• 2015
    BEST
     
    Prepaid Cell Phones Review
    reviews & comparisons

    Whether you're looking for a cheap cell phone plan or you simply don't want to lock yourself into a contract, prepaid plans offer convenience and affordability, on some of the best networks in the nation.

    Gold Award
    $.10/ min
     2 
    $15.00
     4 
    $.10/ min
     5 
    $40.00
     6 
    $.25/ min
     8 
    $30.00
     9 
    $20.00
    | 2-10 of 10 |
    At-a-Glance
    Standout Features
    Best for Most People
    Excellent Prices & Support
    Great Network
    Parental Controls
    Great Network
    Flexibility & Phone Selection
    AARP Partner
    Unlimited Data
    % of Bill Goes to Charity
    GSM & CDMA Networks
    Monthly Plans
    Basic Starter Plan
    $40
    $15
    $30
    $24.99
    $40
    $45
    $17.50
    $30
    $20
    $40
    Average Usage Plan
    $40
    $35
    $40
    $24.99
    $40
    $45
    $40
    $30
    $35
    $40
    Unlimited Talk/Text Available
     
     
    Unlimited Data Available
     
     
     
    Unlimited 4G LTE Available
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
    Daily Plans
    Daily Up-Front Cost
    $3
     
     
    $0.32
     
    $2
     
     
     
     
    Per-Minute
    None
     
     
    $0.10
     
    None
     
     
     
     
    Per-SMS
    None
     
     
    $0.10
     
    None
     
     
     
     
    Per-MMS
    None
     
     
    $0.25
     
    None
     
     
     
     
    Data
    None
     
     
    $1/MB
     
    $0.01/kb
     
     
     
     
    Pay-as-You-Go Plans
    Monthly Up-Front Cost
    $3
    $6
    $10
    $4.99
     
    None
     
     
     
    $20
    Included Minutes
    30
    None
    200
    10
     
    None
     
     
     
    200
    Additional Minutes
    $0.10
    1.9¢
    $0.05
    $0.10
     
    $0.10
     
     
     
    10¢
    Per-SMS
    $0.10
    1/4¢
    $0.05
    $0.10
     
    $0.20
     
     
     
    Per-MMS
    $0.10
    1.5¢/MB
    $0.10
    $0.25
     
    $0.25
     
     
     
    2.5 min
    Data
    Varies
    1.5¢/MB
    $0.10/MB
    $1/MB
     
    $0.01/5kb
     
     
     
    10¢/min
    Fees
    Roaming (per minute)
    None
    None
    N/A
    None
    Varies
    None
    None
    Varies
    None
    None
    Online Activation
    None
    None
    None
    None
    None
    None
    None
    None
    None
    None
    In-Store Activation
    None
    None
    None
    None
    $25
    None
    None
    None
    N/A
    None
    Restocking
    $50
    20%
    None
    None
    $25
    $35
    None
    None
    20%
    None
    Features
    Bring Your Own Phone
    International Calling Available
    3-Way Calling
     
    Family Plans / Group Discounts
     
     
     
     
     
     
    Auto Pay Discount
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
    411 Directory Assistance
    $1.99/call
    $1/call
    $0.10/min
    $1.50/call
    N/A
    $1.99/call
    $1.50/call
    Unlimited
    Unlimited
    Unlimited
    Phone Selection
    Android
    iOS
     
     
    Windows Phone
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
    Feature Phones
    Refurbished Phones
     
     
     
     
    Coverage & Quality
    Primary Coverage Network
    T-Mobile
    Various
    AT&T
    Sprint
    AT&T
    AT&T
    AT&T
    T-Mobile
    T-Mobile
    Various
    Urban Coverage Score
    75%
    80%
    95%
    65%
    95%
    95%
    95%
    75%
    75%
    80%
    Rural Coverage Score
    55%
    70%
    85%
    55%
    85%
    85%
    85%
    55%
    55%
    70%
    Markets with 4G LTE Coverage
    268
    Varies
    620
    525
    620
    620
    620
    268
    268
    Varies
    Average 4G Speed (Mbps)
    8.3
    Varies
    7.9
    4.4
    7.9
    7.9
    7.9
    8.3
    8.3
    Varies
    Help & Support
    Customer Service Score
    80%
    100%
    80%
    75%
    85%
    70%
    98%
    90%
    50%
    25%
    Telephone
    Social Media
     
     
     
    Online Chat
     
     
     
    Knowledgebase
    Store Locator
    N/A
    N/A
    N/A

    Prepaid Cell Phones Review

    by

    Owning a cell phone is a modern necessity, but the expense of decent service can often pinch at your wallet. Prepaid cell phone plans are a useful solution, offering cheap, contract-free rates for those who don’t spend hours on the phone or stream videos on the move. They're flexible, adaptable and affordable; you can pay month-to-month and cancel at any time, with no termination fees and nothing tying you to a single provider.

    Of course, the biggest strength of prepaid wireless plans is also their biggest weakness: Unlike contract carriers, prepaid providers don't subsidize the cost of new phones. This keeps their prices low, but if you're dying to have the latest and greatest from Apple or Samsung, you'll have to pay the full cost of the device up front, and new phones often retail for over $600. If, however, you're in the market for a low-cost phone and plan, there's nothing better than prepaid.

    For its sheer flexibility and solid rates, T-Mobile stands atop the pack, while Ting is a close second, thanks to its rock-bottom prices and spectacular customer service. If you need stability in your coverage, you can turn to H2O Wireless, which connects to AT&T's strong network. Of course, should you find yourself unsure about whether prepaid is right for you, read up on some of the articles on prepaid cell phones we've compiled or simply dig into our reviews.

    Prepaid Cell Phones: What to Look For

    Prepaid cell phone providers used to offer simple, pay-per-minute and pay-per-text services to customers, and many still do. But with antipathy toward contracts on the rise, many services are broadening their plan selections to attract new customers. Keep the following service features in mind as you read our reviews, and you'll find the best provider for you in no time:

    Plans
    Prepaid plans tend to favor flexibility over all-in-one bundling. Many offer unlimited talk, text and data options, but the data allocations in these plans are usually throttled. If you go over a specified limit (usually around 1GB), you'll see your speeds drop to molasses-like 2G rates.

    The best prepaid providers have daily cell phone plans and pay-as-you-go deals, in addition to monthly offerings. If you use your phone only rarely, you can go with one of these plans and pay for your phone service only when you have to use it. Even paying for every voice minute or text message can be a money-saver for infrequent phone users, if the charges don’t add up to the amount of a monthly package.

    Phone Selection
    We all want phones that feel personal and are fun to use, so be sure to check that the provider you're considering carries the phone you want with the operating system you like, whether it is Apple's iOS, Google's Android or another. Most prepaid providers include a selection of inexpensive feature phones in addition to smartphones, if you don't need any bells and whistles.

    Features
    Like so many contract carriers, prepaid phone providers usually offer all of the features you'd expect out of cellular service, including long-distance and conference calling, caller ID, and directory assistance. Be aware, however, that directory assistance often comes tagged with an extra charge per call; only a few providers offer unlimited 411 dialing.

    Help & Support
    A good prepaid plan may help your wallet, but if you ever have trouble with the service or your phone, you want to be able to turn to a great customer service team. Look for providers with a wide variety of contact options, as well as FAQs pages to help you avoid waiting on hold.

    Cell phones may be a necessity these days, but expensive contract plans certainly aren't. Look for a provider with the phone you want and the coverage you need, then use your budget to narrow down the number of minutes, texts and the data allocation you'll have on hand every month. Don't worry if you don't like your choice – we’re talking about prepaid service, after all. As long as it's compatible with your phone, you can switch to a new provider whenever you like.

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