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The Best Cell Phone Plans

I’ve had a Verizon plan for years. Never actually tried another plan.

My friends have given me endless grief over this. T-Mobile is cheaper! Look at what you can get with AT&T!

But I hate having to worry about reception or data speeds. Or hidden fees. I want to pay for quality and then never think about it again.

That’s how I pick my plan. You might have a different set of priorities. And that’s great! To make the decision easy, we’ve broken down the best plans and when to choose each below.

The 7 Best Cell Phone Plans

There’s no one cell phone plan that will meet the needs of every customer. Think about how you will use the plan, and then look for one with the features, perks, and pricing structure to match.

T-Mobile Magenta – Best for Families

Pros

  • Unlimited talk, text, and data.
  • 3GB of 4G LTE data as a mobile hotspot, then unlimited 3G.
  • Netflix included with 2 lines or more.
  • 3rd line is free.
  • 3 lines are $120/month total.
  • Single line at $70/month.

Cons

  • Coverage isn’t quite as good as some other national carriers.
  • If you use the mobile hotspot very frequently, you could run into data limits.

Verizon Play More Unlimited Plan – Best Coverage

Pros

  • Unlimited talk, text, and data.
  • 15 GB of 4G LTE data for a mobile hotspot, more than other carriers.
  • Apple Music Included.
  • First year of Disney+ free.
  • The Verizon network has the widest coverage and quality.

Cons

  • It’s more expensive compared to similar plans, you’ll pay about $10/month more.
  • Some of the free perks may only be available for a limited time.
  • No free lines, can get really expensive with a large family.

AT&T Unlimited Elite Plan – Best for Frequent Trips to Mexico or Canada

Pros

  • Unlimited talk, text and data in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada
  • “5G” access.
  • HBO included.

Cons

  • Steep price at $85/month one one line.
  • No discounts for additional lines.
  • The “5G” marketing is overstated, it’s not real 5G yet.
  • Customer service results are hit and miss with AT&T.
  • Reputation for inconsistent coverage.

Boost Mobile Unlimited Gigs Plan – Best for Families on a Budget

Pros

  • Unlimited talk, text, and data.
  • Has a mobile hotspot.
  • Starts at $50/month for a single line, one of the lowest options.
  • The price includes all taxes and fees, no hidden fees.
  • Discounts for multiple lines.
  • It does not require a contract.

Cons

  • Because it’s an MVNO, it doesn’t have the consistent data speeds of some others.
  • The rules of these plans change frequently, so you may miss a particular deal.

Consumer Cellular Unlimited Plan – Best for Seniors

Pros

  • Nice option for seniors, as it provides a monthly discount for AARP members.
  • Build a plan around your exact needs.
  • A single line with 250 minutes, unlimited text, and 500MB of data every month with an AARP discount only costs $19/month.
  • If you don’t use your phone often, this is the lowest rate that you’ll find. Even modest usage gets you a plan of about $40/month.

Cons

  • It’s definitely not made for those with high data usage needs, as the caps are restrictive.
  • Network coverage is only average.

Republic Wireless No Data Plan – Best for Talk and Text Only

Pros

  • Perfect for the user who wants no frills and a rock bottom price.
  • Unlimited use of text and calls at $15/month
  • Can purchase data at $5 per GB.

Cons

  • Doesn’t work with some phone models and brands.
  • No hotspot capability with this plan.
  • If you purchase data, you’ll quickly lose out on any savings. I’d only use data through a WiFi connection.

Google Fi – Best for Frequent International Travel

Pros

  • Unlimited talk, text, and data.
  • Free international calls to 50 countries.
  • Free data and text while traveling.
  • Switches between networks to get you the best signal.
  • Discounts for multiple lines.
  • No annual contracts.
  • A single line costs $70/month.

Cons

  • Connection isn’t always as reliable as a national carrier that has good coverage in your area.
  • Currently in beta for iPhones, not all features are active yet.

Understanding How Cell Phone Carriers Work

When selecting a cell phone carrier and network, you have quite a few options.

National Carriers

National carriers have the best coverage areas and customer service. They are also the most popular but usually have the most expensive plans. National carriers in the United States include:

  • AT&T
  • Sprint
  • T-Mobile
  • Verizon

A regional carrier is an option to challenge the national carriers in some areas. U.S. Cellular is the largest regional carrier, operating in 23 states.

MVNOs

Other cell phone plans will come from resellers or mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs). These are companies that purchase (or lease) network space on the national carrier networks, allowing them to offer service to customers.

Resellers’ plans usually cost much less than the national carrier plans, but you may experience worse customer service, network consistency, and data speeds. Some of the top resellers in the United States include:

  • Consumer Cellular
  • Google Fi
  • H2O Wireless
  • Mint
  • Net10
  • Republic Wireless
  • Simple Mobile
  • Straight Talk
  • Ting
  • Wing

National Carrier MVNOs

The national carriers own and operate some of their own MVNOs.

The advantage of these MVNOs is that they have full access to the national carrier’s networks.

They may cost a bit more than the other MVNOs we mentioned earlier. They also don’t offer quite the same data speeds as an account with a national carrier. But they often are more reliable than other MNVOs because they have the backing of a national carrier.

Here are the national carrier affiliations for these MVNOs.

  • Boost Mobile (from Sprint)
  • Cricket Wireless (from AT&T)
  • Metro (from T-Mobile)
  • Total Wireless (from Verizon)
  • Virgin Mobile (from Sprint)

How to Choose The Best Cell Phone Plan For You

When comparing cell phone plans from various carriers, here are some things to consider.

Contracts

The national carriers will lock you into a contract for 12 months. Other plans are month to month with no contract but they don’t offer as many features as the major carrier plans. These are postpaid plans, where you’ll receive a bill each month after you use the service.

There are also prepaid plans available, where you pay ahead of time for your service.

If you try to leave a postpaid contract early, you could end up paying penalties. This is less common now than it was several years ago, but some contracts still have early termination fees.

Some people prefer the security of a contract, as the price remains stable over time. The prepaid plan delivers flexibility and freedom that a contract does not.

Coverage

If you live in a large city, network coverage is typically solid. But not always. And certain carriers are strong in some areas where others are weak.

If you use your cell phone regularly, network coverage is extremely important. You don’t want to be stuck without coverage.

One of the best independent companies for measuring network performance is RootMetrics, if you’d like to check network coverage for each carrier in your particular area.

Data

Some plans give you unlimited data, which means you’ll be able to use as much data as you want without an extra charge. Understand that even unlimited data plans may have a data usage cap, though. Once you hit the cap for high speed data, you’ll experience slower data speeds.

If you don’t have a cap, you can use as much high speed data as you want, but these plans are rare. Most unlimited plans have a cap.

Other plans have hard data caps, meaning you can use high speed data up to the cap. The plan then will charge you extra money to use data beyond the cap, and these costs can add up quickly.

If you use your phone frequently, I’d get an unlimited data plan. Paying a bit extra is worth not having to worry about your data usage every month.

Family vs Individual Plans

If you want to set up a contract for a family (or group), pay close attention to the discounts that you get for extra lines. You could save serious money by going with the right plan.

Some carriers like T-Mobile offer lots of discounts for extra lines. Other carriers like Verizon don’t offer any which means a family of four could easily spend over $200/month on cell phone plans. That wouldn’t even cover the cost for any of the phones.

A family plan is helpful when you have kids you want to add to your plan. Just make sure you’re on unlimited plans for talk, text, and data. Worse case, one of your kids uses too much data and slows things down for the rest of the month. That’s much better than getting hit with data fees for hundreds of dollars on a single month.

Phones

Some carriers require you to purchase a new phone when you start the plan. Others allow you to bring a phone with you.

Because the top end phones are so expensive, this is an especially important consideration for those who already own a phone they love.

Should you need to purchase a new phone, the carrier will let you buy it over time with monthly payment installments (and sometimes, with interest charges) as part of your bill and contract. Or you can purchase the phone outright for a lump sum.

Additionally, if you want to take advantage of 5G speeds when they’re available, you will need a phone that can use 5G. You may need a new phone to accomplish this.

Speed

Accounts with the national carriers have the best and most consistent data transmission speeds.

Because an MVNO leases space on the national carrier network, its speeds may vary. For example, you may see reduced speeds when the networks are busiest. After all, the national carriers are going to protect their network speeds for their customers who are paying a premium, throttling down speeds for the MVNOs as needed.

If a high quality connection is important to you, stick with a national carrier.

What about 5G plans?

5G is starting to get a lot of hype. Should we worry about it yet?

No, don’t worry about it.

We’re still in the very early stages of 5G rolling out. The “5G” active networks aren’t really 5G yet. And many phones, including the iPhone, don’t have it built-in either.

Even if you’re considering a new 12 month contract, I wouldn’t worry about getting a 5G plan. Choose the plan and phone based on other criteria. There’s still plenty of time before 5G will be widely available.

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