Best Current Prepaid Cell Phone Plans?

This is turning into telecom week. :) A reader asked me what the best prepaid cellular plans are. (Maybe you quit Sprint without penalty and are looking for an alternative?) Here are the two plans that I would probably use, although depending the specific person another plan might work better due to coverage or usage patterns. Both have no contracts and no credit checks. Let me know if you know of something better.

T-Mobile Prepaid for Light Usage

You can buy a $100 card that last for an entire year with T-Mobile, which gives you 1,000 minutes. That’s just $0.10/minute. This gives you a basic cell phone for only a bit more than $8 per month. On a traditional postpaid plan, the taxes and fees alone are $5 per month! If you need more minutes, you can buy more but the best per-minute rate is at $100 refills (which resets your expiration another year as well).

T-Mobile coverage is pretty good is most urban areas, but I’d ask around first. Phones start at $20, although I think you can use any unlocked GSM phone.

StraightTalk by Tracphone for Moderate to High Usage

A relatively new product, StraightTalk offers you 1,000 minutes, 1,000 text messages and 30MB of data for only $30 per month. Everything expires after 30 days. The phone selection for this plan is pretty bad, so don’t expect anything with a touchscreen. However, this is a flexible package that offers a generous bucket of minutes, texts, and even casual web surfing for a great price. As compared with postpaid plans, a basic text plan is usually at least $5 per month, and again taxes are usually $5 a month alone. You can also upgrade to an “unlimited” plan for $45 per month.

StraightTalk uses Verizon’s cellular network, which is a plus. Phones start at $20, and I don’t think you can use other phones. There are some nicer ones that cost $100+. Phones and refills also available at Wal-Mart.

Comments

  1. No, there is one touchscreen phone available for StraightTalk. A Samsung. Pricey though.

  2. the StraightTalk does NOT include taxes in the $30/$45 price points.

  3. I have T-Mobile prepaid and am a very light user – less than 10 minutes a month. I bought 1000 minutes the first year ($100) and that gave me “Gold Rewards” status. After that initial year I only have to spend $10/year – the leftover minutes from the initial 1000 rollover and all the minutes are good for another year thanks to the “Gold Rewards”. It’s a very cheap way to go if you’re a very light user of minutes.

  4. T-Mobile prepaid cards are sometimes available at a discount at Target stores – usually $45 for a $50 card. You’ll have to pay sales tax though. Another option is to buy through a website like callingmart.com. They have $100 cards for $94 and sometimes have 10% off sales.
    And here’s something I saw just this morning: Shop4Tech has a $100 prepaid card for $89.21 (expires 12/13). Check this link: http://bensbargains.net/redirect/124244/T-Mobile-To-Go-100-Prepaid-Refill-Card-89-at-Shop4Tech
    So that’s only $7.41 per month, which is an unbeatable bargain.

  5. I’ve been a major fan of Page Plus Cellular ever since I started several months ago. For high usage, you can get 1200 minutes (and 1200 texts & 50MB of data) per month for $30. Unlimited minutes and texts (and 20MB data) for $40. (Yes the more expensive plan has less data. We’re not sure why.)

    For light usage, it can be less than 6 cents per minute (just load a high-value card), and a max of 10 cents per minute. You only need to add a $10 card every 4 months to keep your account alive, so that’s $2.50/mo!

    This is also on the Verizon network, and you can use pretty much any CDMA phone. (I used my Verizon phones, and ported my numbers, and I can’t tell the difference. It’s the same phone and the same network for far far cheaper.)

  6. For TMobile, yes, any unlocked or locked-to-Tmobile GSM phone will work. After the first $100, any amount added ($10+) will extend the expiration date for another full year (from the date you add $). This is perfect for use as an emergency/backup phone. The per month cost drops even more for light use after the first year.

    If you don’t like the phones offered, just get the SIM kit and get your own phone off ebay.

  7. Just note that there are taxes on top of the T-Mobile minutes, too. Here in Chicago it’s around 10% on top, so a $100 refill will cost around $110. I made that mistake once, and now I buy the refills on eBay, with no extra taxes or fees.

  8. I went through this exercise earlier this year. I did T-mobile. The only issue that I have is that I can’t get the prepaid to forward calls to my other cell phone.

  9. Cricket also can be considered. for 25$ per month, they have unlimited talk (with text and data). May vary from market to market

  10. Count me as another very satisfied customer of Page Plus. I have been using it for 3 or 4 years now. I do not use it much so it costs me $2.50/month. I load a $10 card every 4 months and the unused minutes roll over so no money is wasted. And like Chuck said, it’s the Verizon network and service with voicemail. I love it. :-D

  11. Another very satisfied user of Pagepluscellular.
    $80 card adds 1400 minutes and has 4 month validity.
    At the end of 4 months just add $10 card and it will add 100 minutes and any unused minutes from the prior $80 card will be rolled over and you are good for another 4 months. So you are covered for 8 months.
    Then at the end of 4 months add another $10.

    $80+$10+$10= $100 total for 1 year which gives you 1600 minutes.

  12. I’ve been using the T-mobile service for about 2 years now and I’m happy with it as a rather infrequent cell phone user. It is important to note that buying less than the $100 cards can raise the cost per minute 2-3x that rate so it’s a much worse deal. Also seconding the buy online for the cards, you’ll get it for a bit less than retail price and dodge sales taxes.

    Caveat though, don’t expect to get much fancier than voice and texting with T-Mobile’s prepaid plan. As far as I know there’s no real support for any sort of prepaid data usage aside from possibly their sidekick phones.

  13. Having been using Tmobile prepaid for more than 3 years. with 35% Bing cash back, the $100 refill + tax only cost around $75, just remember to take the screen shot every step as the proof, since you need to contact Bing to get the cash back into your account. Once a while, there is also discount of the refill cards at Target.

  14. T-Mobile has an ultra-cheap option for those like me that don’t use a phone much. Buy a $10 card each 90 days; it comes out to $40 a year. They often have on-line specials where you buy a phone for $20 and get a $25 card with it. I buy cards at a discount from callingmart.com, so it comes out to even less and I don’t have to pay sales tax.

    I wanted a GSM phone and this is the cheapest deal I could find.

  15. I’ve thought about switching to a prepaid plan, but my cell phone is the only phone I have therefore I heavily rely on it. Also if you use a lot of data per-paid could get kind of pricey Id imagine.

  16. t-mobile is even better for light use. I started with $100 few years ago. $100 give “gold” status . Now I add just $10 card every year to keep it active.

    My usage is very light ( ~ 20 mins a month)

  17. I use my cellphone as my main telephone.

    Last month I used about 900 talk and 800 text mins. I pay roughly $70 including tax at AT&T. I do not think I could get a cheaper phone for my usuage, no matter how much I would like to. …as paying $850 a year for cellphone service stinks! I pay half that amount to have a year gym membership that I use 6 days a week an hour a day. Thankfully AT&T offers rollover mins which keeps me in the lower plan as my monthly usuage could vary from 350 mins to a month like now at 900 mins.

    anyone in a similiar usuage situation as myself and had luck with prepaid or another provider?

  18. I’ve been a tracfone customer for years. I had my phone stolen once, and was able to transfer my minutes and service to a new phone. I bought a new phone a year or so ago (LG 600 – bluetooth, camera, flip phone) and was able to move the service and minutes no problem.

    Like T-Mobile, it $99 for a year of service. The minutes roll over year to year. I somehow got double minutes for life along the way.

    You can also do the 3 months at a time for cheaper, but I prefer the convenience of once a year.

    Text messages burn .3 minutes a pop.

  19. Another very satisfied pageplus cellular customer.
    pro:
    - use verizon network which is the best
    - cheaper than verizon’s prepaid

    con
    - crappy phone selection, but you can buy any verizon phone from ebay (I bought lg env touch). Make sure it has clear esn, then you can activate it by calling pageplus.

  20. Jonathan,

    I have been using T-mo prepaid cellphone service for 3+ years now and I’m quite satisfied with the service.

    I would like to replace my existing phone with a “smartphone”. All I need is a GSM phone with WiFi support so that I can access the internet at home/work/public places/coffee shops/airports etc.

    Any suggestions?

  21. I bought the T-mobile plan for my uncle and he loves it. Perfectly fit his needs.

  22. If you don’t use your phone much, Virgin Mobile can be useful. Phone costs range from $10 to $100. Minutes roll over. All you need to do is top up $20 every 90 days. If you go with auto top up via a credit card the price drops to $15 every 90 days. So $60/year. Minutes are @ $.20/minute. Virgin Mobile is on the Sprint network. Works for me. I especially like the ability to just bill the credit card without having to remember to top up every 90 days.

  23. I use T-Mobile, 1000 minutes lasts me 9-12 months. I’ve started using Google Voice to cut down having to pay for minutes using it to ring my landline at work and also to send text messages when I’m in front of a computer.

  24. Shatner's Hairpiece says:

    Another satisfied Page Plus Cellular customer here. I ported out of MetroPCS to an old Verizon-branded CMDA Nokia and put myself on the “$39.95″ Unlimited Text n Talk.

    Service works well and– being on the frugal side– I found new uses for my collection of old Verizon CDMA handsets. I even obtained old VZW handsets (1-3 yr old) from my family and friends when they moved on to smartphones and/or other carriers. So if I break one or if the battery no longer retain a good charge, I have customer service or an authorized dealer change the ESN to another working handset and I’m back on the grid.

  25. Agree with the other Pager Plus customers here. Plus, you can use almost any Verizon phone. No offense, but the Straighttalk phones suck.

  26. I was going to say something about page plus but sounds like its been taken care of.

  27. And yet another satisfied page plus customer. I do the automatic bill pay, so my credit card is automatically billed like with my previous plan, but the difference is Im saving a ton (the 39.95 includes all taxes and fees).

  28. I thought that the StraightTalk cards were just $30 plus sales tax, but if I buy a refill card at Walmart.com it comes to $34 which is more than just sales tax.

    So PagePlus does not charge taxes on top of their card values? For example, the 100 minutes for $10 just costs a straight $10?

  29. Okay, I just tried to check out and it does only cost $10. Taxes are marked as “free”. Nice!

  30. JD is right about Virgin Mobile. They are great. $20 every 90 days is just under $7/month. It’s really nice since the minutes build up if you don’t use them.

  31. You should do a review on Page Plus.

  32. Tracfone also offers Net10. I started on Verizon Pre-pay, ported to Cingular, then to this Net 10. Each time saving a nice chunk of cash every month.

    At the time, Net10 was the cheapest provider I could find for my moderate voice + text usage.

    It’s 10 cents a minute always, all the time. And 5 cents per text. You can get a decent Nokia phone for $30 and all their phones include $30 in free airtime.

    And if you bought, IIRC, at least 600 mins at a time, those minutes would last 4 months.

    There were no daily fees or monthly fees like so many prepaid plans have.

    I still recommend this to people as the cheapest prepay plan I know of. I used quite a few texts and a moderate amount of voice, and my bills averaged a lil over $30/month for the 2+ years I had it.

    I switched to Sprint last year when I moved across country. I started using a lot more minutes chatting with my dad and I use things like Navigation on my phone. But I was very happy w/ Net10

  33. keep in mind you can use the tmobile prepaid plan on an unlocked iphone too. so that way you still have access to all the cool features of an iphone and be able to surf the web at wifi hotspots, all for only $8/mo if your call usage is low. beats paying $100+ per month for a regular iphone plan

  34. I’m surprised nobody has mentioned AT&T, which has basically the same deal as T-Mobile. (No fee, $100 card buys minutes that expire in 1 year). Ends up being $8.33 per month for light usage. Adding $$ causes existing $$ on the account to extend to the new expiration date.

    Also, I agree with Mike above about the combination of smartphone + cheap prepaid plan.

  35. @Warren

    Don’t you also have to pay $1 on days you use your phone? In addition to the minutes used?

  36. @shane – yes and no – AT&T Go-Phone has three plans –

    Option 1 is $0.25 per minute,
    Option 2 is $0.10 per minute plus $1 for each day the phone is used.
    Option 3 is $0.00 per minute plus $3 for each day the phone is used.

    Obviously this whole discussion is for people with very light usage. We use option 2 for my wife’s phone. She tends to use about $60-$70 per year. The rest rolls over into the next yer.

  37. You didn’t mention Straight Talk’s unlimited plan for $45 a month. I have it and I’m very happy with it. As to the Straight Talk offering of phones, it’s fair and it’s improving. I don’t have this particular phone, but Straight Talk is about to introduce its Samsung R810C Finesse. The buzz is it’s an iPhone-like touchscreen phone with apps, 2 megapixel camera and camcorder, full QWERTY keyboard, bluetooth and high-speed data access.” That takes care of the myth about prepaid being behind in phone tech. The phone I have is a Samsung R451C with mobile Web, 1.3 megapixel camera, MP3 player and a slide-out keyboard which is great for texting.

  38. I am interested in switching from Sprint to Page Plus but am not sure if their plans include long distance. Will I incur roaming charges if I call from my city / state to another? Thanks.

  39. @Nadia – Long distance is included with Page Plus, based on the card value you purchase. Greater card value = lower cost per minute.

    Roaming (going off the Verizon network) is 59 cents/min.

  40. Here is a prepaid comparison chart of 13 different plans –

    http://www.cellguru.net/prepaid_compare.htm

  41. I agree with T-mo. Its the best prepaid mobile phone in the market. $100 for one year is really a good deal.

  42. Unique Children Gifts says:

    thanks for the great post! i have been thinking about switching to a prepaid plan since i don’t really use my phone that much. i’ve had my current number for over 10 years. does anyone know if i can port my postpaid number to a prepaid plan? if so can i port it back if i change my mind?

  43. @Unique Children Gifts

    Ported my postpaid number from Sprint to Virgin Mobile via their website. Not a problem. Never done the reverse but I cannot see why one couldn’t.

  44. I am using libertywireless.com
    It is unlimited talk/web/text and is just $50/month.
    They are giving a free phone if you sign up for a month.The customer service is excellent and I heard the CEO is in touch with the customers directly.
    Thanks

  45. I am considering to switch from Verizon (currently 70$/month – we end up using 250 minutes/month typically) to T-mobile prepaid.

    Anybody know if I can just reuse my current phone? (I think Verizon uses CDMA).

  46. tiger woods says:

    im thinking about ditching my expensive sprint family plan (which we use only about 300 mins on a 1500 min plan) and going with pre-paid on page plus.

    would we be able to use unlocked Blackberrys on page-plus?
    do we have get BIS to use the Blackberrys?

  47. Jonathan – I don’t see any reason to buy a card at walmart.com when you can re-up on the StraightTalk website. My wife is on the auto-refill plan, and her last charge was $30.97. We’re in Virginia, so CA might be different, but that’s less than the regular sales tax, so I’m not sure what the extra might be.

  48. @Subba Don’t think you can use a T-Mobile for Verizon as T-Mobile uses GSM (SIM Card) and the Verizon is CDMA

    One more plus in favor of Virgin Mobile: If you are a very light user your minutes (dollars) roll over. After a year or two the amount builds up. I just found out that the unused dollars in your account can be used to purchase new phones. Not aware of any other service you can do that with.

  49. Jonathan, after I read this post and other reader’s comments, I decided to change my prepaid plan from Tracfone to Page Plus. I bought a LG VX 5500 from Walmart(it’s in Verizon prepaid package, $22.88). Then I port the my phone number from Tracfone and activated my new phone with PagePlus successfully. I plan to buy $10 card(100 minutes) every 4 months to keep it active. I am an extreme low usage user. Just want an emergency phone and a convenient camera. I am very happy with the whole process!
    Thank you for all of your wonderful posts!

  50. Tracfone works fine, just hope to God nothing ever goes wrong requiring a call to customer service. Worst customer service I’ve experienced EVER – on any product (and I’ve been around a long time). You’re taking a huge gamble with that company, because if things go wrong they could care less if you stay a customer or not. My 89 year old father lost over $100 worth of minutes and they basically said “tough”.

  51. Hi Jonathan,
    Just wondering if you have a Google Voice invite and can send me one.

  52. Interesting to read the plethora of Page Plus comments. Quite a coincidence! LOL!

    Visiting one of their retail stores is a unique experience, as most are located in parts of town that you might not ordinarily visit. Be sure to bring a friend, preferably a large one. And go during daylight hours.

    As for TracFone’s customer service, most people seem to have no problem. In fact, along with sister brand Net10, it was quite favorably cited by J.D. Power in its 2009 Wireless Prepaid Customer Satisfaction Study (http://www.jdpower.com/telecom/ratings/Prepaid-Wireless-Ratings/sortcolumn-1/descending/page-2#page-anchor).

    Straight Talk is growing tremendously, due to its superb network and low cost. No roaming charges either (unlike Page Plus) or extra fees, per-day charges or overages.

    Straight Talk’s $45 for unlimited minutes, texts and Mobile Web Access or $30 for 1,000 minutes, 1,000 texts and 30MB Mobile Web Access is pretty awesome!

    And Straight Talk’s phone selection has expanded and improved greatly, and includes a phone with a qwerty keyboard and another with a touchscreen.

    Take a look for yourself: http://straighttalk.com/ShopPhones

  53. I have Straight Talk on the Verizon network. Bought it at Walmart and it’s an amazing deal. The Samsung Finesse is a very cool smartphone and paying only $45 a month for unlimited everything is the best deal going!

    Who needs an iPhone? LOL!!

  54. I was always skeptical of prepaid phone service, but I have been converted by Straight Talk. I was disappointed with my previous carrier’s endless bills and contracts, so I shopped around and Straight Talk was the best deal I could find. Their $45 unlimited plan (texts, calls, data) is wonderful and I don’t have to deal with a contract. Straight Talk’s phone selection is better than I thought a prepaid service might offer – they have everything from the most baic and inexpensive to Smart Phones. Straight Talk is on the Verizon network so I have a strong and dependable calling network and I don’t drop my calls.

    Straight Talk is a great fit for me – I just moved out and its helping me save $50 a month over my previous bill.

  55. Collegegirl83 says:

    With so many prepaid companies to chose from, it took a lot of research before I settled on the right combination of quality and price – I went with Net 10. The savings are huge since I went from paying more than $100 a month to only $40 with Net10′s “easy minutes” monthly plan. Phones, although a limited selection, are super affordable and the most expensive topping out only at $79+ activation. Being on the TMobile calling network gives me the best of the contract world without the hidden fees or contract deals. Texting and international calling are very affordable as well and Net10 really seems to live up to its advertised .10 a call slogan. It’s as easy as Target or Best Buy for the inital buy and customer service is very highly rated and smooth sailing so far. Net10 is a great choice for the moderate cell phone user who needs a dependable phone – and thaht fits me.

  56. I agree completely with college girl. I was having a hard time getting out of my contract for my cell phone plan and they were just impossible and practically evil. As a student with loans it was just impossible for me to be paying so much money so I got a Net10 prepaid phone. It is really great actually. The phone is a Samsung and I mean while its no iphone.. it has everything I could possibly need. My cell phone bill is so cheap because I control the amount of money I spend. With only ten cents a minute for long distance.. its just a steal.

  57. I mean what else could you want besdies a .10 a minute calls and .03 texting – Theres nothing out there that can really beat Net10′s deal. The best thing about Net10 is the freedom to switch phones and minutes at will based on use without any penalties and secret charges that the cellphone company well sent you. I’m saving more than over 50 dollars a month with Net10. It totally helps me save and offers great coverage.

  58. SwiftySam says:

    Straight talk gives you the most bang for your buck without a question. I pay $45 a month and I have unlimited talk and texts. On top of that, rumor has it that Tracfone, the parent company of StraightTalk uses the verizon network, which explains why I always have reception. So pretty much I get to use the Verizone network for about half the price of Verizon users and unlimited everything. Really, there is no going wrong with this plan. And check out the motorola with the MP3. That is my next phone!

  59. I have been with Tracfone for some time now, and not once have i experienced any problems. They are the most affordable prepaid carrier. They have such great coverage and great International calls at local rates!

  60. Les Beans says:

    If you use your phone just a little bit Tracfone is the cheapest. $20 every 3 months and a doubling phone (basic) for 10$. You cannot beat that for value!

  61. I love TracFone. Honestly, I got so tired of the hassle of contract cell phone providers that when I found out about TracFone I felt this huge weight lift off my shoulders. It is so cheap that I am saving tons of money and the coverage is great.

  62. I have been using Tracphone for over 5 years now and have the Double Your Minutes for Life card. So, every minute pack I buy automatically gets doubled. So, if you figure that into the equation, a customer using that card would be spending half as much per minute as what’s listed here. My son using to have Virgin and I dropped it in favor of the Tracphone. I just found Tracphone to be superior in every way.

  63. Clay Bennington says:

    If you want a prepaid phone, but are a high-power user, go for Straight Talk. For $45 a month you can get unlimited text, talk, and web. They also have a pretty good phone selection. If you love texting, check out the Samsung T401G. It’s got a full QWERTY pad, an mp3 player and video recorder.

  64. StephanieS says:

    I live on my phone so only an unlimited plan makes sense and I have that with StriaghtTalk. It’s been working out great for me. However, I do have a lot of friends and family abroad and keep a TracFone for my guests when they visit…very convenient for them to have a local phone on hand and they can fill up on minutes as they need…super simple!

  65. placidLK says:

    im interested in tracfone. isnt that straight talks sister company? ahhh i dont know! hahaha im so confused! i liek tracfones value.. thast for sure.. im just a little confused how to set it up. But the price is so right. you cant beat that.

  66. Tracey-Ann says:

    I consider a light user so I was very happy to discover TracFone and even happier to find out that my monthly out of pocket will work out to less than $10. So far, the reception on my phone has been awesome. – have not had a drop call. I also like the fact that I have the option of adding more airtime direclty from my phone although I have not had to do that yet. Even below $10, I manage to nt use all my monthly min. thus far. For the time being, this plan seems to be working for me.

  67. Tracfone did have the most affordable plan for us, and our phones automatically double the minutes for life. The only downside, as mentioned by a previous post, is the absolutely horrendous customer service. I have to actually set aside at least one hour, up to two hours, to get some problem corrected. You’re dealing with people in India or somewhere who keep passing you from one person to another. If you loose your connection, you start over. I’ve been trying to get a problem with our automatic recharge taken care of for over 5 months now, and it’s still not working properly … which means I have to call in to customer service every month! UGH! Coverage is great. Plans are great. Phones are nice. Customer service is hell.

  68. All, any update on current pre-paid phone offerings? Do you know if I can port my wife;s current phone number from Sprint to a pre-paid phone/plan? We would like to keep her number. Thanks

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