Best prepaid phone plans in 2021

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Sarah Tew / CNET

There are many phone plans available in the United States. While most Americans subscribe to services directly from AT&T, T-Mobile, or Verizon, there are actually a number of smaller providers that can give you solid service at a lower rate. While the major carriers now focus primarily on unlimited plans, these smaller carriers still offer a variety of plans with set data allowances.

There are a ton of providers out there, but for the sake of this story I’ll focus on a few: Boost Mobile, Cricket, Mint, Google Fi, Tracfone and Metro by T-Mobile plus Verizon Prepaid and AT&T Prepaid. Since these carriers have so many different plan options, I’ll also be focusing on the best options for less than 5GB of data, less than 10GB of data, and unlimited plans.

What exactly is prepaid?

When it comes to phone plans, there are actually two main types of payment methods: postpaid, where you pay at the end of the month, and prepaid, where you purchase the service before using your phone. The ads you see for AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon are almost always for postpaid plans, while the plans and carriers we’re focusing on here are all prepaid options.

You buy the data and access it before you use it. Prepaid service providers also allow you to purchase in multiple increments – 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, six months, or even a full year – with prices varying depending on how long you’re willing to commit.

For the purposes of this story, I’m going to focus on the one-year plans.

Know your region

As I noted while covering the best unlimited plansTo get the most out of your policy, you need to make sure you have the coverage you need. So it’s hard to give an overall recommendation from a single operator: T-Mobile’s service in New York can be great, but if you’re in rural Iowa, Verizon is more reliable.

Prepaid providers almost always use someone else’s service. Before signing up, it’s worth checking out what the underlying network is. Each offers a version of 5G and I broke it all down here, but to recap:

If you know of friends or family in your area who are already using the carrier you are considering, ask for their experience with the prepaid carrier or a large network. You can also go to a major operator’s store and see if they have any free ways to try the service before you switch to the other, like T-Mobile’s Test Drive.

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Boost Mobile will use a combination of AT&T, T-Mobile, and its own network.

Sarah Tew / CNET

Know the specials

As the holidays approach, prepaid carriers enter the minds of deals. Boost Mobile offers a promotion that allows you to get three lines with unlimited calls, texts and data for $ 90 per month ($ 30 per line) after “your first payment of $ 100”.

Mint Mobile is offering a Black Friday and holiday sale through January 7 that gives new customers a three additional months of service with the purchase of a three-month plan. That includes its unlimited plan, so you can prepay and get six months of unlimited data for a line for $ 90 (the equivalent of $ 15 per month).

Best Unlimited Value: Mint Mobile 12 Month Plan

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Sarah Tew / CNET

Ryan Reynolds’ cell phone company has made a name for itself with its original advertising, but it also has one of the most exciting offers we’ve seen. For 12 months, you can get unlimited calling, texting, and data for $ 30 per month. Running on T-Mobile’s networks, you get 35GB of high-speed data over 5G and 4G LTE per month, but if you do this before your 30-day period is reset, your speeds will drop sharply to 128 Kbps, even potentially. 64Kbit / s. There is also 5 GB of high speed hotspot data.

Normally $ 30 per month, with the promotion mentioned above, you would get six months of service for $ 90, then the next six months for $ 180. At $ 270 for the year, that drops to $ 22.5 per month for unlimited data, which is a price hard to beat, especially for less than three lines.

Other options: As with all plans, the value will change depending on your specific needs and whether that particular network is working well in your area. If you only need three lines, Boost Mobile has the promotion we talked about, with 35GB of high-speed data per line. After this point, your speeds will “be reduced for the remainder of the month.”

Google Fi offers an unlimited plan of $ 30 per line per month with three or more lines, just like Cricket. While Google Fi is the same at $ 30 per line regardless of how many lines you have, on Cricket this offer gets a bit better if you have four or five lines as the price per line would drop to $ 25. per line per month ($ 100 per month for four lines, $ 125 for five lines).

Neither Google Fi nor Cricket offer mobile hotspot data with these plans. Cricket says it “may temporarily slow down data speeds if the network is busy,” while Google says it will slow down data if you exceed 22GB in a month.

Tracfone does not offer a traditional unlimited data plan. Prepaid options from Verizon and AT&T start at $ 50 per month with automatic payments ($ 65 without). Verizon’s deal also requires a commitment of 10 months or more.

Best unlimited with benefits and for 4 or more lines: Metro’s best unlimited plan

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Sarah Tew / CNET

Cricket and Metro also offer perks with their best unlimited plans – in the case of Cricket, you get an HBO Max subscription with ads while Metro offers an Amazon Prime subscription and 100GB of Google One storage. But these prices are higher per line if you are only looking for one, two or three lines.

If you’re looking for four or more lines, the best Unlimited Metro plan might be worth a look. One promotion has this up to $ 30 per month per line, so if that’s your budget you might want to look into them because for the same price per line you can also get perks like Amazon Prime and Google One in more service.

Anything less than four lines, however, and it’s a lot more expensive than Mint. One line of this unlimited plan costs $ 60 per month, two lines cost $ 90 per month, and three lines cost $ 120.

Best for less than 10 GB of data: Mint Mobile

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Sarah Tew / CNET

When it comes to less than 10GB, Mint again has the best value for money if T-Mobile’s network is strong in your area. While Metro and Cricket charge $ 40 per month for a line, and Boost offers a $ 35 plan for 10GB of data, Mint beats them all on price.

Getting 10GB of monthly 4G LTE / 5G data costs $ 20 at Mint, and if you do that “Buy three months, get three months” promotion, you’ll end up with six months of service for $ 60, or $ 10 per line per. month. Even after this promotion ends, it’s hard to beat $ 20 per month. For a year, that’s $ 180 for 10 GB of data per month, or what becomes $ 15 per month.

Other options: Google Fi has a “bill protection” feature designed to reimburse you for data you don’t use, but with a maximum monthly charge of $ 80 per month for one line and 6GB of data and data. unlimited calling / texting, I think you’re better off looking elsewhere instead of having to calculate how much data you’re using.

AT&T offers an 8 GB per month plan that costs $ 25 per month if you prepay the $ 300 for a full year.

Tracfone doesn’t have a 10GB plan but has two other options directly above and below. The first is an 8GB per month plan that costs $ 35 per month if you turn on auto top-up or $ 40 per month regularly. While that’s a little over 10GB, the provider offers a 12GB per month plan for one year that costs $ 199.

The advantage of the AT&T and Tracfone plans is that all unused data is carried over to the next month. For the latter, if you’re looking for a prepaid provider on Verizon, it’s hard to get past the monthly rate of $ 16.58.

Ideal for less than 5 GB of data: the 1 GB plan from Boost Mobile

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Sarah Tew / CNET

It was almost a clean slate when it came to Mint’s value. At $ 15 per month for 4GB of data, its offer beats Boost Mobile’s offer of $ 15 for 2GB of data and Cricket’s $ 30 per month rate for the same amount of data. Tracfone has a 3GB data plan but costs $ 25 when auto-charging ($ 30 without).

Boost Thursday, however, introduced a new $ 100 deal that offers 1 GB of data per month for a full year for new customers. This comes down to $ 8.33 per month. If you don’t have Boost mostly find yourself on Wi-Fi and price is the main factor for you, this is the perfect choice if you are looking for a new service.

If you need a little more data, Mint is the way to go. After the company’s vacation offer is factored in, it’s $ 45 for the first six months, so a full year would cost $ 135. It’s $ 11.25 per line.

Verizon Prepaid has a 5GB plan that it lists at $ 25 per month as long as you’re willing to commit to at least 10 months, but the math here can be tricky. The plan is normally $ 40 per month, but that price will drop to $ 35 per month from the second month assuming automatic payments are enabled. It will then drop to $ 30 per month if you keep the service for three months, before dropping another $ 5 to $ 25 if you stay with the carrier beyond the ninth month.

T-Mobile has a T-Mobile Connect deal which is $ 25 per month for 5.5GB of data (with 500MB of additional data added to your plan each year).

As we said above, the best deal is the one that suits you the best. But when it comes to pricing, assuming T-Mobile’s network is performing well in your area, it’s hard to beat the prices Mint charges.


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