Best Prepaid Cell Phone Plans of 2020
Best ValueCheapest unlimited planDeprioritization
Best CoverageCheap unlimited data plan on Verizon networkDeprioritization
Best BudgetAffordable low-data plansLimited phone compatibility
Best Family PlanDiscounts on extra linesPricier unlimited data plans
Sure, you could sign up for a traditional cell phone plan. Or you could sign up for a cheaper, more flexible prepaid plan that offers basically the same benefits. Your data might be slowed down occasionally with a prepaid provider, but I’d give up a few Mbps for a few dollars any day.
But there are about 1,256,972 prepaid providers out there (give or take a few). So where should you start? Right here, that’s where.
If you’re just here to learn how to get the most data for the least amount of money, go and sign up for Mint Mobile or Visible Wireless. Or you can scroll down for our in-depth reviews of the four best prepaid carriers.
|Provider||Best for||Our Plan pick||Learn more|
|Mint Mobile||Value||$30 Unlimited Plan||View Plans|
|Visible||Unlimited||$40 Unlimited Plan||View Plans|
|TracFone||Budget||Unlimited Talk, Text & 1GB Data Smartphone Plan||View Plans|
|Pure TalkUSA||Family Plan||Simply Smarter Family Plan||View Plans|
Mint Mobile: Best value prepaid plan
The cheapest unlimited plan money can buy
- Cheapest unlimited plan
- Good nationwide coverage
What we like
Out of nowhere, Mint Mobile announced its $30 Unlimited Plan and then everything changed in the prepaid wireless world.
Cheapest unlimited plan
Mint Mobile’s $30 unlimited plan is the cheapest unlimited plan in the wireless industry. Seriously, look at how Mint Mobile’s unlimited pricing compares to the competition.
Prepaid unlimited data plan comparison
Mint Mobile undercuts its closest competition by $7 a month for an unlimited plan. So whatever you’re currently paying for your unlimited plan, Mint Mobile will certainly cost less. And it’s not like Mint Mobile offers terrible service or anything, either.
Good nationwide coverage
Nothing is worse than losing service while you’re streaming a suspenseful episode of Serial to pass the time on your road trip. (Okay, there might be a few things that are worse than that.) So you’ll want a prepaid plan that has some reach.
On Mint Mobile you’ll be on T-Mobile’s network. That means you’ll get 4G coverage in about 62% of the country1. Check out how your area fares in this interactive map.
Coverage isn’t worth much if your data speeds can’t keep up with your data needs. Mint Mobile customers shouldn’t have too much to worry about, given that T-Mobile’s network has the highest average download speeds. Check out the graph below for average wireless download data speeds across the three major networks.
What exactly does 32.7 Mbps mean? It means your cell phone service will be about as fast as your home internet probably was a few years ago. You should have no problems streaming, gaming, and browsing.
Unless, of course, you’re being visited by the dreaded deprioritization ghoul . . .
What we don’t like
The biggest drawback to going with a prepaid provider like Mint is the possibility of data slowdowns. In the industry this is called deprioritization, because the parent network (in Mint’s case it’s T-Mobile) will prioritize the data speeds of its own customers over those of prepaid customers.
What deprioritization looks like
Data deprioritization is most likely to occur at times of “congestion.”
If you’re trying to live stream the Jazz vs. Knicks for your buddies who couldn’t get tickets, you’re likely to run into some problems. And if you’re trying to stream an episode of The Witcher using a mobile hotspot, it could get laggy.
But most of the time, and in most metropolitan areas, Mint Mobile customers should get decent 4G LTE data speeds.
As we showed you above, Mint Mobile offers better and cheaper plans than the competition when it comes to midlevel data plans. But some people may want to go with a prepaid provider that runs on a network with even better coverage, like Verizon.
If that’s the case, we suggest checking out Twigby. This prepaid carrier has decently priced, midlevel data plans that will get you seeing full bars almost everywhere.
Twigby 3GB data plan
Visible Wireless: Best unlimited prepaid plan
A cheap unlimited plan on the best nationwide network
- Unlimited talk, text, and data
- Verizon network
- Limited phone availability
What we like
Visible Wireless is one of the newer mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) on the scene (which is just a fancy way of saying it’s a prepaid carrier that uses another company’s cellular network). But this little youngster is a rising star.
What’s so great about Visible? Well, besides its cheap-as-heck unlimited plan, best in the nation coverage, and excellent “party pay” benefits, the company also sports a cool logo. Let’s jump into some of the specifics.
Unlimited talk, text, and data plan
What’s rarer to find with your cell phone:
- a prepaid cell phone plan that includes unlimited talk, text, and data on a reliable network for $40 a month; or
- a shiny Charizard in Pokémon GO?
Okay, I honestly have no idea how rare a shiny Charizard is, but I can say with certainty that a prepaid plan with this much value doesn’t come around often. Visible Wireless gets you unlimited everything, and it costs $25 less than a comparable unlimited plans.
Visible uses the Verizon network, which makes this prepaid cell phone plan a cut above the rest. We’ve rated Verizon the best network for coverage, and its data speeds aren’t half-bad either. In case you’re curious, here’s how the power rankings go for the best networks.
Best networks based on 4G coverage
Check out the coverage map below to get an idea of what to expect on Verizon’s network. Let’s just say that friends should bring you in on their camping trips because of your ability to get signal bars with Verizon.
What we don’t like
Verizon is the cool older brother, and Visible, unfortunately, is the kid brother that doesn’t get as much pizza.
Let’s continue the pizza analogy. You see, a network is like a big ol’ pizza, but there’s only so much to go around. As a Verizon user, you get the best slices of pizza first (high-speed data and coverage). As a Visible user, you get the smaller pieces of pizza (less high-speed data and coverage).
The good news is that the Verizon/Visible pizza still tastes delicious no matter what size slice you get. In other words, the network still beats out Sprint, for example, even if you access it through Visible.
Is this analogy working?
Basically, if you’re surrounded by a bunch of Verizon users, your data speeds may slow down because the Verizon network favors their devices over yours.
Limited phone selection
Early customers of Visible Wireless were stuck with only a few choices when it came to phones—just newer iPhone models. But in recent months Visible has expanded its phone compatibility to include many Android devices and Apple devices from the iPhone 6 on.
But there are still plenty of devices that won’t work with Visible, so be sure to check your devices compatibility before signing up.
Of course, switching to a new provider is a great excuse to buy a new phone (“I had to buy this new 256 GB iPhone 11, honey. Visible didn’t work with my old iPhone 5!”). Here’s a peak at some of the most popular devices that Visible sells.
Alternative unlimited picks
If you don’t like the sound of Visible, check out some other prepaid plans. Just remember, some of these plans may be cheaper, but that doesn’t mean they’re better.
Cheap unlimited data plan comparison
Tracfone: Best budget prepaid plan
Get the amount of data, talk, and text that you need.
- Plenty of low-data options
- Unlimited talk and text
- No large data options
- Only compatible with older phones
What we like
Tracfone might be the cell phone company that your parents first used in the ‘90s, but the ‘90s are back in fashion, right? Seriously, though, Tracfone’s low-tech cell phone plans have something to offer folks who don’t need a ton of data.
Low data options for cheap
Who needs an unlimited plan? Well, some people do. But your grandparents probably aren’t using Instagram all day, and your kids shouldn’t be. Tracfone’s cheap low or no-data plans could be perfect for either generation.
Take a look at these popular plans from Tracfone:
Tracfone plans by popularity
You might notice that Tracfone’s most popular plan is a bit . . . unconventional. It’s a yearly plan for $125 (that’s about $10.50 a month) with 1,500 minutes of data and 1.5 GB of data. But this is a perfect set up for someone who wants to call their family, use Google Maps every once in a while, and not deal with a bunch of bills.
Unlimited talk and text
A few years ago, you couldn’t even find a TracFone plan that included unlimited talk and text. Now you have three options that include unlimited talk and text, and they cost a whopping $20, $25, or $30 a month. You only pay an extra $5 or $10 a month to jump from 500 minutes and texts to unlimited. Unlimited is clearly more (and better) than 500.
Do yourself a favor and pay the few extra bucks for the unlimited talk and text.
What we don’t like
No large data options
As of right now, the plan with the most data available with TracFone maxes out at 3 GB. Data is life for many of us (or at least it feels like it is), and 3 GB won’t get us even close to our Pokemon Go and Netflix fix.
Check your data usage and think about how much you use in an average month. If you frequently use video streaming, mobile hotspot data, or play online gaming, this prepaid carrier might not work for you.
Only compatible with older cell phone models
Sadly, you cannot get the latest iPhone and Android devices and expect them to work on your TracFone prepaid plan. As Liz Lemon from 30 Rock would say, “That’s a dealbreaker, ladies.” Well, for some of you.
Here are some examples of phones compatible with TracFone plans:
- iPhone 6
- iPhone 6s
- iPhone 7
- Samsung Galaxy J3
- Samsung Galaxy J7
- Samsung Galaxy S7
- LG Premier Pro LTE
- Motorola Moto G6
If you’re in the market for a new(ish) device, then Tracfone will sell you one. Here’s a gander at the company’s most popular offerings.
Sure, this lineup looks a bit like the cell phone version of a mid-2010s boy band (One Connection?), but they’ll get the job done.
Not feeling the vibe of TracFone? Here are some other budget-friendly prepaid phone plans.
Cheap prepaid phone plan comparison
Pure TalkUSA: Best prepaid family plan
It’s the best value for the whole family.
- Up to 20% off with a family plan
- AT&T network
- No unlimited data options
What we like
Family plan discount
If there’s anything that families love, it’s shopping at Costco, sneaking candy into the movie theaters, and of course, getting a discount on wireless plans. Pure TalkUSA’s plans definitely seem to have families in mind.
You get up to a 20% discount on your family plan when you have three or more lines. We set up a family plan with Pure TalkUSA, and they gave us a 20% discount. It’s real, and it’s great.
Pure TalkUSA piggybacks off the AT&T network, which is a solid network. Our latest wireless data shows that AT&T has the slowest average download speeds (28.9 Mbps) of the three major networks, but it isn’t by much.
Here’s what the average download speeds look like across AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon.
Here’s a look at what AT&T’s/Pure TalkUSA’s coverage looks like around the country:
What we don’t like
Pricier unlimited data options
For a long time, Pure TalkUSA didn’t even offer an unlimited data family plan. But times have changed. You can now get the Simply Starter Family Plan with three lines for about $140 a month.
If that doesn’t look to you like a particularly great deal, that’s because it isn’t. If you want an unlimited data prepaid family plan, we’d suggest checking out Visible Wireless’s “Party Pay” option.
Here are some alternative family plans that probably won’t save you as much money but might get you some other perks.
Cheap prepaid family plan comparison
There are loads of prepaid cell phone plan providers out there, and we’ve narrowed it down to the best of the best. Here’s a reminder of everything you need to know.
- Best value plan: Mint Mobile currently offers the cheapest unlimited plan out there. It’s a no-brainer when it comes to prepaid wireless value.
- Best unlimited plan: The Visible Wireless $40 Unlimited Plan offers an affordable prepaid unlimited plan that just so happens to be on Verizon’s reliable network.
- Best budget plan: Tracfone offers some of the cheapest and simplest prepaid plans you can find on the market. They’re ideal for kids and retirees alike.
- Best family plan: Bundle up with Pure TalkUSA and it will give you a discount if you add three or more lines to your plan.
Prepaid cell phone plans can save you money if you like paying as you go rather than locking into a postpaid contract plan. Good on you for taking control of your wireless plan.
So, what prepaid service did you decide to go with? What’s your experience been like? Let us know in the comments below!
- WhistleOut, “Guide to Finding the Best Cell Phone Coverage”