If you own a cell phone (and who doesn’t?), you need to read this guide. If you’re confused about the best cell phone plans or wondering if you are getting the best deal with the plan you currently have, this guide is here to help you.
With all the different options for cell phone plans, from the various carriers and their resellers, prepaid carriers, pay-as-you-go, family plans, coverage areas, data packages, and so on, choosing the best cell phone plan for you is confusing at best.
Do you want to know what the best cell phone plans really are, and what features, rates and services make them the best choice for your individual situation? There are many variables you should consider and questions to keep in mind:
- Do you need or want a new phone with your plan?
- Do you need more than one line? Will you need to use your phone outside of the country?
- Do you play games or watch streaming videos on your phone?
- Is having the widest coverage important?
- What plans and networks support the kind of phone you want?
This guide is here to help you sort through all the options, understand the lingo, and choose the best cell phone plan based on your specific needs. Make sure to read the Plus/Minus notes for special info and perks on particular plans.
What You Should Know about Cellular Networks
AT & T, T-Mobile, and Verizon are now the only cellular service providers that operate their own wireless networks in the US. T-Mobile acquired Sprint in 2020. These networks are the largest in the country and have the widest coverage.
All other wireless service providers are resellers or MVNOs (which stands for Mobile Virtual Network Operators). Resellers and MVNOs all piggyback on the major providers’ network and may offer lower rates but more limited services and options.
Understanding Data Limit Vs. Data Speed
Don’t confuse 5G with 5GB. 5GB refers to the amount of data allotted; 5G refers to the data speed, measured in Mbps (megabytes per second).
LTE stands for Long Term Evolution, also known as 4G LTE. The “G” stands for Generation, and 4G (4th Generation) is currently the main type of network service in America.
100 Mbps is the minimum speed to be 4G. 5G (5th Generation) is faster yet and aims to reach a speed of 1 Gbps, or 1 Gigabyte per second. 5G is not fully available across all devices yet, but this is a fluid situaiton with more 5G coverage rolling out every day.
The Difference Between Prepaid and Postpaid Plans
A postpaid cell phone plan bills you for service after you use it. The big networks offer this kind of service, and it usually costs a bit more than a prepaid plan. They may also ask for a credit check.
A prepaid plan means you pay for the service before you use it. This can save you money each month compared to a postpaid plan. Prepaid service is typically what the resellers offer and usually does not require a credit check.
Should You Buy a New Phone or Bring Your Own Device?
You should decide on whether you want to upgrade to a new phone or keep using your current one. If you want to keep your current device, you will probably pay less for a good cell phone plan.
If you want to keep your current phone, be aware that most cell phone plan providers come up with new and better plans and special offers all the time. Be sure to check with your current carrier to see if there’s a better deal available to you.
If having the latest tech is your thing, you need to be smart about what a new “zero dollar” or “free” phone actually costs.
You should be aware of what getting that latest device really means for your cell phone bill. Many phone-included offers spread out the actual cost of the phone over the term of your plan.
You also have the option to buy a phone outright. If you can afford the one-time cost, the phone is yours forever, but in that case, be sure you buy a “factory-unlocked” phone so that you can have your choice of which carrier and plan you want.
Most phones purchased from a network carrier usually have a network lock for a minimum number of days, and you’ll need a special code from them to unlock it. A fee may apply, so be sure to read the fine print.
Here is a list of the best cell phone plans broken down by usage categories and network to help you make the best decision for your individual situation. Things to consider are cost, network coverage, service quality, time and data limits, data speed, device compatibility, and device models offered with a plan.
The Best “Economy” Cell Phone Plans for Basic Users
For the cheapest rates and minimal usage, talk & text plans are the best way to go. These are plan-only services for a phone you already have and are usually prepaid.
If you don’t need a lot of data (under 2GB) and “just want it to work” so you can call and/or text friends and family, these plans are super affordable and start from about $10 a month. Here are some of the best cell phone plan options for basic service.
This prepaid plan starts at only $15 a month, and features unlimited talk and text as well as 2.5GB of high-speed data. Speaking of data, T-Mobile Connect adds an extra 500MB of data to the plan annually (till the year 2025).
- What We Like: Unlimited talk and text included, bonus 500MB added every year with no price increase, you can upgrade to 5GB at $25 per month.
- What We Don’t Like: The 500MB stops after 2025.
If you’ve already got your own phone and you don’t need a lot of data, Boost Mobile’s basic prepaid plan comes with 1GB data and starts at $10 per month. And, when you do bring your own phone, you’ll get double the data for the first three months.
- What We Like: Allows you to double your data for the first three months, great network coverage, and you get a mobile hotspot.
- What We Don’t Like: Not all phones are compatible.
Unlimited talk and text starts at $15 a month, and adding a gigabyte of cellular data only costs $5. You’ll also get the Extend Home phone service kit at no additional cost, which allows you to receive calls on your home phone (even if you turn off your cell).
- What We Like: You save money if you pay annually instead of monthly, includes their Extend Home phone service.
- What We Don’t Like: Basic $15/month plan doesn’t come with cellular data.
If you only need one gigabyte of data per month, the Xfinity Mobile Plan starts at $15 a month and comes with high-quality network coverage.
- What We Like: You can share the data across lines, there’s HD quality resolution when streaming
- What We Don’t Like: If you go over the data limit, you’ll pay an additional $15 per gig
This prepaid plan is only $10 a month and features unlimited talk and text with 1 GB of data.
- What We Like: No contract, unlimited talk and text, no fees when you cancel or upgrade
- What We Don’t Like: Not all international calls are free
The Best “Every Day” Cell Phone Plans for Average Users
If you’re like most cell phone users, you need a moderate amount of data (between 2GB and 5GB) and prefer unlimited talk and text time. Most carriers offer a variety of plans, so here are some of the best choices from the providers mentioned above as well as others.
For 35GB of 4G LTE data per month, Boost Mobile Unlimited’s $50 plan also features 12GB of mobile hotspot data.
- What We Like: Unlimited data, talk and text, 12GB of mobile hotspot data
- What We Don’t Like: You get 2G data speed if you exceed 35GB
Upgrade T-Mobile’s $15 plan for double the data at 5.5GB for only $10 more.
- What We Like: Unlimited data, unlimited talk and text, and increases your data by 500MB every year until 2025
- What We Don’t Like: Doesn’t include international calls
Mint Mobile features a $20 per month introductory rate with 12-month prepay, data packages ranging from 3GB, 8GB, or 12GB per month.
- What We Like: Comes with nationwide coverage, uses 5G data speeds when available
- What We Don’t Like: You have to wait until your current plan is over to change the duration of your plan
At $55 per month after autopay discount, the Verizon 5 plan comes with 30GB of mobile hotspot data with 5G speeds.
- What We Like: You get premium network access to Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+.
- What We Don’t Like: 5G Ultra Wideband feature is only available in select cities
If you only need 6GB of data per month, the H20 Wireless Plan comes with unlimited talk and text at only $27 per month.
- What We Like: Nationwide coverage, unlimited international text, and unlimited calls to over 70 countries
- What We Don’t Like: Advertised at $27, but is actually $30 if you don’t have AutoPay
The Best Cell Phone Family and Bundle Plans
There are savings in numbers, and today’s families need multiple lines to keep everyone connected and safe. The best cell phone plans for families offer unlimited usage and decreasing costs per line as you add more family members.
Here are some of the best family plan and multiple line offers from nationwide and regional carriers:
For $40 a month, you’ll get one line that has unlimited data, talk and text, but those costs cut down to $25/month if you start a “party” line with four people.
- What We Like: When you refer a friend, you get a month of unlimited data, talk and text for only $5
- What We Don’t Like: International calls are only included to Canada and Mexico
For no annual contract and no overages, you can get 4 lines per month at only $100 with Cricket Wireless’ Unlimited Plan.
- What We Like: No annual contract or overages, good for families
- What We Don’t Like: Data speeds may be slow if the network is busy
At only $35 per month, you can add four lines to this plan, and get unlimited talk, text, and data at 5G speeds.
- What We Like: 5G access is included, unlimited data, talk and text
- What We Don’t Like: Only standard streaming for cellular data
For $26 per line for four lines, T-Mobile’s Essentials Plan throws in the third line for free, and comes with added 5G access.
- What We Like: Third line is free, international unlimited texting
- What We Don’t Like: $26/month price is only with AutoPay
The Best Cell Phone Plans for Seniors
Today’s silver citizens are more tech-savvy than you may give them credit for. Technology means convenience, and seniors love that! Reliable, low-cost cell service provides peace of mind knowing that friends, family, and emergency help are all only a touch away.
The best cell phone plans for seniors mean security, social connection, and entertainment at their fingertips.
With a discount for AARP members, Consumer Cellular comes with 250-minutes of talk and text and 10GB of data for only $27.50 per month.
- What We Like: Includes discounts for AARP members, easy to upgrade or downgrade plans
- What We Don’t Like: Only 250 minutes of talk time
T-Mobile’s Magenta 55+ Plan is only $50 per line and features 100GB of data as well as a dedicated customer support team at your beck and call.
- What We Like: Unlimited data, good customer service, comes with 5G speeds at no extra cost
- What We Don’t Like: Data speeds slow to 3G after you go over 100GB
The Best Cell Phone Plans for Kids and Teens
Not so long ago, parents shuddered at the thought of their children having cell phones. The worry over carelessness and the potential loss of a costly device was real.
Fast forward to today, and the situation is much different. The independence and safety factors of young people having cell phones are positives, rather than negatives. Here are some of the best cell phone plans that make kids, teens, and parents happy:
At $25 per line, your kids will get unlimited talk and text, but you’ll still retain control over their contacts and online time if you want.
- What We Like: You get parental controls over contacts, online time, and content; includes device location tracking.
- What We Don’t Like: Must already have Unlimited plan to activate.
Starting at $30 per month, you’ll get unlimited talk and text with 3GB data.
- What We Like: Affordable price, no contract required
- What We Don’t Like: Only 3GB of data per month
If you’re looking for a simple plan that comes with limited data, US Mobile offers 1GB of data with unlimited talk and text for only $12 per month.
- What We Like: Unlimited talk and text, HD streaming and gaming
- What We Don’t Like: Price doesn’t include taxes and fees
The Best Cell Phone Plans for College and University Students
If there is any one group that needs to get the most out of their phone, it’s post-secondary students. College students use their phones for everything, from talking and texting, navigating the world, studying, and researching assignments.
Students are often on tight budgets, so the best cell phone plans for students need to be budget-friendly as well as provide good coverage. Having data is good too, but one advantage of being a student is having access to WiFi on campus. Here are some of the best cell phone plans for post-secondary students.
For 4GB of data a month, you only need to pay $15 per month, and you’ll get unlimited talk and text as well.
- What We Like: Free SIM card when you bring your own phone
- What We Don’t Like: You only get standard streaming quality
The Best Cell Phone Plans for International Students
Studying overseas is a wonderful opportunity for American students to learn in other countries as well as for foreign students who come to America for their education. Students are some of the most well-traveled people, and for whom staying in touch and staying on budget is a priority.
Starting at only $17 per line, international calls to other countries are affordable, and you only pay for the amount of data you use. The current rate is $10 per gigabyte.
- What We Like: Bill protection activates after 6GB, hotspot WiFi tethering, cell coverage in 135+ countries.
- What We Don’t Like: International calls cost $0.01 per minute
The Best Unlimited Cell Phone Plans
For cell phone users that thrive on all-inclusive everything and don’t mind paying extra for these kinds of privileges, unlimited plans are the most worry-free and convenient to have. Be aware that even “unlimited” features can have limits, so always read the fine print to be sure you have the unlimited service you want.
At $55 per line, Cricket Core offers unlimited text, talk, and data, but that price drops to $100 per month if you add four lines.
- What We Like: Discount for multiple lines, unlimited talk and text
- What We Don’t Like: Data speeds slow if the network is busy
Unlimited talk, text, and data comes at only $30 per line if you add four lines to your plan.
- What We Like: Straightforward unlimited plan, T-Mobile also includes special offers on Tuesdays of every week
- What We Don’t Like: $30 price is only applicable if you have AutoPay
The Best Cell Phone Plans for Traveling
Using cell phones while traveling abroad is always tricky. You want to make sure you aren’t racking up charges without realizing it. Cellular networks in Europe and other parts of the world operate pretty much the same as in North America, but the rules and rates may be vastly different.
When you choose a cell phone travel plan, you want to be sure it includes talking, texting, roaming, and data access for things like email and voicemail. Here are the two best cell phone plans for international use.
Originally $50 a month, the Google Fi Unlimited for 3 Plan is only $25 per line for the first three months, and offers free calls to over fifty countries.
- What We Like: Unlimited talk, text, and data, discounted price, free 100GB of cloud storage
- What We Don’t Like: Not compatible with all phones
At only $40 per line, you’ll get the third line for free, as well as 5G high-speed data whether you’re at home or traveling abroad.
- What We Like: Free third line, free Netflix basic plan with two or more lines
- What We Don’t Like: Only offers standard streaming for videos and gaming
How These Plans Made the Cut for This Guide
This guide intends to be a helpful and informative resource written mainly for US consumers who want to know what the best cell phone plans are for different groups and want to better understand wireless services in general. To make this list, the wireless provider needed to offer one or more of the following:
- Plans with special rates for unique user groups such as kids, students, and seniors.
- Plans that use the major nationwide or regional networks.
- Plans with lower pricing than competitors for the same or similar features.
- Plans with unique bonus or extra value features.
Whether you need a plan for your family or just need a single line, there’s a plan above for everyone.