It’s not uncommon for families to pay more for their cell phone bill than their electric bill. In fact, it’s one of the more expensive monthly bills we face.
But here’s the good news: Discount cell phone companies are becoming more and more popular, giving the Big Four wireless carriers (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint) a run for their money. Literally.
And, in fact, all of these discount carriers run on one of the major carriers, so you can still get reliable coverage — but at a steep discount.
Check out some of the cheapest cell phone plans we found.
The 7 Best Cheap Cell Phone Plans of 2020
Sometimes discount phone carriers get a bad rap. Maybe you think the cell phone service will be spotty, there’ll be a lot of hidden fees, or you’ll have to buy a new phone altogether — and those smartphones aren’t cheap. But for the plans on this list, that’s just not the case.
These are the best cell phone plans we found. Take a look.
1. US Mobile
Price: Plans start at $4 a month.
Operates on: US Mobile can’t reveal its networks, but our research shows it operates on Verizon and T-Mobile’s networks.
Plans: With US Mobile, you can choose to create your own custom prepaid plan or go unlimited. With the custom plan, you pick how many minutes, texts, and mega- or gigabytes of data you need.
You also have the option to add its Top Ups feature, which will automatically add more minutes, texts or data to your plan when you start running low. If you don’t use all of what’s added, it’ll roll over to your next month when you’re on autopay.
If you’re interested in an unlimited plan, you can get unlimited talk, text and data starting at $40 a month. Oh, and if you need a family plan, you’ll a lower price per line with additional lines.
Fees: US Mobile charges a $2 monthly service fee, plus you’ll have to pay the regular taxes and government-mandated fees like all the other services.
Phone compatibility: US Mobile says 99% of devices work with its network. When you bring your own phone, you’ll need a starter kit, which includes a SIM card and is a one-time fee of $3.99. It takes as little as two minutes to activate your service.
Price: Plans start at $9 a month, and new customers can get 25% off their first six months.
Operates on: Sprint and Verizon networks, as well as via Wi-Fi.
Plans: With Twigby, you build your own prepaid plan. Each plan includes unlimited text messages, then you select how many minutes and how much data you need. Each plan also includes free Wi-Fi calling and texting.
If for some reason you go over your data use, you can bump yourself up to the next level. Or, if you don’t want to pay more, your phone will operate at 2G speeds until your bill cycle resets.
Twigby doesn’t offer unlimited data plans — it maxes out at 10GB per month — so if you need more than that, this might not be the best plan for you. You could also choose to use Wi-Fi a bit more.
We talked to 43-year-old Zak Wilson, who switched from Verizon to Twigby. He now pays about $60 a month for both him and his wife. “It’s far and away a huge upgrade,” he says. “What we have now is very similar to what we had with Verizon. It’s just that the cost is so much cheaper.”
Fees: Twigby is all about transparency. You’ll be charged taxes, regulatory and/or government-mandated fees (like any other carrier has to do). These are always outlined on your bill.
Phone compatibility: You can check your phone’s compatibility on Twigby’s website. Just click “Bring Your Own Phone.”
Price: Plans start at $5 a month
Operates on: Sprint network.
Plans: Tello doesn’t require you to sign a binding contract — it’s pay-as-you-go — so, like other options on this list, you can build your own plan and update it at any time. All of Tello’s plans include free texts, so you just choose how much data you need and how many minutes. Additionally, calls to Canada, Mexico and China are included in plans.
If you run out of data during any given month, Tello still allows you to use data, it’ll just be bumped down from 4G LTE data to 2G. You can, of course, use Wifi, too.
We chatted with Fran DeRosier, a busy mom of four who used to pay more than $350 a month for her family’s plan. With Tello, she’s now paying $65 a month — for four lines!
“When I did the math, I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? That’s crazy!’” DeRosier says. “I didn’t realize it would be that much, but it’s freed up money to fix our house up to potentially sell and has given us extra room to do some things we want to do.”
Fees: Aside from local and federal taxes, Tello doesn’t have any fees.
Phone compatibility: All Sprint phones are compatible, as are many iPhones and Google Nexus devices purchased from Apple, Google Play, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile or big-box stores will work. You’ll need a SIM card, which you can get for a one-time charge of $9.99. DeRosier said it was super easy signing up and transferring service to her phones.
4. Republic Wireless
Price: Plans start at $15 a month.
Operates on: Sprint and T-Mobile networks.
Plans: Unfortunately for iPhone users, Republic Wireless is an Android-only carrier. It’s unlimited talk and text plans start at $15 a month. If you need data, you can start with 1GB for $20 a month, then it’s an additional $5 per GB added.
Oh, and if you pay for a full year upfront, you can save even more money.
Fees: With Republic, you won’t have to pay any activation, line-access or overage fees.
Phone compatibility: Republic Wireless supports Samsung, Motorola, Google, Alcatel and other Androids. If you’re bringing your own phone, you can buy a SIM kit through Republic’s website for $5.
5. Mint Mobile
Price: Plans start at $15 a month.
Operates on: T-Mobile network.
Plans: When you sign up with Mint Mobile, you get a three-month introductory price, which starts at $15 a month for unlimited talk and text and 3GB of data. This also includes your SIM card kit.
After your first three months of service are up, you can renew your plan for a three-, six- or 12-month plan. The more months you sign up for, the more money you’ll save.
Fees: Aside from the typical federal and state fees and taxes you see with other carriers, Mint Mobile doesn’t have any other fees.
Phone compatibility: Mint works with unlocked GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) devices. It also gives you a free SIM card.
6. Cricket Wireless
Price: Unlimited high-speed data plans start at $30 a month
Operates on: AT&T network.
Plans: Cricket Wireless is probably one of the more well-known discount carriers on our list. It was ranked highest in customer service for non-contract full-service providers by JD Power in 2019.
With Cricket, you can choose between 2GB, 5GB and unlimited data plans. The unlimited plans start at $40 a month when you bring along your own device. Additionally, you’ll save money when you opt into auto-pay.
You can also choose to add on a number of features, including mobile hotspot ($10 a month), an additional GB of data ($10 a month, as needed) and even device protection, which covers loss, theft, water damage and physical damage.
Fees: Cricket doesn’t have any hidden fees. Note there’s an in-store activation fee of $25. (This is when you activate a new or existing phone on Cricket’s network.) However, if you do this online, it’s free.
Phone compatibility: Cricket requires unlocked, LTE-compatible devices. You can check to see if your phone is a match on its website. Cricket SIM cards are $9.99.
7. Boost Mobile
Price: Boost unlimited plans start at $50 a month.
Operates on: Sprint network.
Plans: Boost heavily advertises its unlimited plans — and for good reason. You can get unlimited talk, texting and data starting at $50 a month. Even better: You can save $20 a month when you add a line, so two lines cost $80. Plus, Boost’s unlimited plans come with a free six-month trial for Tidal.
All Boost plans also include mobile hotspot and unlimited music streaming.
(Be sure to check Boost’s website for more deals, too. It seems to run a bunch of limited-time deals.)
Fees: All taxes and fees are included in the prices.
Phone compatibility: Check to see if your unlocked phone is compatible on Boost’s website.
How to Make The Best Decision For You and Your Wallet
When picking out the best low-cost cell phone plan, you’ll want to consider:
- the network’s coverage in your area,
- your phone’s compatibility,
- how much data you need,
- the number of lines you need
- and any additional fees.
Many of the plans on this list also come with some sort of money-back guarantee, so if you try out a service and don’t like it, you can cancel your plan — no questions asked.
Honestly, switching cell phone providers is easy enough, and it could save you a ton of money. RememberFran DeRosier, the busy mom of four who switched to Tello? She saved her family approximately $2,820 a year. That could be two month’s worth of mortgage payments!
Carson Kohler ([email protected]) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.