Top Five Prepaid Cell Phone Carriers Reviewed
Getting to Know the Top Prepaid No Contract Cell Phone Carriers
Cell phones are ubiquitous these days, and most people wouldn't dream of leaving the house without their phone. However, the cost can add up, with smartphone devices ranging from around $50 for low-end devices to more than $500 for newly released models, such as the recently announced iPhone 7. Then there's the monthly costs to consider, which can sometimes set you back around $100 for only a single line with a data plan, as well as the challenge of being locked into a non-flexible contract.
If you want to break free from stifling contracts and high rates, however, there are plenty of options among today's prepaid cell phone carriers (also known as mobile virtual network operators, or MVNOs), independent carriers that offer essentially the same services and networks as the major cell phone carriers, but at a much more reasonable cost and with no deposit required. Here's a rundown of 5 of the most popular prepaid, no contract carriers so that you can decide which carrier best meets your needs.
A subsidiary of AT&T, Cricket Wireless offers the benefit of coast-to-coast coverage, and Cricket stores are conveniently located across the U.S.
Cricket customers have a variety of device options, with prices as low as $10 for the Motorola Moto E and $20 for the Alcatel STREAK. The Apple iPhone 5s at Cricket is $200 plus activation, but newer, high-end smartphones, such as the Samsung Galaxy S7 and the 64 GB 1Phone 6s, cost upwards of $649.
Cricket's highest priced plan is the $70 unlimited plan, which gives you unlimited talk, text and high-speed data plus unlimited international texting to 38 countries. The company's least expensive plan is $30 for unlimited talk and text and 1 GB of 4G LTE data, plus taxes and fees.
- No activation fee and free 2-day shipping with online orders.
- Unlimited nationwide talk and text on every plan.
- $5 monthly credit with auto pay available on most plans.
- Cricket may charge an activation fee of up to $25.
- Customers have reported frequent service outages and issues with Cricket's online payment system.
Boost Mobile is often touted as the cheapest among prepaid cell phone providers, and the company regularly runs promotions where you can receive significant discounts for switching from rivals Cricket and MetroPCS. Boost is owned by Sprint.
Boost Mobile devices are limited to Apple and Android phones. Prices range from about $30, for models such as the HUAWEI Union, to more than $600 for the 16GB iPhone 6s Plus.
Their Unlimited Starter Plan begins at $30 per month for 1 GB of 4G LTE. For gamers and those who often stream videos, Boost offers their $50 Unlimited Unhook'd plan with optimized streaming of videos, games and music.
- Boost claims a 99 percent nationwide coverage area.
- Customers receive unlimited 411, call waiting, voicemail and 3-way calling with every plan.
- Customers typically dislike Boost's automated customer service and poor refund policy.
While MetroPCS stores have been regularly popping up across the U.S. in recent years, the company was actually founded back in 1994. MetroPCS is a subsidiary of T-Mobile.
Devices are typically limited, with prices starting at around $59 after promotional discounts for the Samsung Galaxy On5 and $50 plus taxes and fees for the LG K7. High-end phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S7 clock in at around $649, with even higher prices for the iPhone 6s Plus.
MetroPCS plans range from $30 for unlimited talk and text plus 1GB of high-speed data to $60 per month for unlimited LTE.
- MetroPCS regularly runs promotions where you receive a free phone when switching service providers.
- The company offers discounted family plans.
- Your MetroPCS online account offers convenient bill pay and data usage tracker so that you can understand your usage patterns.
- Customer service tends to be lacking at MetroPCS.
- The in-store payment service is frequently “down,” meaning that plans can lapse through no fault of the customer.
- Available device selection is much more consistent online than in MetroPCS stores.
Famously founded in 2001 by entrepreneur Richard Branson, Virgin Mobile is a favorite among millennials and students due to the company's hip reputation and service plans that include free music streaming with no data charges. You can keep your old phone number when switching to Virgin, and the company is an online-only service.
Virgin Mobile supports a variety of devices, including value phones like the Lumina 635 and LG Tribute for $50 or less. iPhones, however, depending on model, color and size, regularly cost more than $700.
Smartphone data plans start at $40 per month and include unlimited data, talk and text. PayLo plans, designed for basic flip phones, are $20 per month for 400 minutes of talk time.
- The simple website design and layout makes managing your account online a breeze.
- Virgin Mobile regularly offers promotional discounts on selected phones.
- iPhone customers receive a $5 monthly discount.
- Virgin offers 4G modems and mobile hotspots starting at $5 per month.
- Older and low-price smartphones are often sold out for months at a time.
- Virgin Mobile customers frequently report dropped calls.
- As there are no physical Virgin Mobile stores, you may not receive personalized customer service.
Tracfone Wireless/Straight Talk
Straight Talk flies under the Tracfone banner, and the prepaid carrier is exclusive to Walmart. It offers amazing versatility regarding devices and discounts if you choose to refill your phone automatically each month.
Tracfone is one of the oldest prepaid carriers on the market, and it's a popular choice among the elderly who are looking for simplicity when it comes to a phone and for those who only use their cell phone for making calls and texting.
Straight Talk is a great option if you want an affordable iPhone. A 16GB iPhone 5s is only $150.
Smartphone data plans start at $45 for unlimited nationwide talk and text, with an exceptional 5GB of data at high speeds.
- TracFone has agreements with most major American carriers, so their coverage is top-notch.
- The Tracfone device selection is the largest among the major prepaid service companies.
- Refill cards for simple Tracfone handsets can be confusing, with some getting you more minutes and other cards that double the minutes you purchase in the future.
- Taxes and fees are often unclear, and you may find yourself regularly paying around $5 above your monthly plan rate.
- Once you use up your allotted monthly data, speeds are reduced to a super-slow 2GB.
Thanks to these convenient prepaid carriers, people from all walks of life can afford to keep in touch with friends and family. No matter your budget, you can shop around and find the perfect cell phone and service plan for your lifestyle whether you're a gamer who needs tons of data or you want a flexible plan that gives you the freedom to make international calls.