Best cell phone plans: Compare the cheapest wireless plans and deals

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Best cell phone plans: Compare the cheapest wireless plans and deals
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If you’re shopping for a cheaper cell phone plan, it might be time to say goodbye to Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint.

Money expert Clark Howard says the best cell phone plan for your money may be offered by a smaller carrier like Cricket Wireless, Visible, Republic Wireless, Unreal Mobile or Total Wireless.

RELATED: Unlimited plans comparison: T-Mobile vs. AT&T vs. Verizon vs. Sprint

Looking for a cheap cell phone plan? Here are the best deals!

These companies are referred to as mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs). They don’t own any cell phone towers, but they partner with one or more of the Big 4 to offer wireless service — often for a lower price!

MVNOs have plans for people who need unlimited data, families and those who just want the cheapest deal possible.

Clark’s picks: Best cell phone plans 

Clark’s bottom line is that you may be able to save a lot of money by switching from one of the Big 4 to a low-cost cell phone provider that has the same network coverage.

Here’s a partial list of Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint alternatives:

Which carriers use Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint’s networks?

Verizon AT&T T-Mobile Sprint 
Visible Cricket Wireless Metro by T-Mobile Boost Mobile
Total Wireless h2o Wireless Mint Mobile Tello Mobile
Xfinity Mobile Unreal Mobile Republic Wireless Virgin Mobile
TracFone, Straight Talk, Net10 Wireless and Red Pocket Mobile partner with all four networks

We’ve put together this comprehensive guide to help you choose the best cell phone plan for you — and your wallet.

Clark and his team have reviewed more than 100 cell phone plans to identify the best options. Price, network reliability and customer satisfaction are three main factors that we considered.

Before we get to our top picks, here are some of the hottest phone plan deals for October 2018…

Deal alert: Cell phone plans and deals to know about for October 2018

  • Sprint: Bring your own phone to Sprint and get a year of unlimited data for FREE. Get this deal at ClarkDeals.com!
  • Visible: Owned by Verizon, Visible has recently expanded its cheap $40/month unlimited data plan. You must have an iPhone to sign up for the service.
  • Metro by T-Mobile: Amazon Prime is included with Metro’s new $60/month unlimited plan.

How to choose the best cell phone plan 

How do you know if one of these deals is right for you? Team Clark has come up with the top five questions you need to answer when shopping for a new cell phone provider.

After this list, compare our favorite cheap cell phone plans for unlimited data, families, light data users and more.

1. How much data do I need? 

Unlimited plans prevent overage charges, but you may use less data than you think if you’re connected to Wi-Fi at home and work. Plans that charge for a fixed amount of data can be much cheaper.

2. Which network is best? 

Every wireless provider has a coverage map on its website. If you’re happy with your network (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile or Sprint), consider a low-cost carrier that uses your existing provider’s towers.

3. Single line or family plan? 

Looking for more than a single line? In general, you’ll pay a lower price per line if you add two, three, four or even more lines of service.

4. Prepaid or postpaid?

Prepaid service is paid for upfront, while postpaid service is when you pay at the end of your billing cycle. No credit check is required for prepaid service, which means you don’t need to thaw your credit to switch.

5. Is my phone compatible? 

Most carriers will sell you a new phone, but if you want to bring your own device it must be unlocked. Check compatibility on the wireless provider’s website before you sign up.

RELATED: Moto G6 review: 3 things to know about the $250 Android smartphone

Clark’s picks: The best unlimited, family and cheap cell phone plans

Now that you have a better idea about what to look for in a plan, let’s help you lower your cell phone bill. Click on one of the category links below or just keep scrolling to find out more about them.

We would also appreciate it if you left a review of any of these providers in the comments below!

Best cell phone plans for unlimited data

If Sprint’s network coverage is good in your area, its free year of unlimited data offer is worth considering. Otherwise, Clark likes the T-Mobile One plan if you want to stick with the Big 4.

T-Mobile One is $70 a month for a single line and $160 a month for four lines, taxes and fees included.

Netflix is included with T-Mobile One for two lines or more, so those who only need a single line of service may be better off with one of the cheaper unlimited talk, text and data plans listed below.

(Note that some providers reduce speeds once a plan’s applicable high-speed data threshold is reached.)

Metro by T-Mobile — Formerly MetroPCS

Metro by T-Mobile logo

Key takeaway: MetroPCS has a new name and two new unlimited plans, including a $60/month option that comes with Amazon Prime. Both plans have mobile hotspot. 

  • Plans: $50 unlimited and $60 unlimited
  • Monthly price: $50 to $60 for a single line; discounts for more lines
  • Network: T-Mobile (Coverage map)
  • Bring your own phone: Yes (Check compatibility)

RELATED: MetroPCS is changing its name and adding 2 new unlimited data plans

Cricket Wireless

Cricket Wireless logo

Key takeaway: Cricket Wireless is AT&T’s prepaid brand and also has two unlimited plans. The cheaper option restricts data speeds to 3 Mbps. 

  • Plans: Unlimited and Unlimited Extra
  • Monthly price: $50 to $55 for a single line with auto pay; discounts for more lines
  • Network: AT&T (Coverage map)
  • Bring your own phone: Yes (Check compatibility)

RELATED: 5 things to know before you switch to Cricket Wireless

Visible

Visible logo

Key takeaway: Visible is owned by Verizon and has one simple plan for $40/month. Data speeds are limited to 5 Mbps and videos stream at DVD-quality resolution of 480p.

RELATED: Verizon expands secret $40/month unlimited data plan

Xfinity Mobile

Xfinity Mobile logo

Key takeaway: Available only to people with Xfinity internet service, Xfinity Mobile from Comcast runs on Verizon’s top-rated 4G LTE network. It also relies on 18 million Wi-Fi hotspots.

  • Plan: Unlimited
  • Monthly price: $45 per line, taxes and fees extra
  • Network: Verizon (Coverage map)
  • Bring your own phone: iPhones only (Check compatibility)

RELATED: How I lowered my cell phone bill to $12/month with Xfinity Mobile 

Spectrum Mobile

Spectrum Mobile

Key takeaway: Also on Verizon’s network, Charter’s Spectrum Mobile is very similar to Xfinity Mobile. The difference is that it’s only for Spectrum internet customers.

  • Plan: Unlimited
  • Monthly price: $45 per line, taxes and fees extra
  • Network: Verizon (Coverage map)
  • Bring your own phone: No (Read more)

RELATED: Spectrum Mobile’s new cell phone service starts at $14/month

Best cell phone plans for 5GB of data

Staying under 5GB of high-speed data per month really isn’t that difficult if you have a reliable and secure Wi-Fi connection at home. Plans in this category are typically around $30 a month.

Wireless provider Total Wireless
Plan  Unlimited talk, text and 5GB of high-speed data
Monthly price 
  • $35 or $33.20 with auto-refill
  • Bring your number and get 50% more data
Network Verizon (Coverage map)
Bring your own phone Yes (Check compatibility)

More cell phone plans for 5GB of data: 

  • Red Pocket Mobile: 5GB plan starts at $30/month with auto-refill; partners with all of the Big 4 networks
  • Mint Mobile: 3-month introductory plan is $20/month for 5GB of high-speed data (regular price $30); runs on T-Mobile’s network
  • h2o Wireless: 4GB + 1GB bonus for 3 months costs $35/month ($17.50 for first month); AT&T’s network

Best cheap cell phone plans for light data users

Want to lower your cell phone bill even more? For those who use 1GB of high-speed data per month or less, there are cheap phone plans starting around $10 that still include unlimited talk and text.

Wireless provider Republic Wireless
Plan Unlimited talk and text + 1GB 4G LTE data
Monthly price
  • $20, taxes and fees extra
  • Add more high-speed data for $5/GB
Network T-Mobile, Sprint (Coverage map)
Bring your own phone Androids only (Check compatibility)

More cheap cell phone plans for light data users: 

  • FreeUP Mobile: Running on AT&T’s network, get unlimited talk, text and 1GB of high-speed data for $20/month; lower your bill through rewards app
  • Xfinity Mobile: $12 per GB on Verizon’s network; requires Xfinity internet service
  • Unreal Mobile: Unlimited talk, text and 1GB of high-speed data for $10/month; carrier provides service on AT&T and Sprint’s networks

RELATED: Clark Howard reviews Unreal’s $10/month cell phone plan

Best cell phone plans for families (4 lines of service)

If you have four lines of service, your monthly cost per line will really go down! The T-Mobile One plan is $40/month per line with auto pay — and Netflix is included.

This plan features unlimited talk, text and 4G LTE data. Video streams at DVD-quality, 480p.

Wireless provider T-Mobile
Plan T-Mobile One
Monthly price Four lines for $160 with auto pay, taxes and fees included
Network T-Mobile (Coverage map)
Bring your own phone Yes (Check compatibility)

More cell phone plans for families: 

  • Cricket Wireless: Four lines of unlimited talk, text and data access for $100/month; data speeds slowed to 3 Mbps
  • Total Wireless: 25GB shared data for up to four lines for $100/month or $95/month with auto-refill

Best cell phone plans for seniors

There are special deals for those 55 and older! Consumer Cellular, which utilizes AT&T and T-Mobile’s networks, offers a 5% discount to AARP members.

Although its prices aren’t the lowest, the carrier made the cut for its high customer satisfaction scores.

Wireless provider Consumer Cellular
Plan Unlimited talk, text and 3GB of high-speed data (Other plans available)
Monthly price $40 before taxes and fees
Network AT&T, T-Mobile (Coverage map)
Bring your own phone Yes (Check compatibility)

More cell phone plans for seniors: 

  • T-Mobile One Unlimited 55+: Two lines of unlimited talk, text and data for $35/line per month with auto pay, taxes and fees included
  • Sprint Unlimited 55+: Two lines of unlimited talk, text and data for $35/line per month with auto pay

RELATED: The best cell phone plans for seniors

Best cell phone plans for international features

In addition to T-Mobile One, Clark says Google’s Project Fi has excellent international plan benefits. When traveling abroad, you use data just like you would at home. It’s the same rate of $10/GB in 170+ countries and territories.

With Project Fi, unlimited international texts are included in the plan and cell service is 20 cents a minute overseas.

Wireless provider Project Fi
Plan Unlimited domestic talk and text, plus data by the gig
Monthly price 
  • Calls and text: $20
  • High-speed data: $10/GB (no charge after 6GB for one person with Bill Protection feature)
  • Add extra people: $15 each
Network Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular (Coverage map)
Bring your own phone Yes, limited options (Check compatibility)

RELATED: 15 credit cards that will pay to replace your stolen or damaged cell phone

Final thought 

Before you switch to a cheaper wireless plan, review the five questions that we mentioned earlier. Those will help you identify the features that matter to you most.

We also suggest that you ask around! Get reviews from family, friends and Clark’s fans in the comments section below.

If this is your first time switching cell phone providers, check out this guide that we put together to take you step-by-step through the process.

More Clark.com stories you may like: 

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