Cheapest option with limited data: One year with 1GB per month for $100
No one ever wants to pay more for something than they feel they should. Cutting expensive subscriptions and resisting the temptation to eat out are a couple of ways to lower your regular costs, but there are a few things you can’t compromise on, like cellphone plans. Luckily, you don’t need to get rid of your service — you only need to find a cheaper phone plan.
In 2023, there are plenty of ways to do just that, from prepaid carriers such as Mint Mobile to cable companies’ mobile endeavors, like Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile and Charter’s Spectrum Mobile. All of them could be more affordable than an unlimited plan from AT&T, Verizon or T-Mobile. Cheap phone plans now also have many of the features traditional plans offer, including an unlimited option, and they often run on a larger carrier’s network.
Though there are dozens of phone plan options out there, and after covering the wireless industry for over a decade I’ve listed a few for you to consider, as well as some other ways to save on your bill. Since there are so many options, things can quickly get unwieldy, so as with some of CNET’s other wireless carrier coverage, I’ll focus on options for a single line and for folks looking for four lines.
Read more: Best Prepaid Phone Plans
Know your area and which carrier runs on which networks
To get the best deal, you need to make sure you have the coverage that you need. Cutting costs won’t help if it means the service won’t work for you.
The US’ complex geographic variables make it hard for us to give a blanket recommendation of any one carrier. T-Mobile’s service in New York may be excellent, but if you’re in rural Iowa, Verizon could be more reliable.
While your mileage may vary, the good news is that these networks are growing and improving all the time, particularly as the three major players continue the race to blanket the US with 5G. It’s quite possible that, a decade ago, you left a network complaining about its sparse service, but now it’s been beefed up because of that race to acquire customers.
If you know any friends or family in your area that already use the carrier you’re considering, ask about their experience. You could also go to a carrier’s store and see if they offer any free ways to try out the service before switching over, such as T-Mobile’s Network Pass. Verizon now offers a similar 30-day “Test Drive” program, while the Cricket prepaid service has its own trial program that lets you sample parent AT&T’s network.
Read more: Best Unlimited Plans
When it comes to prepaid carriers and mobile options from cable companies you should also check to see which network they are using. Mint Mobile, for instance, runs on T-Mobile’s service (and will soon be acquired by T-Mobile), while Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile and Charter’s Spectrum Mobile use Verizon. In these cases, downloading either of the two apps above could be a quick and easy way to try out T-Mobile or Verizon’s coverage in your area before you switch.
We have a list of a few of the major alternative providers and which networks they run on broken down here. Now, onto the picks.
Best cheap phone plans of 2023
Single lines with unlimited data
Boost Mobile has added an unlimited plan that offers unlimited talk, text and data to new users for $25 a month with taxes and fees included. Unlike Mint Mobile’s 12-month plan, our previous pick in this slot, Boost’s plan isn’t tied to 12-month increments. You do, however, need to be a new Boost customer to get the offer.
Verizon’s Visible restructured its unlimited plans last year, dropping the price for its base offering from $40 per month per line to $30. In doing so, it also tweaked some of the features, perhaps most notably removing access to Verizon’s fastest Ultra Wideband 5G network (for that you’ll need to pay $45 a month for the Visible Plus plan). The carrier also removed its Party Pay family-plan-like option that allowed for rates as low as $25 a month.
Ryan Reynolds’ phone company has made a name for itself with its quirky advertising, but it also has one of the better offers for unlimited data that we’ve seen. For 12 months, you can get unlimited talk, text and data for $30 per month per line. Running on T-Mobile’s networks, you get 40GB of high-speed data on 5G and 4G LTE per month, though if you do blow through that before your 30-day period resets, your speeds will slow to “3G speeds..
Family plans with unlimited data
Google’s phone service got a pricing revamp that makes it a much more appealing alternative to major providers. For a family of four, you can now get its Simply Unlimited plan for $80 per month ($20 per month, per line) which includes not only unlimited talk, text and data but also 5GB of mobile hotspot use. There also is free roaming in Canada and Mexico, though taxes and fees are not included in the sticker price.
US Mobile, which runs on Verizon’s network for its “Warp 5G” service and T-Mobile’s for its “GSM” offering, recently changed its plans, and sadly, they seem to have gotten a bit worse. Now its cheapest Unlimited Starter option starts at $25 per line, per month, which is a $5 increase per line compared with its prior Unlimited Basic offering, which for a family of four would run $80 per month (without including taxes or fees).
AT&T’s prepaid brand has a decent deal if you’re looking for four lines: $25 a month for unlimited talk, text and data. A single line is $55 a month, but Cricket gives a solid discount if you’re willing to add more lines to the account.
Best for no or limited data
If you’re looking for service for a backup phone that’s rarely used, TextNow has a free plan. Running on T-Mobile’s network, the service offers free unlimited talk and unlimited texting, though ads are placed in its app that you use to call and text people. There isn’t any data included with this option and removing the ads without adding data would run you $10 a month. If you want to watch YouTube, FaceTime or surf the web, you’ll need to connect to Wi-Fi.
US Mobile has a good option for 5GB of data for $15 a month, which beats comparably priced offers from Mint ($15 a month for 4GB of data), Boost Mobile ($15 for 2GB of data) and others.
Cheap phone plan FAQs
What about cable companies?
Xfinity Mobile, Spectrum Mobile and Optimum Mobile could be options, depending on where you live. Xfinity Mobile and Spectrum Mobile each use Verizon’s network while Optimum uses T-Mobile.
What about carrier discounts?
If you want to stick with a major carrier such as AT&T, Verizon or T-Mobile, one easy way to save is to take advantage of its discounts. All of the carriers offer additional discounts that you could be eligible for, depending on your employer, military status, student status or age.