The cheapest phone plans of 2021

Joe Supan

Nov 23, 2020 — 7 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 a lot cheaper than those of the bigger carriers.  

The downside is that MVNO customers are de-prioritized during 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 $500 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 cheapest phone plans of 2020

Cheapest phone plans under 3GB: Tello

Why we recommend it: 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 those on Sprint. 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. 

Cheapest phone plans for 3GB and up: UNREAL Mobile

Why we recommend it: UNREAL 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.

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, though. If you’re looking for that next-level speed, we recommend checking out Mint Mobile (more on that below).

You’ll also need to pay for at least three months at a time with UNREAL, and prices go up after the first three months. If you want to keep your low rate after that, you’ll have to pay upfront for an entire year.

Cheapest unlimited phone plans: Mint Mobile

Why we recommend it: Mint’s unlimited phone plan is by far the cheapest one out there. It costs just $30/mo. — $9 less you’ll find anywhere else — and it doesn’t sacrifice coverage in the process. You’ll get access to T-Mobile’s best-in-class network, including the carrier’s growing collection of 5G towers.

It’s hard to overstate what a good deal Mint’s unlimited phone plan is. For context, Google Fi, Cricket and AT&T all charge the same or 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 else. Right now, Mint is also offering an additional three months free for new customers on all of its plans. Here’s how its prices break down according to how many months you pre-pay:

Pay what you use: Ting Mobile

Why we recommend it: Ting only charges you for exactly what you use each month. You’ll pay $6 per line upfront, plus additional fees based on how many texts, minutes of talk and MB of data you use each month.

More than any other carrier on our list, Ting is 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.

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. We’ll be honest, 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. 

Once you hit Ting’s data limit of 2GB, 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.

Cheapest family phone plans: Total Wireless

Why we recommend it: Total Wireless costs just $100/mo. ($95 with auto-pay) for four lines of unlimited talk, text and data, plus up to 10GB of hotspot data for each line. 

Like most cheap cellphone plans, Total Wireless’s data is not truly unlimited. Each line will be slowed to 2G speeds after your group collectively hits 100GB — enough to load a webpage (very slowly) but not much else. 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.  

Cheapest phone plans ranked by price

To see how each phone company stacks up, we pulled data on all the plans from 30 of the most popular carriers. Here’s how their prices compare for both limited and unlimited data plans: 

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.

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Joe Supan

Written by:

Joe Supan

Senior Writer, Broadband Content

Joe oversees all things broadband for Allconnect. His work has been referenced by Yahoo!, Lifehacker and more. He has utilized thousands of data points to build a library of metrics to help users navigate these … Read more

Robin Layton

Edited by:

Robin Layton

Editor, Broadband Content

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