Are you tired of forking over the big bucks for a cell phone with a data, talk, and text plan? If so, you’re in good company.
Luckily, the days of outrageous cell phone bills could be almost over. According to new data, it appears that increased competition from discount carriers has been pushing the price of cell phone plans down over the last few years. While Verizon charged $120 for an unlimited plan in 2011, they now charge around $80, notes Fox Business. And an unlimited plan from Sprint that would set you back $110 in 2011 now costs just $50.
Of course, many of the “big carriers” are now looking for new ways to boost up their revenue, including asking you to pay $20 or more per month to lease a phone, which might just be the worst idea on planet Earth. (Here’s a thought: If you have to lease your cell phone, it’s too dang expensive. Am I right?)
Either way, nobody is forcing you to stick with the cell phone plan you have. More than a few disruptive technologies and new business models have emerged among existing cell phone providers and new companies, and some of them are offering great cell and data service for a fraction of the cost.
12 Cheap Cell Phone Plans You Should Consider
Even better, some of the most popular cut-rate plans will let you bring your own phone or purchase an unlocked phone that will work on their network. If you’re ready to break free of your pricey cell phone and data plan, here are a few discount carriers to consider:
- Mint SIM
- Republic Wireless
- Cricket Wireless
- US Mobile
- Virgin Mobile
- Boost Mobile
- Straight Talk Wireless
- Scratch Wireless
- GoSmart Mobile
- Consumer Cellular
Recently, we wrote a review of Mint SIM, the discount mobile carrier that operates on the T-Mobile network and lets you bring your own phone. This company offers plans that start at just $15 per month with a three-month commitment. The big difference in how it operates is the fact that Mint SIM sends you a SIM card in the mail so you can set up your new phone service yourself.
While Mint SIM has a super low starting price point, you get quite a bit for $15 per month. This basic plan includes unlimited talk, text, and data delivered on T-Mobile’s 4G LTE network, 2GB of 4G LTE data per month and unlimited data thereafter, a prepaid SIM card in standard, micro, and nano sizes, and a smartphone Mobile HotSpot (SMHS) that allows you to turn your device into a WiFi hotspot.
The pricing on these plans lets you pick how much high-speed data you want, and you never have to commit for more than three months at a time. For that reason, we think this is a solid option for people who live within T-Mobile coverage areas.
- Network details: Mint SIM uses the T-Mobile network.
- Average bill: $15 per month
- Pros: Choose a plan that fits your data needs without a big commitment
- Cons: T-Mobile coverage may not be available in your area. Make sure to check this coverage map before you buy a plan.
Because of its flexible pricing schedule, Ting tends to attract the type of customer who only wants to pay for the minutes and data they use. To offer fair pricing based on actual usage, they place all of their services into pricing buckets and allow consumers to move freely through them each month as their needs change.
For example, keeping a device activated costs $6 per month, 1–100 minutes costs $3 per month, 1-100 text messages costs $3 per month, and 1-100 megabytes of data costs $3 per month. However, as you move up and start using more data or minutes, the pricing moves up another tier. For example, 101-500 minutes costs $9 per month and 101-500 megabytes of data costs $12 per month.
This pricing schedule means you never pay for more than you’ll use, which can truly benefit those who just need a phone for emergencies. Plus, no contracts and no commitments.
- Network details: Ting uses the Sprint network. In March 2015, Ting announced support for certain GSM networks via the T-Mobile network.
- Average bill: $26 per month
- Pros: No contracts; only pay for what you use
- Cons: Sprint network may not work in your area; pay more for heavy use
Republic Wireless harnesses the power of free Wi-Fi to offer inexpensive phone plans for its users. In 2016, Republic Wireless rolled out a handful of new phones that help them compete with other carriers, including the Samsung Galaxy Edge. The company’s “My Choice” plan now costs $20 for unlimited talk, text, and Wifi data and 1 GB of cell data.
Base plans start at around $15 per month, which makes them extremely affordable if you only need bare bones coverage and usage. Another perk Republic Wireless offers – no contracts! The main drawback that comes with these plans is the fact that you can’t bring your own phone, and only a handful of phones are available.
- Network details: Republic Wireless uses the Sprint network.
- Average bill: less than $25 per month
- Pros: No contracts; cheap monthly bills
- Cons: Sprint network may not work in your area; must purchase a Republic Wireless phone
Although it started with humble beginnings, Cricket Wireless is now a key player among low-cost, no-contract mobile providers. Owned by AT&T, Cricket Mobile utilizes its parent’s network, but with cheaper plans and offerings.
They offer a wide range of prepaid plans that start at just $30 per month for unlimited talk and text and 2 GB of high-speed data. Meanwhile, unlimited talk and text plans with 5 GB of data start at around $40 per month. With Cricket Wireless, you can also save $5 per month by enrolling in auto-pay. Plus you can bring your own phone, provided it is already compatible with the AT&T network.
- Network details: Cricket uses the AT&T network
- Average bill: $30 and up
- Pros: No contracts; cheap unlimited plans; bring your own phone
- Cons: AT&T dead areas with no service; reported subpar customer service
US Mobile is a newer wireless carrier that operates with GSM SIM cards. For added flexibility, customers can choose from dozens of plan combinations that can save them money. The company also offers 24/7 customer service including email and chat help, no contracts, no hidden fees, and no surcharges. Since there is no commitment, you can try US Mobile without a large financial risk.
Adding one line to your plan costs just $4 per month, and adding up to 100 minutes is only an additional $3. For data, you’ll pay more incrementally starting at $2 for 100 MB .
- Network details: US Mobile uses the T-Mobile network
- Average bill: $15 per month
- Pros: No contracts; cheap flexible plans; bring your own phone
- Cons: Some areas may have limited service
Virgin Mobile is another discount provider with a wide range of pay-as-you-go plans available for cost-conscious consumers. Plans with unlimited data, talk and text with unlimited high speed data start at just $50 per month. All Virgin Mobile plans are also contract-free, which means you can switch between plans or shop around for another provider at any time. Better yet, you can usually bring your own phone.
- Network details: Virgin Mobile uses the Sprint network
- Average bill: $40 per month
- Pros: No contracts; unlimited plans
- Cons: Not all phones will work with these plans
Boost Mobile is another low-cost provider offering no contract plans that operate on the Sprint network. Unlimited talk, text, and 3 gigs of 4G LTE data plans start at just $35 per month, and the most expensive plan Boost Mobile offers includes unlimited gigs of data plus unlimited talk and text for only $50 per month.
Although you can’t bring your own phone, offerings include a wide range of Android devices plus super affordable basic options from makers like Samsung, Kyocera, Motorola, and LG. In addition to its monthly unlimited plans, Boost Mobile also offers daily unlimited plans with no contract for as little as $2 per day.
- Network details: Boost Mobile uses the Sprint network
- Average bill: $35 per month
- Pros: No contracts; unlimited monthly and even daily plans
- Cons: Must purchase a Boost Mobile phone, although inexpensive options start at around $20
Straight Talk Wireless
Straight Talk Wireless is a no-contract, discount provider that offers phones and plans through local Wal-Mart stores and online. Plans with unlimited talk and text plus 10GB of high-speed data cost just $45 per month, and Straight Talk will even let you bring your own phone. Free phones are offered with some monthly plan options, however. In addition to cell phones, Straight Talk also offers mobile hot spots and discount home phones.
- Network details: Straight Talk uses the T-Mobile,Verizon, and Sprint networks
- Average bill: $45 per month
- Pros: Bring your own phone; no contracts
- Cons: Reports of awful customer service online; few plan options to choose from
Scratch Wireless offers no-contract plans that charge by the year instead of the month. Their smartphone plan lets you pay $89 per year to connect to wifi for voice, data, and text. Meanwhile, their cellular access plan lets you pay just $69 annually to connect your device to the Sprint network.
On any of the plans, you can also buy “passes” that hook you up to cell service for $7.99 for 30 days or 100 minutes.
- Network details: Scratch Wireless operates on the Sprint network
- Average monthly bill: less than $10 per month
- Pros: Free to use on Wi-Fi; cheap plans and one-time-use passes available
- Cons: Only one phone to choose from
With GoSmart Mobile, you can enjoy unlimited talk, texts, plus 1 GB of 4G Web browsing and unlimited 3G LTE data for $25 per month. Other plans with more data are available, however; the top-tier plan costs $55 per month but includes unlimited data and Web browsing.
Added features include voicemail, call waiting, caller ID, free 411 calls, and mobile hotspot/tethering.
- Network details: GoSmart uses the T-Mobile network
- Average monthly bill: $35
- Pros: No contract; low-cost plans; bring your own phone
- Cons: No online account management; slow customer service reported on message boards
As a provider geared toward senior citizens, Consumer Cellular offers no-contract, “no-frills” plans that start at just $15 per month. Cellular minutes and data/text plans are billed separately, which allows you to pick and choose which services – and how much of them – you want to pay for.
A plan with 250 minutes of talk, for example, costs just $15 per month. You can also add a data plan to your package if you want; 250 MB of data starts at just $5 per month. If you’re worried about coverage on the AT&T network, you’ll also benefit from a 30-day money back guarantee.
- Network details: Consumer Cellular uses the AT&T network
- Average monthly bill: $50 per month
- Pros: Pay-as-you-go; no contract plans; a la carte pricing; you can bring your own phone
- Cons: Expensive data plans and add-ons
FreedomPop says it offers up to 200 voice minutes, 500 text messages, and up to 500 MB of data per month absolutely free with no gimmicks, no hassles, and no contracts. While this probably sounds crazy, and it is, FreedomPoP really does allow you to score free cell phone service if you’re willing to play by their rules.
You can bring your own phone to FreedomPOP if you want, or you can choose from one of their new or refurbished devices starting at $39.99.
- Network details: FreedomPop uses the Sprint network
- Average monthly bill: Less than $10 per month
- Pros: Free plans available for infrequent phone users; you can bring your own phone
- Cons: Reports of “gotcha” pricing after free usage and bad customer service on message boards
How to Save Money with a Discount Phone Carrier
If you’re desperate to save on your phone bill, any one of these discount plans is definitely worth considering. Before you dive right in, however, you should take a closer look at your phone and data habits. Here are a few steps that can help you determine the best plan without stripping you of the actual coverage you need:
Determine which carriers offer coverage in your area.
Before you sign a contract with a brand new wireless carrier, it’s crucial to make sure their phones actually offer coverage in your area. The best way to check is to ask or confirm on the new carrier’s website where their coverage begins and ends. Some phone carriers like Republic Wireless even have coverage check maps set up to help.
Figure out how much talk, text, and data you’re using on average.
While switching carriers to save money is always a smart idea, you need to figure out whether the amount of talk, text, and data you’re using will translate into savings with a new carrier. Before signing up for a new plan, you should break out your old phone statements to see how much phone use you should plan for. Then, compare your usage to any new plans you’re considering to find out how much you’ll really pay.
Decide if you’re willing to cut back.
Before you choose a plan with skimpier coverage, less data, and fewer minutes, ask yourself if scaling down your phone use is really feasible. If you wind up switching plans and continue using your phone as much as you did or more, you could end up saving a lot less than you think. A smaller plan with fewer minutes and less data may not help you save much if you don’t change your phone habits or usage.
Determine whether your old device will work with a new carrier.
If your old phone won’t work with your new provider, you may need to purchase a new device to get started. While this expense may be a good one, you should shop around to determine which new devices you can use and how much they cost. Also make sure to budget for the upfront cost of a new device to avoid spending more than you planned.
The Bottom Line
While all of these plans seem amazing, it’s important to read through all of the fine print and check out some reviews before making the switch. While you may be saving money, you’ll usually have to give something up – whether that’s excellent customer service, unlimited service, coverage area, or phone options. While some sacrifices may be worth it, others – like spotty service in your home area – may not.
Still, if paying more than $100 per month for cell phone service irks you, it might be time to at least consider your options. While switching plans and providers can be a hassle, the savings could very well be worth it. Imagine what you could do with an extra $80, $90, or even $100 per month!
What low-cost cell provider do you use? Have you had good or bad experiences with any of these options?