We’ll have to apologize — we do this every year, and every year the price goes up. But, there’s a method to the madness. There are a lot of prepaid calling plans from a lot of carriers, and some of the plans in the $30 to $40 range are just too good to ignore. Why? Because in some cases, you can get unlimited 2G data plus a good amount of 4G LTE data for that price. That’s a pretty sweet deal!
The last year has been an interesting one for the major carriers. The market seems to be moving away from contracts, which used to make phones cheaper up front, but saddle you with more expensive monthly plans. The plans themselves are now a lot cheaper, but if you want a premium phone, you’ll need to either pay it off up front or pay for it using an installment payment program, which ends up making your wireless bill look just as high as it did during the contract days. Oh, and don’t forget the fees and taxes, either.
With prepaid, the only downside is that you’re stuck buying phones in full up front. But, if you don’t care about the latest and greatest, or you own an older phone that still works just fine, prepaid plans are awesome ways to save a ton of money on wireless. There’s just one risk to consider — if you like stable service from a reliable company, you may or may not find it here. Admittedly, some of the carriers that we’ve looked at over the past two years aren’t around anymore. Worry not — this year, we’ll have a good mix of newbies and stalwarts to pick from.
We’ve collected a bunch of sub-$40 plans you can consider (not counting cost of the SIM card and activation, which is usually a one-time payment between $5 and $15). Keep in mind that most of the carriers on the list are mobile virtual network operators, or MVNOs. That means they don’t actually have their own networks — they pay AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, or Sprint to use theirs. We’ll point out which networks each MVNO operates on, so you can pick the one using the strongest network in your region. Which network might that be? You can check out PC Mag‘s Fastest Mobile Networks 2016 report to help you figure it out. And, keep in mind that with some of these low-cost carriers, customer service is lacking — we’ll be sure to point out which options are stronger in that respect.
We’re not going to go with a top pick, because there’s no one carrier on this list that will work best for everyone. That’s good news — with so many MVNOs on the market, you’re bound to find something here that makes sense for your circumstances. And, this is by no means a comprehensive list, so if you’re aware of a great deal we’ve overlooked, let us know in the comments!
Update 3/27/2017: For other great prepaid plans, especially for data hogs, check out our updated Best of Prepaid Picks for 2017 here.
The People’s Operator
Networks: T-Mobile (GSM), Sprint (CDMA)
Best plan: Unlimited talk/unlimited text/3 GB 4G LTE data – $35 with auto-pay
Best for: Those who want to give a little to charity
Bold name, right? Well, TPO’s claim to fame (and the reason for their name) isn’t because of any service they offer their customers. TPO gives 10 percent of your monthly bill to a cause of your choosing, making it the feel-good choice on this list. Their plans are pretty good, too — you can get unlimited talk and text plus 3 GB of 4G LTE data for $40 per month, or $35 per month if you sign up for auto-pay (500 MB, 1 GB, 2 GB, and 5 GB plans are also available). If you sign up for a SIM before October 31, you can get half off the first month of service. The bummer is that if you use up your data allotment, you’re cut off completely instead of getting bumped down to a slower network. The good news is that TPO uses both a GSM and a CDMA network, meaning you can bring just about any phone onto one of their plans.