Best Cellphone Plans 2017
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, MetroPCS is the best overall prepaid choice with its $40-a-month 3GB 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. Cricket is the best choice for families, thanks to escalating discounts as you add more lines to your plan.
If data is your primary concern, consider Virgin’s 5GB plan — the most gigabytes you can get for less than $40 a month. Or 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.
Best Prepaid Plans for Individuals
Best Overall Prepaid Plan: MetroPCS, 3GB 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 3GB plan doesn’t put any limits on download speeds, as Cricket and AT T do for their prepaid offerings. MetroPCS also includes nice bonuses like the ability to stream music from more than 40 services without it counting against your monthly data allotment.
MetroPCS — Best Individual Prepaid Plan
Most Data for the Money: Virgin, 5GB for $35 a month
Who Should Get It: Data-hungry users who don’t mind relying on Sprint’s network
If you’ve got an eye on your monthly expenses, Virgin’s basic plan is a compelling option, thanks to a sub-$40 price tag and the high amount of LTE data you can get — 5GB. Virgin also lets you stream music from five services without it counting against your data cap. Virgin uses Sprint’s network, which didn’t perform as well as MetroPCS did in our testing, but overall this is a good deal.
Other prepaid options include:
• Cricket, 4GB for $40 a month: Cricket has upped the amount of data you get, and you can lower your bill to $35 a month by using autopay. Cricket caps your download speed to 8 Mbps.
• Boost, 3GB for $35 a month: Boost’s tiered data plan isn’t a bad choice so long as you enroll in autopay to bring the cost down to $30 a month. Like Virgin, 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. This more expensive 8GB plan 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. If you don’t plan on using a lot of data each month or you prefer texting to talking, you can cut your bill down to size.
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.
Plan reflects “pay what you use” pricing
Our favorite plan comes from Republic Wireless. which offers 1GB of data along with unlimited talk and text for $20 a month. Republic keeps monthly prices low by using Wi-Fi networks to handle much of your calling, texting and data needs; when Wi-Fi’s not available, it turns to the mobile networks of Sprint and T-Mobile.
If you need more data and don’t mind paying a little bit more each month, The People’s Operator and FreedomPop both offer 2GB plans with unlimited talk and text for $25 a month. The People’s Operator uses the networks of Sprint and T-Mobile, while FreedomPop operates on AT T and Sprint. FreedomPop is particularly appealing if you want to add multiple lines, as a family of four can share 1GB of data for $20 a month.
You can also lower your bill by turning to carriers like US Mobile and Ting, which offer pay as you go plans. It’s difficult to say exactly how much your monthly bill will be with these services — again, it depends on exactly how much you use each month. But a Ting plan where you have 500 minutes of talk time, 100 texts and 500MB of data should run you about $28 each month. You’d pay $27 at US Mobile by limiting yourself to 500 minutes of talk time, 1,000 texts and 1GB of data.
Unlimited Prepaid Plans
Best Unlimited Prepaid Plan: MetroPCS, $50 a month
Who Should Get It: Data-hungry cell phone users who want the fastest network
MetroPCS and Boost have the best price on unlimited data at $50 a month, though both carriers restrict video streaming to 480p. Boost goes a step further by also imposing speed limits on game and music streaming for unlimited customers. That, plus MetroPCS’s better performing network, make the choice easier. And if you want to get rid of the video streaming limitation, you can opt for MetroPCS’s $60-a-month plan. (You can get those restrictions removed at Boost, too, but it costs $20 extra a month, pushing your bill to $70.)
MetroPCS — Best Unlimited Prepaid Plan
Other unlimited plans include:
• Boost, $50 a month: As noted above, under Boost’s unlimited plan, music will stream at 500 Kbps, and streaming games will be limited to 2 Mbps on top of the 480p streaming video restriction.
• Cricket, $55 a month: That pricing includes a $5 discount for enrolling in autopay.
• Virgin, $60 a month: Virgin’s plan costs $10 more than Boost, but has the same limits on video, game and music streaming.
If you’re shopping for multiple prepaid lines, only four carriers are worth considering — AT T, Boost, Cricket and MetroPCS. They offer discounts when you add multiple lines. In the case of AT T and Cricket, those discounts escalate the more lines you add.
Best Plan: Cricket’s 4GB plan for four lines of data, $100
Who Should Get It: Families with more than three lines who want to save money
Cricket doesn’t have the best performing network, thanks to an 8 Mbps ceiling on download speeds. But it does offer big discounts as you add additional lines — $10 off the second line, $20 off the third, $30 off the fourth and $40 if you have a fifth line. Opt for the carrier’s $40-a-month, 4GB plan, and a family of four pays $100 a month, with 4GB of data for every line. (A family of five also pays $100 since that fifth line is essentially free.)
Cricket — Best Family Plan
Other options for families include:
• AT T: AT T’s discount are a little bit more modest than what you get with Cricket — $5 off the second line, $10 off the third, and $15 off the fourth. But you can mix and match between the 6GB and unlimited plans for different lines. Your speeds are still capped at 3 Mbps, though.
• Sprint: Sprint’s revamped prepaid plan adds a discounted rate when you add more lines. The first line of 4GB of LTE data costs $40 a month with autopay enrollment, but subsequent lines cost $30 each.
• Boost: You only get a discount when adding lines to Boost’s unlimited plan. The first line will cost you $50 per month, but each subsequent line of unlimited data costs $30.
• MetroPCS: On tiered data plans — either 2GB or 3GB — MetroPCS offers a $5 per line discount, so that a family of four would pay $140 a month for 3GB of data on each line. Opt for one of MetroPCS’s unlimited plans, and you can take off $10 per line, so that same family of four would pay $160 for MetroPCS’s basic unlimited plan.