Some of the plans covered here do include data but it may be limited or overpriced. If you want to use even a little data along with your talking and see our companion post; The Best Deals On Prepaid Mobile Data..
If you aren't using prepaid you are probably spending too much on cell phone service. Most customers can cut their cell phone bill in half by going prepaid. The average US customer using a traditional postpaid mobile phone plan pays $60 a month, the average prepaid customer only about $25.
If you are ready to switch to prepaid or switch from one prepaid operator to another the first thing to do is check your coverage with all four national operators (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile). Almost all prepaid operators rely on one of the big four for their coverage. At the national level, AT&T and Verizon provide service in more places than T-Mobile and Sprint. But all four have areas that they don't cover. I've created a page showing the national coverage maps for all prepaid operators. It has links to each operator's detailed block by block maps. Rule out the networks that don't provide service where you live, work and play.
Once you've found the networks that will work for you, dive into the tables below to find the best deal for your usage on your preferred networks. There are four tables aimed at heavy, moderate, light and text-only users.
The best deals at every price point are generally from smaller, mostly online-only mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) which resell service from one of the big four. If you prefer using a major brand and/or the convenience of buying phones and airtime at Target, Walmart or your local chain drugstore, I've also included the best deals from AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint's Boost and Virgin Mobile and America Movil's Straight Talk, NET10 and Tracfone, all of which are widely available at retail.
In the grids below, click the operator's name in the first column for PrepaidPhoneNews' coverage of that operator. Click the plan name in the second column to go directly to the operator's site. Except as noted, prices include all fees and taxes with the exception of applicable state sales tax and e911 fees in some states.
Heavy users, talking over 1500 minutes and/or sending more than 3000 texts per month, should be on an unlimited voice and SMS plan.
|Operator||Plan||Network||Phones||Monthly Cost||Voice min.||SMS||Data|
|Republic||Talk & Text||Sprint||Republic Only||$10+ 2||Unlimited||Unlimited||none|
|ChitChat Mobile||Unlimited Package||Sprint||Most Sprint||$19+ 1||Unlimited||Unlimited||none|
|Republic||Unlimited data talk & text||Sprint||Republic Only||$19+ 2||Unlimited||Unlimited||Unlimited|
|Spot Mobile||$24.99 Unlimited Mobile||T-Mobile||T-Mobile or Unlocked GSM||$24.95||Unlimited||Unlimited||none|
|Aio||Talk & Text||AT&T||Aio feature phones or AT&T or Unlocked GSM||$25||Unlimited||Unlimited||none|
|MetroPCS||Unlimited Talk & Text 3||T-Mobile or MetroPCS||MetroPCS||$25||Unlimited||Unlimited||none|
|Red Pocket Mobile||Unlimited Talk & Text||AT&T||AT&T or unlocked GSM||$29.99||unlimited||unlimited||100 MB|
|Airvoice Wireless||Unlimited Talk and Text||AT&T||AT&T or unlocked GSM||$30.00||unlimited||unlimited||500 MB 5|
|Boost Mobile||Talk & Text Unlimited||Sprint||Boost BlackBerry Only||$30.00-45.00 4||unlimited||unlimited||none|
|Page Plus||Unlimited Talk n Text||Verizon||Most CDMA||$39.95||unlimited||unlimited||500 MB, Overage $0.05/MB|
|Verizon||Unlimited||Verizon||Specific Verizon non-smart-phones||$50||unlimited||unlimited||unlimited|
|AT&T||Unlimited||AT&T||AT&T or unlocked GSM||$50.00||unlimited||unlimited||unlimited for non-smart phones|
|T-Mobile||Unlimited Talk Text & Web||T-Mobile||T-Mobile or unlocked GSM||$50.00||unlimited||unlimited||Unlimited (throttled after 500 MB/month)|
2 Republic - $10 plan requires $299 Republic Moto X phone. $19 plan requires $99 Republic Motorola Defy phone. Calls and texts routed over Wi-Fi if available, approximately 15% additional monthly taxes and fees
3 MetroPCS - $25 plan is promotional, only available in MetroPCS storee, specific basic MetroPCS phones required, $10 activation fee.
4 Boost Mobile: BlackBerry (includes BBM) only. Initial plan cost of $45/month is reduced by $5 for every six on time payments. Minimum cost, after 18 payments is $30.
5 Airvoice - 500 MB is delivered in 250 MB increments. After using the first 250 MB, the user must call Airvoice to have them "release" the 2nd 500 MB
Moderate users (between 500 and 2000 combined minutes and texts per month) can save with a limited monthly plan that includes a bucket of minutes or texts. This is particularly true if you need Verizon or AT&T coverage.
|Operator||Plan||Network||Allowed Phones||Monthly Cost||Voice min.||SMS||Data|
|Page Plus||The 12||Verizon||Most CDMA||$12.00||250||250||10 MB, overage 10¢/MB|
|NET10||1000 Minute Plan||Verizon, T-Mobile or AT&T||NET10 non-smart-phones||$25.00||1000 minutes/ texts||750 texts/ minutes||charged by the minute of browsing|
|AT&T||$25 Monthly||AT&T||AT&T or unlocked GSM||$25.00||250, overage 10¢/ea||unlimited||1¢ per 5 KB ($2/MB) 1 |
50 MB $5 200 MB $15 1 GB $25
|Page Plus||Talk n' Text 1200||Verizon||Most CDMA||$29.95||1200||3000||500 MB, Overage $0.05/MB|
|Virgin Mobile||payLo||Sprint||Virgin payLo||$30.00||1500||1500||30 MB overage $1.50/MB|
|Straight Talk||All You Need||Verizon, T-Mobile or AT&T||Straight Talk non-smart phones||$30.00||1000||1000||30 MB no overage|
|T-Mobile||Monthly 4G||T-Mobile||T-Mobile or unlocked GSM||$30.00||1500 (combined minutes and messages)||1500 (combined minutes and messages)||30 MB, no overage|
Heavy texters who don't talk much can save with an unlimited text plan
|Operator||Plan||Network||Allowed Phones||Monthly Cost||Voice min.||SMS||Data|
|Kajeet||$14.99 / month plan||Sprint||Kajeet, most Sprint||$14.99 1||60 included/ overage 10¢/min||unlimited||$1 per MB 2|
|Lycamobile||National Plan||T-Mobile||Unlocked GSM||$16.00||250||unlimited domestic and intl.||50 MB|
|AT&T||Unlimited Messaging||AT&T||AT&T or unlocked GSM||$19.99||0.10||unlimited||1¢ per 5 KB ($2/MB) 3|
|Verizon||Unlimited Messaging||Verizon||Verizon non-smart phones||$20.00||0.25||unlimited||0.99/day|
2 Monthly data add-ons available: 50 MB for $5, 500 MB for $9.99 and 1 GB for 24.99
3 Data not available with smartphones.
Light users (under 500 minutes and texts combined per month) can save even more with a pay as you go plan.
|Operator||Plan or Package||Network||Phones||Minimum Monthly Cost||Voice min.||SMS||Data|
|T-Mobile||Pay As You Go||T-Mobile||T-Mobile or Unlocked GSM||83¢-$3.33 1||10-33¢||10¢||none|
|Lycamobile||Pay As YouGo||T-Mobile||Unlocked GSM||0.7¢ 4||2¢||4¢||6.6¢/MB|
|Page Plus||Pay As You Go||Verizon||Most CDMA||$2.50 2||4-10¢||5¢||99¢/MB|
|Airvoice||Pay As You Go||AT&T||AT&T or unlocked GSM||$3.33 3||8-10¢||10¢||6¢/MB|
|H2O||Minute Plan||AT&T||AT&T or unlocked GSM||$3.33||5¢||5¢||10¢/MB|
|PTel||Real PayGo||T-Mobile||T-Mobile or unlocked GSM||$5.00||5¢||2¢||10¢/MB|
|Red Pocket||CDMA PayGo||Sprint||Most Sprint||$5.00||10¢||10¢||10¢/MB|
|Tracfone||TracFone||T-Mobile, Verizon or AT&T||Tracfone||$6.67||4.4¢ - 33¢||1.5-11¢||6.6-50¢/KB|
|AT&T||Pay As You Go||AT&T||AT&T or unlocked GSM||$8.33||10¢||20¢||1¢/per 5KB (non-smart phones only|
|Airvoice||$10 Plan||AT&T||AT&T or unlocked GSM||$10.00||4¢||2¢||6.6¢/MB|
|EcoMobile||Pay As You Go||Sprint||Most CDMA||$10.00||5¢||2¢||10¢/MB|
|Verizon||Pay As You Go||Verizon||Verizon non-smart phones||$10.00||25¢||20¢||99¢/day|
2 Page Plus deducts a 50¢ maintenance fee from your balance each month.
3 Airvoice deducts a $1 maintenance/e911 fee from your balance each month.
4 Lyca's minimum top-up is $10. Funds do not expire but you must make a voice call, or send a message or use data or purchase a top-up at least every 90 days to retain service. The 0.7¢ minimum monthly cost is based on a one minute, 2¢ call every 90 days.
Updated 1-Mar-2014: Added Aio $25 Plan.