Prepaid plans have come a long way since we began this list in 2012. Itâ€™s now 2020 and prepaid is no longer just for those with poor credit or tight finances, itâ€™s perfect for those that want more flexibility or the freedom to switch carriers as soon as a better deal comes around.Â
When it comes to the best prepaid carriers, there is no one size fits all approach. Some options offer the best pricing, at the cost of less extensive customer service. Others focus on unlimited data or other special features. There are literally dozens of prepaid carriers in the US, so picking the right one for you isnâ€™t always easy. Below we discuss some of the best options.Â
MVNO vs traditional carrier options
Before you jump into picking a prepaid carrier it is best to know what you are getting into. There are basically three types of carriers when it comes to prepaid:
A Mobile Virtual Network Operator is the most common type of prepaid carrier. An MVNO is a cellular network that doesnâ€™t technically own its equipment or network, instead, they have a contract with another carrier like Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, or AT&T. MVNOs tend to be way cheaper than a carrier owned by a major cellular network but also tend to have compromises like less comprehensive customer support, restricted data speeds, and so on. Our absolute favorite MVNO is Google Fi, though we also highly recommend US Mobile or Mint.Â
The traditional carrier
A traditional carrier owns its own network and equipment, which typically means that youâ€™re going to get the best customer service, speeds, and possibly a bunch of extras you wonâ€™t find with other prepaid carriers. On the flip side, traditional carriers tend to be more expensive than other prepaid options. T-mobile is probably our favorite traditional prepaid carrier, thanks to a great mix of value and features.Â
A carrier owned by a major network
Want more features and better options than youâ€™re seeing from most MVNOs but donâ€™t want to pay the traditional carrier price? There is a third door, and thatâ€™s a carrier owned by a major network. Basically, this is a carrier that doesnâ€™t own its own network, but its parent does. For example, Cricket is owned by AT&T, and Visible is owned by Verizon. This relationship means you get an experience thatâ€™s a bit of a mix between an MVNO and a traditional carrier. Visible, Cricket, and Metro are easily the best options in this category.Â
Best prepaid phone plans:
T-Mobile prepaid plans
Despite having its own prepaid sub-brand (Metro), T-Mobile still offers prepaid plans directly. T-Mobile has three prepaid plans to choose from.
The first is called Simply Prepaid which offers a limited amount of high-speed data a month. The second plan is Simply Unlimited Prepaid, which offers unlimited 4G data speeds. T-Mobileâ€™s highest-level prepaid plan is called Simply Unlimited Plus which offers unlimited 4G LTE data and 10GB of LTE hotspot. Thereâ€™s also a prepaid data-only option for tablets, smartwatches, and hotspots.
Hereâ€™s a quick look at what you can get with T-Mobile Prepaid:
- The Simply Prepaid plan offers unlimited talk and texts, along with 10GB of 4G LTE data, for $40 a month for one line, with discounts when you add more lines.
- The Simply Unlimited Prepaid plan includes unlimited talk and texts, and unlimited 4G LTE data, for $50 a month for one line, again with discounts when you add more lines.
- Simply Unlimited Plus includes everything listed above for $60 per month for one line with the added benefit of 10GB of LTE hotspot and unlimited 3G hotspot.
- You can add coverage in Mexico and Canada to both plans for an extra $5 a month, and international calling for an extra $15 a month.
- Prepaid tablet, hotspot, and smartwatches plans can be added for as low as $10 a month for 2GB of LTE data per line, to $85 a month for 22GB of data.
AT&T prepaid plans
Like T-Mobile, AT&T has its own sub-brand (Cricket), yet still offers five prepaid plans directly under its main brand. Two plans offer a limited amount of high-speed data for your smartphone, and the others offer unlimited 4G LTE data. Thereâ€™s also a fifth plan that offers no data for people who still want to use a feature phone.Â
Hereâ€™s what you can expect from AT&Tâ€™s prepaid plans:
- For smartphone users, you can get a plan for $35 a month with 1GB of LTE data, unlimited talk, and text in the US
- The next level costs $50 a month and it offers 8GB of 4G LTE data, plus unlimited talk and text to Canada and Mexico, and use of the plan when you are in both of those countries.
- The cheaper AT&T prepaid unlimited data plan costs $65 a month, or you can get the more expensive $75 a month plan that includes 10GB of high-speed mobile hotspot data and 5G access.
Boost Mobile is a Sprint-owned carrier â€” at least for a little while longer. It has four plans to choose from, along with discounts if you add more than one line to your account. It also offers a standalone Wi-Fi hotspot plan as well, along with add-on international calling plans. Boost offers some pretty great plans, especially for those who are looking to save.
Take a look at what you can expect from Boost Mobileâ€™s prepaid plans:
- Thereâ€™s a $35 a month plan with unlimited calls and texts, along with 3GB of LTE data.
- The two other plans all offer unlimited calls, texts, and high-speed data. They cost $50 a month, with 12GB of mobile hotspot data and $60 a month with 30GB of hotspot data.
- If you have a stand-alone mobile hotspot, Boost Mobile has a prepaid plan that offers 50GB of high-speed data for $50 a month
- Boost Mobile also offers add-ons for its plans that include international phone services, phone insurance, and HD mobile video streaming. All Boost plans now include Boost Perks which are exclusive deals, giveaways, and deals.
Cricket Wireless is an AT&T-owned carrier running on the AT&T network. You can bring your own device, assuming itâ€™s compatible, or you can choose from one of Cricketâ€™s own prepaid phones. Keep in mind that if you buy a phone from the carrier, you will have to keep it on the network for six months before you are allowed to unlock the phone and use it on another network.
All of the Cricket plans except for the basic 2GB plan now include an extra 10GB of data for two billing cycles to help with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Letâ€™s go over what you can expect from Cricket Wireless and its prepaid plans.
- For a limited time, the 2GB plan without extra data is just $15 per month.
- Two Cricket plans offer limited 4G LTE data. One costs $30 a month with 2GB of high-speed data and the other costs $40 a month with 5GB of data.
- Two Cricket plans offer unlimited data; one costs $55 a month with speeds capped at 3Mbps, and the other costs $60 a month with possible slowdowns in speeds after 22GB of data is used. You also get 15GB of mobile hotspot data.
- Both of the unlimited plans come with support for roaming in Mexico or Canada as long as your usage doesnâ€™t exceed 50% of your total usage for the month.
Metro By T-Mobile
T-Mobile purchased MetroPCS a few years ago but recently decided to rebrand MetroPCS to more closely associate it with the main Tmo brand. The prepaid carrier is now calledÂ Metro by T-Mobile. It offers plans that use Tmoâ€™s network and offer some extras on its plans that are similar in tone to the ones that its parent company provides. You can also get discounts on those plans if you add more than one line to the account.
Hereâ€™s a look at the plans that are currently offered with Metro by T-Mobile.
- There are two plans with limited 4G LTE data from Metro by T-Mobile. One costs $30 a month with unlimited talk, unlimited text, and 2GB of data. The other costs $40 and bumps up the data to 10GB.
- Thereâ€™s a $50 Metro by T-Mobile unlimited data prepaid plan but your speeds may slow down if you go over 35GB a month. You also get 5GB of high-speed hotspot data a month, plus access to the Google One cloud storage plan that normal costs $1.99 a month.
- Finally, thereâ€™s the $60 a month prepaid plan, which has everything from the $50 plan, plus 15GB of high-speed hotspot data and a free Amazon Prime subscription that costs $12.99 a month.
- Thereâ€™s also a standalone mobile hotspot prepaid plan, with prices starting at $35 a month for 10GB of data, all the way to $75 a month with $30 of data.
If you love the idea of customization and flexibility from your prepaid plan, US Mobile is a solid choice. Not only are the plans flexible, but the carrier even lets you pause a line for $2 a month â€” perfect for those that travel to the US and want to maintain a number there, or simply for those times when youâ€™re tight on money but donâ€™t want to risk losing your number.Â
With US Mobile you can choose exactly how much talk, text, and data you need. Big talkers can get unlimited talk, while having cheaper text or data plans. Donâ€™t talk much? You can get the base talk package (50 minutes) for $2 a month, and focus your plan on texting and/or data.Â
At a glance, hereâ€™s what to expect from US Mobile:
- Plans begin at as low as $4 a month, but go up depending on your combination of data, text, and talk.
- Unlimited plans with prices ranging from $40 to $50 a month. There are two speed tiers. Fast (5Mbps) and Ludicrous (no limits).
- You can also add hotspot support for your unlimited plans for an extra $5.
- You choose between the biggest LTE network coverage (via Verizon) or the network with the broadest device compatibility (via T-Mobile).
Google Fi is Googleâ€™s attempt at being an MVNO mobile carrier. It uses T-Mobile, Sprint, and US Cellular to provide a pretty decent coverage map. The service is compatible with most Android phones, and even iPhones. However, only a few handsets (like the Pixel family) support all of Google Fiâ€™s features. All plans include access to cell coverage in more than 170 countries, Wi-Fi tethering, and more.
Hereâ€™s what you can expect when you sign up for Google Fi:
- The super-cheap Google Fi prepaid plan costs just $20 a month, with unlimited talk and text, but no data. You can add up to five additional lines for $15 a month each.
- When you use cellular data on Google Fi, it increases your costs, starting at $1 a month for each 100MB of data, or $10 a month for 1GB.
- After you use up 6GB of data before your billing period ends on Google Fi, the rest of your data is free under bill protection. That means your total maximum monthly costs for the first line is just $80.
- That data ceiling goes up to 10GB if you add another line, 12GB if you add 2 lines, 14GB for 3 lines, 16GB for 4 lines, and 18 GB for 5 lines.Â
- New unlimited plan option: Pricing for the new Unlimited plan starts at $70 a month for one line, $60/line a month for two lines, $50/line a month for three lines, and $45/line a month for four to six lines.
Straight Talk Wireless prepaid plans
Straight Talk Wireless is an MVNO thatâ€™s actually owned by Walmart, and uses Verizonâ€™s or Sprintâ€™s network for CDMA phones, along with T-Mobileâ€™s or AT&Tâ€™s GSM network for its compatible phones. While it does sell phones on its own, Straight Talkâ€™s main marketing push is for people who already own their phones to sign up and use its service.
Read more: best Straight Talk phones
Letâ€™s go over what Straight Talk Wirelessâ€™ plans are like:
- One plan costs $30 a month with unlimited text, 1,500 minutes of talk in the US, and 100MB of data.
- Two of the plans offer limited data in larger amounts. The first costs $35 a month with unlimited talk, unlimited text, and 3GB of data. The other costs $45 a month and boosts the data cap to 25GB a month.Â
- If you find yourself running low on either of the limited data plans, Straight Talk will also let you add more for $5 for every 1GB or $10 for 2GB.
- Thereâ€™s another Straight Talk Wireless plan that costs $60 a month, with unlimited talk, unlimited text, and 25GB of data. It throws in unlimited mobile-to-mobile calling to Mexico, India, and Canada.
- Thereâ€™s also an unlimited data plan for $55 a month, but it does not have the international calling features.
U.S. Cellular prepaid plans
US Cellular is the nationâ€™s fifth-largest standalone wireless carrier. Itâ€™s a CDMA-based carrier with LTE coverage, so that means youâ€™re mostly stuck with phones offered directly from the carrier. This carrier is particularly common in rural areas, often offering service where there are few other decent options. It also has great free-roaming that extends its coverage to more of the US when traveling.Â
Take a look at what you can get from the prepaid plans at U.S. Cellular:
- Thereâ€™s a basic plan that costs just $30 a month, with unlimited talk and unlimited text but no data.
- You can bump up to the $40 a month prepaid plans, which adds 5GB of LTE high-speed data.
- The Unlimited plan costs $55 a month, with unlimited talk, text, and data. However, speeds are capped at 5Mbps and there might be some more speed throttling if you go over 15GB of data per month.
- US Cellular has also added an Unlimited Plus plan with the same perks as Unlimited but also unlimited 1.5Mbps hotspot and dialing to Mexico and Canada.
- All of these plans allow you to add unlimited talk and text to Mexico and Canada for an extra $5 a month.
Verizon Wireless prepaid plans
Verizon Wireless is still the nationâ€™s biggest cellular carrier. While it doesnâ€™t have a huge marketing push for its prepaid plans, it does offer a number of different options. You can either purchase your phone direct from Verizon or bring one of your own. Keep in mind that Verizon is a CDMA-based carrier so if you do want to bring your own phone, make sure itâ€™s compatible with its network.
With that said, letâ€™s go over what you can expect from Verizonâ€™s prepaid plans:
- Verizonâ€™s cheapest plan costs $30 a month, with unlimited talk, unlimited text, and 1GB of LTE data
- There are two more prepaid plans with limited data at Verizon. One costs $35 a month with 6GB of data and autopay, and the other costs $45 a month with 16GB of data and autopay. Both offer mobile hotspot support and the 16GB plan adds unlimited calls to Mexico and Canada.
- Thereâ€™s also an unlimited plan that costs $65 a month.Â It also offers unlimited calls to Mexico and Canada but does not offer mobile hotspot data.
- If you want to add more than one line to your Verizon prepaid plan, you can get discounts on each line for up to five lines. You can also have a more expensive plan for one line, and cheaper plans for the other lines on the same account.
Originally known as Mint SIM, Mint Mobile is a T-Mobile MVNO that offers prepaid plans that customers pay over several months, rather than month to month. The result is customers could pay much less overall for their smartphone plans versus the competition.
Hereâ€™s a look at the rather unique prepaid plans from Mint Mobile
- The cheapest plans cover three months of service. You can pay $45 for the first three months on Mint Mobileâ€™s prepaid plan and get 3GB of LTE data per month, with the price for the plan going up to $75 for an additional three months.Â
- You can also get up to 12GB of data per month for $75 for the first three months, with the price going up to $135 for each additional three months.
- There are six-month plans that cost $120 for 3GB of data per month, $150 for 8GB of data per month, and $210 for 12GB of data a month.
- If you really want to stick with Mint Mobile, it also offers 12-month prepaid plans. They cost $180 for 3GB of data per month, $240 for 8GB of data per month, and $300 for 12GB of data a month.
Visible is a recently launched carrier that is essentially owned by Verizon, and therefore utilizes its 4G network. It tries to do something different in that it has just one plan to choose from, with no other options or add-ons to make things confusing. Thereâ€™s also no store to visit; Visible is only available on its official web site or on its Visible app.
Our own Andrew Grush gave Visible a shot. You can read about his experience right here.
Hereâ€™s a quick look at what makes Visible different:
- Thereâ€™s just one Visible prepaid plan; $40 a month with no taxes or fees. That price gets you unlimited talk, text, data, and hotspot support on that plan for your phone.
- Visible is also offering your first month of service for $25 as well as Party Pay where you can share with four friends and youâ€™ll each pay $25 per month for good.
- At the moment, there are no speed caps or data throttling withâ€™s Visibleâ€™s plan. However, the company has hinted 5Mbps speed caps will be put in place later so you might want to sign up now to avoid the cap limit.
- Visible sells a limited number of Android phones, but you can also use your own compatible phone if you want.
- Streaming video speeds are limited to 3Mbps and 480p resolution on Visible. Streaming audio is limited to 500Mbps, social networking scrolling is limited to 1Mbps, and video chatting with friends is limited to 2Mbps.
These are the best prepaid plans you can get in the US right now. Weâ€™ll update this list with new options once they launch.