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The best cheap cell phone plans for December 2021: options from as a low as $5 a month

Cheap cell phone plans: jump links

best cheap cell phone plans

(Image credit: Future)

Jump straight to phone plans:
1. Our top picks
2. Best value
3. Best cheap unlimited
4. Cheapest of the cheap
5. Carrier alternatives
6. Best for seniors
Quick tips:
How to save money
2. Who has the best coverage

If you're looking to cut those monthly bills right down to size, let us help you out with a full roundup of this month's best cheap cell phone plans. We've tirelessly researched all the top carrier's in the US to come up with a list that we think, in our humble opinion, not only offers the lowest monthly costs, but also the best overall bang for the buck choices when it comes to cheap cell phone plans. 

Of course, it can be tricky to determine which plan is best for you - after all, there are literally hundreds of choices out there and everyone has different needs. To help this, we've taken a pragmatic approach in our assessment of each of these cheap cell phone plans factoring not just costs, but also things like data allowances and handy perks too. 

We've also clearly separated out each of our best cheap cell phone plans choices by what application we think they're best for. Put simply, whether you're a single line user, looking for a cheap unlimited plan, or even looking for a cheap family plan alternative to the big carriers - you'll find good options here. Mostly from the excellent selection of prepaid carriers out there right now.

Speaking of prepaid, we highly recommend you go with a prepaid carrier if you're looking for strictly cheap cell phone plans. Not only will you be doing away with those pesky long-term contracts, but these smaller companies quite simply offer bang-for-the-buck that the larger carriers simply can't compete with. Of course, there are a few caveats to going with a prepaid carrier, which we've thoroughly covered in each selection, and in our frequently asked questions section at the bottom of the page.

If you'd like to broaden your scope a little bit, we've got even more options over at our main best cell phone plans page. You can compare these cheap cell phone plans to what the big carriers are offering over at our Verizon plans and AT&T plans pages as well.

The best cheap cell phone plans: top picks

  • 1. Mint Mobile - best value cheap cell phone plans
  • 2. Visible - best cheap unlimited data cell phone plans
  • 3. Tello - cheapest of the cheap cell phone plans
  • 4. Ultra Mobile - best pay-as-you-go cheap cell phone plans
  • 5. Twigby - a great cheap Verizon alternative
  • 6. Pure Talk - a great cheap AT&T alternative
  • 7. Boost Mobile - a great cheap T-Mobile alternative

The best cheap cell phone plans in the US

Here we'll be breaking down our choices and giving a quick analysis on each. You'll find all the basic information you need to know, such as monthly cost, data allowances and also coverage right here.

1. Best value cheap cell phone plans

Mint Mobile | T-Mobile network | 3-12 month contract | 4 - 15GB data | $15 - $25 per month

Mint Mobile | T-Mobile network | 3-12 month contract | 4 - 15GB data | $15 - $25 per month
Mint Mobile is our top pick for best value cheap cell phone plans overall thanks to its flexible array of options and dirt cheap monthly rates. Mint Mobile plans operate around a 'buy-in-bulk' payment system where you pay for three, six, or twelve months of service upfront, with the longer plans offering cheaper monthly rates on average. While that can mean a significant wad of cash to pay upfront, it does mean very low prices overall. Mint Mobile's 10GB plan for example comes in at just $20 a month at its cheapest rate, all while offering 5G data speeds and mobile hotspotting. Subsequently, if you're looking for outright value on your cheap cell phone plan Mint Mobile is an awesome choice.

See these fantastic cell phone plans at Mint Mobile

2. Best unlimited cheap cell phone plans

Visible | Verizon network | 1 month contract | unlimited data | $40 per month

Visible | Verizon network | 1 month contract | unlimited data | $40 per month
For those looking for cheap unlimited data, we heartily recommend the latest Visible wireless plans. For just $40 upfront each month you can bag yourself unlimited data, calls, texts, and even unlimited mobile hot-spotting too. Being owned by Verizon, Visible makes full use of its parent companies network without any of the associated costs. Furthermore, new 'Party Pay' features enable all Visible customers to bundle up their accounts for per-line savings, dropping the monthly prices all the way down to just $25 a month with a four-person party. Simply put, this is one excellent value cheap cell phone plan.

See our favorite unlimited data prepaid plan at Visible

3. Cheapest of the cheap

Tello | Sprint network | 1 month contract | 500mb - unlimited data | $5 - $39 per month

Tello | Sprint network | 1 month contract | 500mb - unlimited data | $5 - $39 per month
Tello is a relatively new MVNO (smaller) carrier that has a flexible build-your-own plan approach, allowing you to cut out the various extras you don't need for a cheaper plan overall. You can go down as low as $5 here, but our pick is the Economy plan which comes in at just $10 and scores you unlimited texts and calls and 1GB of data. The free mobile tethering, no contract and the ability to reconfigure your plan at any time are also really nice bonuses as well.

Configure your ideal cheap cell phone plan at Tello

4. Verizon coverage

Twigby | Verizon network | 1 month contract | 3 - 10GB data | $20 - $26.25 per month

Twigby | Verizon network | 1 month contract | 3 - 10GB data | $20 - $26.25 per month
Twigby is a great option for those who get the best coverage from Verizon in their area but want to go with a cheaper prepaid option. Its plan layout is pretty similar to Mint Mobile - with three distinct tiers starting at $20 a month for a 3GB data, plus unlimited text and calls plan. Right now they're running a fantastic introductory offer for new users - giving you at least a $5 discount per month if you're switching over, so definitely consider them as a cheaper Verizon alternative.

Compare all the prepaid plan options at Twigby

5. AT&T coverage

Pure Talk | AT&T network |

Pure Talk | AT&T network | 1 month contract | 2GB - unlimited data | $20 - 50 per month
Cheap cell phone plan alternatives for AT&T tend to be pretty rare as not many prepaid carriers actually operate on the network. That said, options do exist, and our top pick this month is Pure Talk - a prepaid carrier that offers a ton of flexible data options. Right now this carrier is also giving away the first month for half-price so it's quite cheap to simply try them out. You'll also find a myriad of cheap iPhone deals on its phone shop page, including savings of up to $250 upfront for new customers on devices like the iPhone 12.

Compare all the prepaid plan options at Pure Talk

6. T-Mobile coverage

Boost Mobile | T-Mobile network | 1 month contract | 1GB - unlimited data | $10 - $60 per month

Boost Mobile | T-Mobile network | 1 month contract | 1GB - unlimited data | $10 - $60 per month
You're really spoilt for choice when it comes to cheap cell phone plan alternatives on the T-Mobile network as both Mint Mobile and Tello operate on this network. That said, Boost Mobile is another fantastic option for those looking for unlimited data options and family plans specifically. While they do have cheaper options starting at just $10 a month for the 2GB data plan, this carrier really shines with its flexible multi-line discounts. Unlike Mint, you can get specific family cell phone plans at Boost Mobile like the 3-line unlimited data plan for $30 a month (per line) and it also features access to the Boost Perks scheme.

Compare all the prepaid plan options at Boost Mobile

7. Sprint coverage

Republic Wireless | Sprint & T-Mobile | 1 month contract | 1GB - unlimited data | $20 - $25 per month

Republic Wireless | Sprint & T-Mobile | 1 month contract | 1GB - unlimited data | $20 - $25 per month
Republic Wireless historically uses both Sprint's and T-Mobile's LTE networks for its coverage, although this is less of a factor now, thanks to the merger of the two. Either way, Republic offers fantastic coverage and an excellent, fair pricing scheme across a number of plans, starting at just $20 a month for a 1GB, unlimited text and call plan. They've also got a great option to pay for your plan in yearly installments, which will give you a discount equating to two free months a year.

Compare all the prepaid plan options at Republic Wireless

8. Best pay-as-you-go

Ultra Mobile | T-Mobile network | 1 month contract | 100Mb data | $3 per month

Ultra Mobile | T-Mobile network | 1 month contract | 100Mb data | $3 per month
Are you a light user? You could consider cutting it right down to the basics and opt for a pay-as-you-go SIM card. Ultra Mobile is a prepaid carrier (sister to Mint Mobile) that operates under the T-Mobile network and offers a great option for just $3 a month. For that small sum, you'll get 100MB of data, 100 texts, and 100 minutes of call time thrown in. After that, you'll be charged 3 cents for every minute of call time or MB of data usage, and 1 cent per text, making it a very cheap option for a light user. Note - Tello also operates a similarly fantastic pay-as-you-go plan.

Compare all the prepaid plan options at Ultra Mobile

Cheap cell phone plans: FAQ

best cheap cell phone plans

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How do I save money with a cheap cell phone plan?

Switch to a smaller carrier

Any of the cheap cell phone plans on our list will save you a ton of cash versus the more established brands like AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile. While bigger carriers do tend to offer more fully-featured plans overall (with things like streaming service subscriptions), when it comes to value they simply can't compete with the smaller fish. Even if you're going to go with an unlimited data plan, for example, carriers like Visible offer cheaper prepaid alternatives for as low as $25 a month. For context, that's about a third of what you'd expect to pay with Verizon, which is Visible's parent company. Subsequently, it can pay dividends to jump ship to a smaller, up-and-coming cheap cell phone plans company. 

Cut out what you don't need

Don't pay for what you don't need! It's a simple adage, but it rings true when shopping around for the best cheap cell phone plans. Data especially is one key area where a simple cut-back can really help reign in those monthly bills - particularly if you're someone who tends to use WiFi more than their cellular data. These days, nearly all cheap cell phone plans carriers offer unlimited talk and text on their service, so the biggest savings tend to be around cutting data rather than other features. Bigger carriers also offer things like bundled-in streaming service subscriptions, which don't tend to be featured on cheaper prepaid plans, but are worth dropping if you're strictly on a budget with a post-paid plan.

Review plan usage and avoid data upcharges

Before you commit to any of the cheap cell phone plans on our list we recommend having a solid idea of how much data you'll use each month, along with requirements for talk and text. Some cheaper carriers tend to have quite strict allowances where they'll either cut off your data, throttle your speed, or even charge you extra for going over your monthly allowance. Note - this upcharging is actually pretty uncommon now, and none of the cheap cell phone plans on our list will charge you if you go over your allowance (without prompting you). Still, it's worth reading any fine print carefully and having a good idea of your data usage before you jump on board with any carrier.

Who has the best coverage?

All of the cheap cell phone plans featured in this article are offered by MVNO companies using the bigger carrier networks of Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile. They all have good coverage nationwide but you'll definitely want to determine which one's best for you by using the coverage checkers on their websites.

Here are some quick links to the various pages where you can check your coverage directly. Simply enter your zip code or pinpoint your location on the provided maps to see which big carrier has the best coverage in your local area.

How are these cell phone plans so cheap?

Smaller carriers (MVNOs) don't run their own networks for cellular coverage, instead opting to 'piggyback' off one of the four major carriers networks instead. This has the primary benefit of the MVNO not having to pay costly upkeep on maintaining the physical infrastructure needed for a cellular network but still enabling them to have great coverage. That saving means they can operate with much lower overheads and offer cheaper cell phone plans overall to their customers.

All this does come with a catch however, as the big carriers like to prioritize their own customer's connections when the network is seeing heavy traffic overall. This can lead to what's called 'de-prioritization' for the customers using a sub-carrier, which essentially results in a slower connection over LTE (non WiFi internet). That said, the potential savings of going with a smaller carrier tend to outweigh the disadvantages of a potential slower connection for most people. In general, the market tends to call these types of plans prepaid plans, as opposed to the usual postpaid (unlimited) options at the likes of Verizon and such.

Alex Whitelock

Alex is deals editor at Future PLC and an all-around expert at one thing - saving readers as much cash as possible while scoring them the best products for their needs. With content that's always packed full of helpful information, no-nonsense expertise, and of course deals, Alex has also written for other leading sites such as T3 and GamesRadar. At work, you'll find him mostly covering computing, gaming, and advising people on how to save on their cell phone plans. Outside of work, you'll find him playing guitar, indulging his love for music, or down at the local climbing gym mostly hanging off boulders far too difficult for his abilities.