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Best Prepaid Cell Phone Plans of 2021
We looked at dozens of prepaid plans in terms of price, performance, data, and family or multi-line options, and these are our picks:
Mint Mobile’s $30 unlimited data plan simply has the best price. No prepaid unlimited data plan comes close, and you’ll be on the T-Mobile network.
Visible Wireless’s unlimited data plan offers the best performance. You get unlimited data, free hotspot data, and access to Verizon's network.
US Mobile’s unlimited talk and text, no-data plan is only $7 a month, and it runs on Verizon’s fantastic network. *Click yes.*
Cricket Wireless’s family plan is the all-data, no-drama solution to keeping your family connected. Get all the talk, text, and data your family needs to stay tight.
To figure out which one is best for you, we want to lay out what we look for in a great prepaid cell phone plan.
What to look for in a prepaid cell phone plan
You don't have to sign a long contract and pay a bunch of money for a great cell phone plan. Those days are gone. Now, there are dozens of small prepaid carriers out there scrambling to offer you the best and most affordable deal. Here's how we separate the good from the bad and the ugly.
- Plan pricing: We expect prepaid plans to be affordable, so we focused on individual plans that were around $40 or less. Our multi-line recommendation is under $100 for three lines. That's the price ballpark we consider fair.
- Contract flexibility: Prepaid plans usually have a pay-as-you-go and quit-when-you-want structure. All the ones we recommend here are no-contract plans.
- Network performance: What network does your carrier use? Prepaid plans can be a great way to get on a top-flight network at an affordable price.
- Data allotment: There are prepaid plans with unlimited data, some data, and no data. Be sure to pick one that matches your actual data use, as overages can be pricey.
- Data speeds: Most prepaid plans have some kind of limitation on data speeds, either in the form of a throttling threshold or low overall download rates. You'll want to consider how that could affect your daily phone use before you sign up.
- Perks: Just know up front that you won't find many perks, like streaming subscriptions or other discounts, with prepaid plans. So when we do find a prepaid plan with perks, we definitely take note.
If you want to know more, check out our comparison of prepaid vs. postpaid cell phone plans.
Mint Mobile: Best price
- Cheapest unlimited plan
- Great network
- Hotspot data
- Cost goes up after 90 days
- Data capped at 35 GB
What we like about Mint Mobile's prepaid cell phone plans
You may know Mint Mobile for the carrier’s charismatic part-owner, who is none other than Ryan Reynolds (yes, that Ryan Reynolds). But there’s a lot more to this prepaid carrier than a pretty face. The company has, quite simply, the cheapest unlimited data plan on the market.
The cheapest unlimited plan
There’s no ifs, ands, or buts here: Mint Mobile has the cheapest unlimited data plan available, hands down. In fact, the $30 unlimited data plan is a full $7 cheaper than the next in line. Just look at this price comparison.
Of course, that $30 figure will hike up to $40 after three months. But, even then, you’ll be paying a heck of a lot less for your unlimited plan that most other customers.
Powered by T-Mobile
Prepaid providers, like Mint Mobile, usually piggyback on a larger company’s network. In this case that company is T-Mobile, which is good news for Mint customers.
T-Mobile may not have the best coverage in the nation (though it is plenty good in most areas), but it does have the best data speeds. Here’s a look at the data we collected from over 100,000 mobile customers.
As you can see, T-Mobile leads in both the upload and the download speed categories. Gamers, streamers, influencers, and everyone else who enjoys using the internet on their phone will benefit from these speeds.
Free mobile hotspot data
A lot of prepaid cell phone plans do away with special features and perks, like free hotspot data. But not Mint Mobile.
With a Mint SIM card and an unlimited data plan, you’ll be able to turn your phone into a mini mobile hotspot. You can use all of your allotted data (up to 35 GB) as hotspot data, which is great news for folks who like to stream a show or work on their laptop while they’re waiting at the airport.
What we don’t like about Mint Mobile's prepaid cell phone plans
You don’t end up with the cheapest unlimited plan on the market without making a few compromises. So, where does Mint Mobile fall a bit short?
Price hikes after 90 days
That super low-priced $30 plan will turn into just a regularly low-priced $40 plan after 90 days of service. Now, don’t get us wrong, that’s still a great deal. It’s way cheaper than even the most affordable unlimited plans from companies like AT&T and Verizon.
But, in general, we’re not fans of price hikes. It’s not unethical, but it still feels a little bit sneaky, like when your gas bill suddenly spikes during the winter.
Data slowdowns after 35 GB
Let’s talk about data throttling and deprioritization a little bit.
Deprioritization happens when your carrier slows down your data speeds during times of congestion. Pretty much every single prepaid plan on the market comes with risk of deprioritization, including Mint. If you want to always receive the best speeds available, you’ll have to go straight to the network owner (T-Mobile) to buy a plan.
Throttling is when your carrier slows down your speeds once you’ve used a certain amount (called your data cap). On this Mint Mobile plan your data cap is 35 GB. Once you go over that, your speeds will go way down to 128 Kbps, which is kind of like going from broadband internet to dial-up. It’s not pretty.
While this may sound pretty bad, it’s actually quite standard. Besides, most folks won’t get even close to using 35 GB of data a month.
So you want a cheap prepaid unlimited data plan. But you just really don’t like Ryan Reynolds (or something else about Mint Mobile). Here’s a look at your other options.
Cheapest unlimited data plans comparison
Visible Wireless: Best performance
- Best network coverage
- Truly unlimited data
- Hotspot data and other perks
- Data deprioritization
What we like about Visible's prepaid cell phone plans
If you’ve spent much time perusing Reviews.org’s mobile pages, you’ve probably noticed that we’re big fans of Visible Wireless. We’ve named it one of the best cell phone plans overall, best unlimited data plans, and one of the best plans under $40, to name just a few of the honors.
So why do we like this prepaid cell phone plan so much? The short answer is: it gives you truly unlimited data on Verizon’s expansive network. Oh, and the unlimited hotspot data helps too.
Best network coverage
Visible operates using Verizon’s network. And while T-Mobile may win the speed test, Verizon is the clear winner when it comes to overall coverage. If you don’t believe, just take a gander at this coverage map.
This means that a Visible SIM card will get you the best coverage in the nation, whether you’re quarantined in the city or taking a cross-country road trip!
Truly unlimited data
Remember what we said about Mint Mobile capping your data at 35 GB? Well, it’s not the only prepaid carrier that does that. Almost every cell phone plan has some sort of data cap, and once you go beyond that cap your data gets slowed down.
But not with Visible. Visible Wireless’s unlimited data plan comes with truly unlimited data. You can use 5 GB, 100 GB, or more. So if you’re looking for a plan to replace your home internet, this is a great option (though it’s not the fastest option—more on that below).
Hotspot data and perks
Turning your mobile device into a hotspot can really help you out in a tight spot, whether you’re exploring the world in your RV, stranded in the airport, or your home internet has gone out. And Visible customers can use as much hotspot data as they’d like.
There are a couple of restrictions though. You can only tether one device at a time and your speeds will be capped at 5 Mbps.
Visible offers one other nice perk: right now, you can pick up a $100–$200 prepaid Mastercard when you sign up for a plan or buy a new device on your existing plan. That’s like the cherry on top of an already delicious pie!
What we don’t like about Visible's prepaid cell phone plans
We’ve only been able to find one serious flaw with Visible Wireless, and it’s a common issue for most prepaid providers and MVNOs: data deprioritization.
As we explained before, data deprioritization is when the network owner (in this case Verizon Wireless) decides to slow down your data speeds during times of “congestion.” This means that your data speeds on Visible will probably range between 5–12 Mbps instead of topping out at around 30 Mbps.
Five to 12 Mbps is still plenty of speed for most normal activities, like streaming music and video, playing games, and browsing the web. But if you’re a serious gamer or need your phone for working on the go all the time, then you might want to consider a plan from AT&T or Verizon instead.
Finally, let’s take a quick look at how Visible stacks up against the Big Three providers—AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon. Here’s a chart of all of these carriers’ cheapest unlimited data plans.
US Mobile: Best no-data plan
- Amazing price
- Unlimited talk and text
- Uses Verizon’s network
- No perks or phone deals
What we like about US Mobile's prepaid cell phone plans
We think US Mobile’s unlimited talk and text plan is pretty darn cool. Which is why we dubbed it the best value no-data plan on the market. Here are the things we love about the plan.
There are cheap plans and then there are cheap plans. This prepaid plan is the latter. At just $7 a month, US Mobile’s phone service could be the cheapest utility you pay. It could be cheaper than your Netflix subscription. It could be cheaper than … you get the idea.
Unlimited talk and text
This section is pretty self-explanatory. We like US Mobile’s plan because it gives you unlimited minutes and messages. Go ahead, chat with your sister for five hours. Don’t be afraid to text your boo while you’re at work all day.
Verizon’s powerful network
Remember that classic scene in The Lion King where Mufasa says, “Look Simba, everything the light touches is Verizon’s network”? Well, he’s right. Verizon’s network is the best in the nation. And as a US Mobile customer, you’ll be like King Simba: you’ll get it all.
What we don’t like about US Mobile's prepaid cell phone plans
Look, it’s hard to complain about a $7 plan. But, when there’s a will, there’s a way. Here’s our biggest complaint about US Mobile’s no-data plan.
No perks or deals on new devices
Many other carriers offer free subscriptions, hotspot data, free international calling, and other handy features. US Mobile is more a “what you see is what you get” sort of company. You get talk and text and nothing else. Nada. Zilch.
That means you also won’t be seeing any awesome deals on a new iPhone 11 or other device.
No review is complete without a peek at the competition. Here are the other lowest priced no-data plans on the market.
Cricket Wireless: Best family plan
- Decent coverage
- 10 GB of hotspot data
- Data throttling
What we like about Cricket's prepaid cell phone plans
Cricket Wireless is one of the older MVNOs around (it got started way back in the '90s!). But the company has managed to stay relevant by offering awesome deals on its prepaid family plans. Here’s a closer look at everything we like.
Broke: saving yourself some money on your individual cell phone plan. Woke: saving your whole family money on a family phone plan
Yep, you can bundle three unlimited data lines together on Cricket Wireless for just $90 a month. Here’s a look at how much a similar plan would look like on AT&T (which runs on the same network as Cricket).
Clearly, Cricket gets you more bang for your buck. And if you go up to four lines you’ll just pay an extra $10. In short: the more lines you add, the more money you save.
Cricket runs on the AT&T network, which doesn’t take any awards for the best coverage or data speeds. But that doesn’t mean it's bad. In fact, AT&T’s network is pretty darn good. You’ll get coverage in pretty much every metropolitan and suburban area, and you’ll have access to an ever-growing 5G network.
10 GB of hotspot and other perks
Having a little hotspot data up your sleeve can really come in handy. With Cricket you’ll get a full 10 GB, which is about enough to stream the latest season of The Great British Baking Show (now that’s “bang on”).
Plus, Mint will hook you up with a free, 30-day trial of HBO Max. So, once you’re done with the nice baking show you can go and watch something a bit more intense, like Lovecraft Country.
What we don’t like about Cricket's prepaid cell phone plans
So far, Cricket kind of sounds too good to be true. What’s the catch? Well, the biggest issue is definitely that your data will be slowed down.
We already talked about how Visible will throttle your data speeds at 5–12 Mbps. Well, Cricket will do you one better (or one worse, I guess) by throttling your speeds at 3 Mbps.
Three Mbps should be enough for most basic stuff: posting to Instagram, scrolling through Twitter, streaming music, and using Google Maps. But those who want to game or stream video in HD may notice occasional lag time.
Cricket isn’t the only prepaid carrier offering great deals on family plans. Check out these other low-cost unlimited data family plans.
Recap: Which prepaid plan is best for you?
We’ve gone over everything you need to know about the best prepaid cell phone plans. But which one is best for you? Maybe a quick recap will help you decide.
- Best price: Mint Mobile’s $30 unlimited data plan simply cannot be beat when it comes to price. There’s no prepaid unlimited data plan that comes anywhere close. And you’ll get to be on the powerful T-Mobile network too.
- Best performance: Visible Wireless’s unlimited data plan offers more than pretty much any other prepaid plan. You’ll get truly unlimited data, free hotspot data, and the best mobile coverage in the nation.
- Best no-data plan: US Mobile’s unlimited talk and text plan is just $7 a month. Need we say more? Okay, we’ll say just a bit more: this plan runs on Verizon’s fantastic network!
- Best family plan: Cricket Wireless’s unlimited data family plan comes with everything you need to keep your family connected: talk, text, and data. Cricket will even throw in a trial membership to HBO Max!
We hope this review has helped you find the perfect new prepaid plan for your life (and your wallet). Let us know which one you picked in the comments section!
To prepare the recommendations in this review, we started by comparing all mobile plans that offer a prepaid option. We used online comparison tools from our partners at WhistleOut to identify the following factors in a mobile plan: no contract, data allotment, data speed, network provider, and cost.
We winnowed down our list using our own extensive research into cell phone carriers and their networks. We’ve reviewed cell phone plans from all the major carriers and most of the smaller ones. We’ve conducted our own tests to determine which carrier offers the fastest upload and download speeds. We applied that knowledge base to prepaid cell plans.
This allowed us to determine which carriers offer the best prepaid and no-contract cell phone plans according to each of the key factors.