over the already low rates of our recommendation.
Best for Emergency Use
You rarely pick up your mobile phone, but you need to know it’s there for you if you need it. A monthly plan seems like a waste, but you want to avoid the pitfalls of pay-as-you-go.
Ideal plan features include: No expiration on top-ups or access, low rates and good coverage
While many turn to Tracfone for emergency phone plans, we found their long lists of recharge options confusing. You also don’t always know what network your phone might use. Finally, when facing an emergency, you don’t want to worry about counting minutes. For this reason, we chose an alternative.
Instead, we recommend the $2 Daily Pass from AT&T’s GoPhone service. Each Daily Pass includes unlimited domestic talk and text. While data is typically billed at $0.01 per 5kb, you can add 100MB for $1. Daily Passes reset each night at midnight central time, not 24 hours after activation. Even then, a full week of service would only run $14 without data. That’s great for service in a pinch.
Best for Casual Use
You might play the occasional game or talk with friends, but you’re not a heavy phone user and you prefer your TV shows on your TV and your music on discs or downloads. You want the convenience of a mobile phone when you want it, but it’s not often.
Ideal plan features include: Affordable rates, no worries about expiration, basic features
Our recommendation for this category rides the line between prepaid and postpaid. While you settle up your bill with Ting at the end of the month like a traditional carrier, they calculate your monthly rate based on usage like a prepaid provider. Better still, they offer support for most mobile phones so you don’t have to worry too much if your phone is old or a cheap discount store find.
For $15 per month, you can get 100 minutes, 100 texts and 100MB of data through Ting. Prices start a little lower, but we felt that this was a realistic starting point. There’s 5 tiers to each service, ensuring that you won’t pay for services you don’t use.
While the billing sounds complicated, Ting offers an easy-to-use bill estimator to get an idea of what things would run for you. Try it out and the whole arrangement makes much more sense.
NOTE: Ting loses points on the value scale quickly if you exceed 2GB of data per month. At the 4GB mark, you’re better off with one of our picks for Media Lovers or Heavy Data Users. Even if you don’t plan to take advantage of the unlimited voice and text offered with those plans, you’ll still see savings.
Best for Families or Groups
Cell phone plans are expensive enough without having to pay a bill for every member of the family. Between the kids’ texting and YouTube habits and your need for high-speed data on the go, a few discounts could go a long way.
Ideal plan features include: Bundled payments and discounts for multiple lines
Offering 4 lines of service with unlimited talk and text and up to 22GB of data at 3Mbps for $100 per month, Cricket gets our recommendation for family and group plans. If you go over on your data, there's no overage fees... your speeds simply slow down.
Need faster speeds? MetroPCS offering 4 lines of service with unlimited talk, text, and data for $140 per month, MetroPCS takes the win for this category. If you use more than 35GB in month, you might see slower speeds. There's also no tethering and video streams at 480p. However, for the price, those limitations are worth it in our opinion.
Best for Frequent Upgraders
You like staying up to date with the latest devices and features. Even if you don’t use your phone for everything, you like knowing you’ll never be stuck with an outdated or annoying, slow phone. You also don’t want to deal with the hassle of selling your phone and paying full price for a new one every year.
Ideal plan features include: Upgrade discounts, financing offers and phone leasing
For this category, we won’t recommend a plan so much as a carrier. At the time of writing, T-Mobile beats the other carriers in upgrade pricing and options by a wide margin. Thanks to their “ Smartphone Equality ” program, you can enjoy subsidies, discounts and other perks when it’s time to upgrade just like a postpaid plan. The only catch is that you must make 12 consecutive payments on time before you’ll see any benefits.
Best for Those with Regular Wi-Fi Access
You don’t understand all the fuss about mobile data. There’s little time when you don’t have a high-speed Wi-Fi connection in range. If you could, you’d just Wi-Fi for your calls, but VoIP apps are annoying.
Ideal plan features include: Wi-Fi calling and messaging, Wi-Fi first phone connectivity, seamless calling between Wi-Fi and mobile added savings when not using the mobile network
While Wi-Fi calling is only just catching on with many major carriers, our recommended carrier built their entire service around maximizing Wi-Fi usage. Their phones even transition calls between Wi-Fi and mobile networks in supported coverage areas—a feature some big carriers still haven’t worked out.
straddles the fence between postpaid and prepaid service. You pay monthly, but they determine your bill based on how much data you use.
For $20 per month you get unlimited talk and text and 1GB of 4G LTE data. Each additional GB is only $5. That's not the cheapest rate in the world. But that's what Wi-Fi is for right?
What We Considered When Choosing Plans
A plan had to meet a few requirements to make our list. While we know not every factor matters to everyone, we thought these three things would offer value to anyone looking for a phone plan:
A Quick Note About Carriers
You might not recognize some of our carrier picks. While there was a time when carrier choice was important and the experience you’d get differed drastically between choices, these days the deciding factors are cost and coverage.
Many of today’s smaller carriers lease portions of their coverage area from the major carriers. This means you get a better price on service without sacrificing the reliability, coverage and speed of a major carrier. For once, it’s a situation where getting more for less is a genuine deal!
If you don’t recognize a carrier listed in this piece, we offer comprehensive carrier summaries on our site! From plan breakdowns to reviews from other readers, you can research any names you don’t recognize. See how they stack up to your current carrier or those you’re considering in just a few clicks!
There you have it! A mobile phone plan to fit any need or intended use. We do our best to keep our guides up-to-date with the latest information. But, with phone plans, you never know when a carrier will change things.
If you notice something isn’t accurate in the guide, drop us a line in the comments below. If we helped you find the perfect phone plan for your needs, we’d love to hear about that too!
P.S. The phone selection at most prepaid carriers isn’t ideal. Unlocked phones offer greater flexibility in choosing your carrier and—with newer models—are often more feature packed than the basic carrier offerings. Not sure what to look for? Check out our phone summaries . We break down the highlights—and lowlights—of the best phones around and even offer links to where you can find the best prices!