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The best cheap phone plans of 2020

Joe Supan

Aug 28, 2020 — 9 min read

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The vast majority of Americans get their cellphone service through one of three companies: AT&T, Verizon or T-Mobile, which now includes Sprint. These carriers do a lot of things well — coverage, reliability and phone deals are generally great — but price isn’t always one of them. 

If you want the cheapest phone plans out there, your best option is a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO). These wireless carriers don’t own the infrastructure of cell towers that the bigger companies do (or even physical stores, in most cases), so their costs aren’t nearly as prohibitive. As such, their plans are significantly cheaper than those of the bigger carriers.  

The downside is that MVNO customers are deprioritized in times of congestion. You might experience slower data speeds or even dropped calls in certain areas, although this isn’t always the case. In fact, in Consumer Reports’ survey of over 100,000 readers, MVNOs scored overwhelmingly higher on data service and call reception than AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon. 

What’s not up for debate is that MVNOs will save you money — especially if you don’t need an unlimited data plan. In some cases, you can save nearly $5,000 a year by switching to a comparable plan from a smaller carrier. To find the best cheap phone plans available right now, we compared more than 100 plans from over 30 of the top wireless carriers. These are our favorites for every situation.  

The best cheap phone plans

Cheapest plans money can buy

Tello: Best for less than 3GB

  • Plans starting at: $5/mo.
  • Network: Sprint

If you’re looking for the very cheapest phone plans around, Tello is in a class of its own. Its data plans start as low as $5/mo. for 500MB and no talk and text, and only increase slightly from there. 

You can customize your Tello plan in dozens of ways. Choose from 100 minutes of talk to unlimited, and no data to unlimited. We think the sweet spot for most people is 100 minutes of talk, unlimited text and 2GB of data for just $11/mo. Whatever option you find, you can feel confident you won’t find a better deal anywhere else — at least for its lowest data plans.

That said, you’ll have to sacrifice some coverage for that low price. Tello operates on Sprint’s cellular network, which is generally rated the worst of the big four. And as an MVNO, Tello customers will have lower priority on the network than Sprint’s. Things could improve as Sprint merges its network with T-Mobile’s, but for now, don’t expect the most reliable data connection with Tello — especially in more rural areas. 

Mint Mobile: Best for 3GB and up

  • Plans starting at: $15/mo.
  • Network: T-Mobile

Mint Mobile’s prices aren’t quite as low as Tello’s, but if you need more than 1GB of data each month, it’s your cheapest option. Plans start at $15/mo. for 3GB, and all of them come with unlimited talk and text. You’ll also get free mobile hotspot access, but it uses your monthly data allotment, so it could burn through it quickly. The only downside is that Mint’s prices go up after three months. If you want to keep the same deal you’re on after that, you’ll have to commit to a full year.

You should experience a reliable connection with Mint, too. It uses T-Mobile’s network, which generally ranks second behind Verizon in terms of speed and reliability. Consumer Reports actually rated Mint ahead of any of the big four carriers, and awarded it a “very good” score for its data service.

Unreal Mobile: Best for 3GB and up

  • Plans starting at: $15/mo.
  • Network: Sprint and AT&T

Unreal Mobile has the exact same pricing as Mint, right down to the price increase after three months are up. And like Mint, you can stay on the same introductory price if you commit to an entire year. To decide which one is right for you, we recommend comparing Unreal Mobile’s coverage map with Mint’s

Unreal has access to both Sprint’s and AT&T’s network, depending on whether you’re using a CDMA or GSM phone, with Sprint providing access to the former and AT&T to the latter. None of Unreal Mobile’s plans come with 5G, while all of Mint’s do.

Cheapest unlimited data plans 

Mint Mobile

  • Unlimited plans starting at: $30/mo.
  • Network: T-Mobile

On September 9, 2020, Mint unveiled its first unlimited data plan, and it immediately became the cheapest one available anywhere. It costs just $30/mo. — $9 less you’ll find anywhere else — and even comes with access to T-Mobile’s 5G network.

It’s hard to overstate what a good deal this is. For context, Google Fi, Cricket and AT&T all charge more for just 2GB of data. Mint’s pricing does jump up to $40/mo. after your first three months are up, but you can renew for a year at the $30/mo. price tag. And even if you don’t, $40/mo. is still as cheap as you’ll find anywhere.

Ultra Mobile

  • Unlimited plans starting at: $39/mo.
  • Network: T-Mobile

After Mint, Ultra Mobile currently has the second-cheapest unlimited data plan of any wireless carrier. You’ll pay just $39/mo., and get unlimited nationwide talk, global texting and 4G LTE data. After you use 50GB of data, Ultra Mobile slows your data for the rest of the month, but this is typical for any wireless carrier. 

Visible Wireless

  • Unlimited plans starting at: $40/mo.
  • Network: Verizon

Because Visible runs on Verizon’s network, you’ll likely experience the best coverage and speeds on its unlimited plan. Verizon tops most third-party tests, including Root Metrics and Open Signal. Verizon customers will still be prioritized over Visible, but you should still get reliable talk and data connections. You’ll also get unlimited hotspot data with Visible, though it’s limited to 5 Mbps, and you’ll only be able to connect one device at a time.

Tello

  • Unlimited plans starting at: $39/mo.
  • Network: Sprint

Tello has the very cheapest plans for low data usage, but it also has the cheapest for unlimited. Unfortunately, Tello’s “unlimited” plan is a bit of a misnomer — you’ll be slowed to 2G speeds after just 25GB. You’ll also likely get worse coverage with Tello than Ultra Mobile or Visible Wireless. Sprint’s network is usually graded as the worst of the big four, but if you have a CDMA phone you want to bring with you when you switch, Tello is a good option. 

Pay what you use plans

If you’re not sure how much data you need every month, one good option is to go with a “pay as you go” plan. These only charge you for how much data you actually use. If you’re going to be using more than 2GB, these usually aren’t a good deal. But if your data usage is low but you’d like some flexibility, these can be good compromises. 

Ting: Cheapest pay what you use

  • Plans starting at: $9/mo.
  • Network: Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon

More than any other wireless carrier, Ting only charges you for exactly what you use each month. It charges $6 per line upfront, and you’ll pay additional fees based on how many texts, minutes of talk and MB of data you use each month. 

Each of these categories is broken into six tiers, with data usage maxed out at 2GB. Once you hit this limit, you’ll have to pay $10 per GB, which could get expensive quickly if you’re using a lot of data. If this sounds scary to you, Ting does allow you to set up alerts and caps on your usage, so you never have to go above a monthly bill you’re not comfortable with.

For most people, Tello, Mint and Unreal Mobile are more economical choices. But each of those carriers slows your data connection to a 2G crawl once you hit your monthly data limit. If you don’t want to get cut off like this, Ting is a better option.

It’s also completely beloved by its users. Consumer Reports readers awarded Ting the second highest score overall of any wireless carrier, after Consumer Cellular. It received perfect grades for value and customer support, and “very good” for its data service.

Google Fi: Better network

  • Plans starting at: $20/mo.
  • Network: Sprint, T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular

Google Fi operates on a “pay as you go” system similar to Ting, but it’s more simplified and more expensive. You’ll pay $20/mo. automatically for unlimited talk and text, then $10 for every GB of data you use. The exact amount is prorated to the nearest cent. If you use 1.42GB, for example, you’ll pay $14.20 on top of the base $20/mo. 

That works out to a pretty expensive monthly bill for most people. 2GB will cost you $40/mo., the same as several unlimited data plans. But what’s unique about Google Fi is that you’ll be able to switch between Sprint, T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular’s networks depending on where you are, whereas every other carrier makes you pick one network to use when you sign up. 

Overall, customers are very pleased with their Google Fi service. It ranked third overall out of 22 carriers in Consumer Reports’ rankings, and received “very good” scores for its customer support and data service. 

Cheapest family plans

Total Wireless: Best for four lines or fewer

  • Price for four lines of unlimited data: $100/mo. 
  • Network: Verizon

If you’re looking for the cheapest unlimited data plan for your entire family, it’s hard to beat Total Wireless’ combination of price and coverage. You’ll pay just $100/mo. for unlimited talk, text and data, plus up to 10GB of hotspot data for each line. Like most cheap cellphone plans, the data is not truly unlimited. Each line will be slowed to 2G speeds after your group collectively hits 100GB. 

Until then, though, you should experience great coverage on Verizon’s network. Consumer Reports awarded Total Wireless a “very good” score on data and “good” on call reception.  

Cricket Wireless: Best for five lines

  • Price for four lines of unlimited data: $100/mo. 
  • Network: AT&T

Cricket Wireless has the same price as Total Wireless for four lines of unlimited talk, text and data, but you probably won’t get as reliable of coverage. AT&T’s network generally ranked third in most tests, while Verizon’s usually comes out on top. In addition, Cricket limits your data speeds to 8 Mbps. Like Total Wireless, Cricket received a “very good” score on data and “good” on call reception from Consumer Reports, but it had a lower score overall.

How much can you save by switching to a cheaper phone plan?

If you’re currently on a cellphone plan from AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile or Verizon, you can probably save hundreds per year by switching to a cheaper carrier. Here’s how a few common packages compare in price, along with the yearly savings you’d get from switching.

These are extreme examples, to be sure, but you can almost always save hundreds of dollars each year by switching carriers. In most cases, you can get great deals on new phones in the process, too. 

That said, these bigger wireless carriers are more expensive for a reason. All of the cheaper MVNOs use their cell towers, so you’ll be at the back of the line during times of congestion. If reliable data and call reception are essential to you, it might be worth paying a little extra. 

Can you bring your own phone to these carriers?

It depends on what kind of phone you have. In most cases, you will be able to use your existing phone with your new carrier, but some older phones might run into trouble. If you have a GSM phone from AT&T or T-Mobile, it may only work with an MVNO that uses those networks. Similarly, if you bought a CDMA phone from Verizon or Sprint, you may be limited to carriers on those networks, too.

Joe Supan Joe Supan
Joe Supan

Sr. Staff Writer

@allconnect

@allconnect

Joe oversees all things wireless and streaming for Allconnect, from music services to live TV sites. His streaming service reviews are among the most popular articles on the entire site. … Read more