When it comes to finding the cheapest cell phone plan, sometimes the research can be even more daunting than the prices you see all around you. Luckily for you, Wirefly can help shed light on a variety of cell phone provider options and cell phone plan options which are right for your situation. Whether you're simply looking for a cheap provider or are being a bit more thorough in finding the best plan for the best price, this guide should be of tremendous help.
Individual Contract Plans
As an individual, your flexibility can allow you to shift between providers a bit easier than a family plan in most instances; however, many of the "big savings" opportunities you see advertised so often are rarely going to benefit you, especially if you're not a huge data user. Within the four main providers (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint), here are your best current options assuming you're in need of a talk, text, and data plan:
AT&T: With plans starting as low as $25/month for just 1 GB of data (along with a fee for your phone activation), low-end plans with AT&T offer a good bare-bones option. If you're looking for unlimited; however, be prepared to fork-out $100/month with an additional phone activation fee.
Verizon: Verizon entices new customers with rates that, if you participate in their Verizon Edge plan (which requires you to pay for your smartphone in monthly payments until it is fully-paid off), are significantly less than bringing your own phone or paying for it upfront. For individuals looking for unlimited talk and text but only 1 GB of data, you're looking at $60/month without the Verizon Edge participation, a far cry from AT&T's $25/month plan for the same data allotment.
T-Mobile: T-Mobile offers customers a clean individual plan starting at $50/month which gets you unlimited talk, text, and data while on their network. You also receive an additional 1 GB of data that can be used when not on T-Mobile's network as part of that $50/month plan. The important thing to note; however, is that T-Mobile's network, depending on your location, is not as large as other providers such as Verizon so pay close attention to their coverage map in your area to see if this is a good value for you.
Sprint: Sprint offers a $60 unlimited plan ($50 with the iPhone 6/6 Plus payment packaging) which allows individuals unlimited talk, text, and data through the Sprint network. While not as cheap as the $25/month AT&T plan, this plan does provide unlimited data, which is of value to some who do not want to be capped at 1 GB, for instance.
Individual No-Contract Plans
In addition to the individual contract plans offered by the four major carriers, there are also no-contract plans which are offered by each of these carriers, as well. It is important to note; however, that each carrier utilizes their no-contract plans uniquely so be sure to pay attention to requirements such as phone model restrictions (unavailability of no-contract iPhone 6s through some carriers, for instance) when evaluating if this is the best value/opportunity for you.
AT&T: AT&T utilizes their Go-Phone program for their prepaid (no contract) options on their network. The best plan for individuals needing talk, text, and data is the $45/month plan providing unlimited talk, text, and data. It is important to note, however, that the data uses the top speed for only the first 1.5 GB each month and then is throttled down to 128 kbps the remainder of the month so be aware of your typical data usage each month to evaluate if this is a good deal for you.
Verizon: Verizon offers a very similarly stacked prepaid (no contract) option for customers, allowing unlimited talk and text with 1 GB of data per month for $45. Things to be aware of, however, are the data package not being unlimited (you can up to 2.5 GB a month for an extra $15/month), a limit of phones which can be utilized on the plan, and a coverage map which is not as vast as the contract-based phones on Verizon's network.
T-Mobile: T-Mobile's prepaid option for unlimited talk and text with 1 GB of data is available for $40/month ($5 less than Verizon and AT&T), but also offers a less encompassing coverage map. For $10 more each month, T-Mobile also offers an upgrade to 3 GB per month.
Sprint: The cheapest prepaid option offering at least 1 GB of data per month is Sprint's $35/month plan which provides unlimited talk and text and 1 GB of data. For $45/month (the price of Verizon and AT&T's 1 GB and 1.5 GB respectively), Sprint offers 3 GB of data. Like Verizon's prepaid, no-contract options, Sprint limits the phones which are compatible with this service.
If you're utilizing two or more lines for your cell phone services, family plans often provide the best incentivized packages to help you save money. Often times family plans are of greater value not necessarily by how many lines you need, but by how much data you use as each of the four major carriers have transitioned into many shared data plan options. While there are a large variety of options available, this article breaks down unlimited talk and text plans that share a data pool for all family members.
AT&T: AT&T offers a family plan that allows four smartphone users to have 2-year contract phones, 10 GB of shared data and unlimited talk and text for $260/month. This allows all four users to have any phone model offered by AT&T; however, it does not allow for other devices (tablets, etc.) as those come at an additional activation price to use that shared data.
Verizon: Verizon also offers a four smartphone user-based (2-year contract phones) plan that provides 10 GB of shareable data as well as unlimited talk and text for $260/month, as well. Verizon offers this same plan at a significantly lower price, however, if your family signs up for the Verizon Edge phone payment plan.
T-Mobile: T-Mobile offers four smartphone users (2-year contract phones or Bring Your Own phones) 2.5 GB/line (equivalent of 10 GB just equally shared instead of a pool where one user can use more than the others and still equal out to 10 GB), as well as unlimited talk and text for a total of $100/month, a significantly lower cost than Verizon and AT&T’s 10 GB options; however, T-Mobile’s coverage map is less than that of Verizon and AT&T’s nationally so be aware of the service provider’s coverage in your area. Additionally, the 10 total GB of data are not free to be used by anyone like on Verizon and AT&T’s plans.
Sprint: As the only of the four major providers to not offer 10 GB of shareable data on a family plan, Sprint offers either 8 GB or 12 GB of shareable data. Sprint’s family plan with 2-year contract phones (Sprint also offers a different pricing structure for phones bought outright) for four members sharing 12 GB is $250/month with unlimited talk and text.
There are a myriad of different individual, prepaid, and family plans offered by each of the four major carriers so comparing the four is not always perfect; however, when investigating the cheapest cell phone plan or the cheapest cell phone provider it is important to evaluate based on necessary value for what you (or your family) needs, not just the cheapest total dollar amount.
Additionally, paying attention to the fine print (Can you bring your own phone you’ve already paid for into this plan or will you be required to buy a new one in addition to the plan’s cost? Is the coverage map the same for prepaid plans on a provider’s network as their contract phones? Is the unlimited data truly unlimited or is that only confined to a particular network and, if so, how vast is that network in your living proximity?) can be extremely helpful in finding the right provider and plan for your needs.
There are other providers in addition to these four major carriers that also provide cheap solutions for cell phone needs and should be investigated, as well. In the current competition-based climate that the cell phone companies are in, always be on the lookout for additional opportunities such as promotions like Sprint’s “Cut Your Rate In Half” opportunity or guarantees to buy out your previous plan with a competitor in order for you to switch as these can often add value to the plan you choose.
Be sure to discuss your options with each provider to see if there are any other incentives or opportunities that can “sweeten the pot” as many times providers allow for additional promotions at their stores in order to bring a new customer in from a competitor.
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