U.S. prepaid wireless guide in 2018

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The days of being locked into a lengthy wireless contract are over, as there is a plethora of prepaid options that allow you to pay for your phone service on a month-to-month basis. We’ve taken the liberty of breaking down the top prepaid wireless options for you in this handy guide.

Check your coverage

One of the first things you should consider when deciding on a prepaid carrier is the coverage provided in your area. Prepaid carriers often have a smaller coverage map than postpaid carriers because of their limited roaming agreements, so it’s good to re-check your area, even if you’ve used the carrier before. Here are the coverage maps for the carriers we will be looking at:

  • MetroPCS — Map
  • AT&T Prepaid — Map (make sure to check the Prepaid map)
  • Boost Mobile — Map
  • T-Mobile Prepaid — Map
  • Mint Mobile — Map
  • Straight Talk — Map (requires Zip Code, and preferred phone/carrier)
  • Cricket Wireless — Map
  • Virgin Mobile — Map
  • Simple Mobile — Map
  • GoSmart Mobile — Map
  • Project Fi — Map

MetroPCS

MetroPCS

MetroPCS uses T-Mobile’s HSPA+ and LTE network, as it is owned entirely by the larger carrier. You have the option to purchase a phone through MetroPCS, or bring your own device that’s compatible with the T-Mobile network.

Price

Plan pricing is based on how much high-speed data (LTE) you think you’ll use on a monthly basis. There are no annual contracts, and taxes and fees are included in the price.

  • 2GB of high-speed data — $30/month
  • 5GB of high-speed data — $40/month
  • Unlimited LTE data — $50/month
  • Unlimited LTE + 10GB hotspot — $60/month

All plans come with unlimited talk, text, data, Wi-Fi calling, caller ID, call waiting, 3-way calling, and Data Maximizer, a feature that helps optimize your high-speed data usage when streaming videos.

Music Unlimited is included on $40 and higher-rate plans, which allows you to stream from over 40 streaming music services including Apple Music, Pandora, Spotify, and more, without dipping into your monthly high-speed data allotment.

Note that once you’ve burned through your allotted LTE data, you’ll notice your data speeds fall to 2G.

How to reload

Log into the MetroPCS website to make a payment or set up Auto Pay. You also have the option to pay in person at a MetroPCS store.

AT&T Prepaid

AT&T’s prepaid option lets you choose from a selection of phones specifically for their prepaid plans, or you can purchase a prepaid SIM card kit if you’d prefer to bring your own device.

Price

AT&T prepaid plans include unlimited talk and text in the U.S., as well as unlimited messaging to Mexico, Canada, and over 100 countries. For data, AT&T offers several types of prepaid plans:

  • Pay-as-you-go ($5 per 250MB) LTE data — $30/month
  • 1GB of LTE, with rollover data — $35/month
  • 8GB of LTE, with rollover data — $50/month
  • Unlimited LTE data — $65/month
  • Unlimited LTE + 10GB hotspot — $85/month

The 8GB and unlimited LTE plans also include unlimited talk and text within and between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada, and allow you to use your high-speed data allotment from your plan when in Mexico or Canada. You can also save $5 per month on any plan by signing up for Auto Refill.

You can also pay $2 per day for unlimited nationwide talk and text or pay $0.25 per minute and $0.20 per text message. Data is available at $2 per MB (based on their stated $0.01 per 5KB rate), or you can add on a data package that gives you 100MB for an extra $1 a day.

How to reload

Pay online via myAT&T using a credit/debit card or eCheck, buy a Refill card (available online, at AT&T wireless stores, and at more than 200,000 retail locations), or call 611 anytime from your phone (or 1-800-901-9878) and follow the prompts for Refill.

Boost Mobile

Boost Mobile

Boost Mobile uses Sprint’s nationwide LTE network. You have the option of buying a phone through Boost or bringing your own Sprint-compatible device.

Price

Boost Mobile offers four types of monthly prepaid phone plans featuring LTE high-speed data. Once your plan’s data allotment has been reached, speeds are reduced to 2G for the remainder of the plan cycle.

  • 3GB of LTE + hotspot — $35/month
  • Unlimited LTE + 8GB hotspot — $50/month
  • Unlimited LTE + 20GB hotspot — $60/month
  • Unlimited LTE + 40GB hotspot — $80/month

Boost’s unlimited plans come in different tiers; the $50 plan reduces media streaming quality with unlimited LTE everywhere else, whereas the $60 and $80 plans offer up to 1080p streaming. The Ultimate Unlimited plan included for $80 also includes bonuses like TIDAL Premium and international calling and texting.

All plans come with unlimited domestic talk and text (available even if you haven’t paid for up to 60 days), unlimited music streaming with select music partners, call waiting, voicemail, 3-way calling, as well as the ability to turn your phone into a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot.

How to reload

Pay online via My Account on the Boost Mobile site or sign up for Auto Re-Boost. Pay by phone by dialing #-A-D-D (#-2-3-3) and following the prompts to pay with your credit, debit, or Re-Boost card, text ADD and the pin on the back of your Re-Boost card to 7225 (ex. ADD 12345678912345), or text “PAY,” the dollar amount, and the last four digits of the credit or debit card associated with the account to 7225 (ex. PAY 50 1234).

Alternatively, you can pay in-store at any Boost Mobile location.

T-Mobile Prepaid

T-Mobile Prepaid

T-Mobile’s prepaid service gives you access to T-Mobile’s nationwide network without signing up for an annual contract. You have the option to buy a prepaid T-Mobile phone, or bring your own device for only the cost of the SIM card.

Price

T-Mobile offers prepaid plans for individuals and families, as well as a pay-as-you-go option.

Individual plans include:

  • 4GB of LTE + hotspot — $45/month
  • 10GB of LTE + hotspot — $50/month
  • Unlimited LTE + unlimited 3G hotspot — $60/month
  • Unlimited LTE + unlimited 3G hotspot + 5GB data in Mexico and Canada — $70/month

All plans include unlimited talk, text, and data on T-Mobile’s nationwide LTE network, with data speeds slowing to 2G upon reaching your monthly data allotment.

The only difference between T-Mobile’s $60 and $70 unlimited plans is your data speeds when internationally roaming. The former offers unlimited talk, text, and data in Mexico and Canada, but only at 2G speeds, whereas the latter offers 5GB of LTE.

If you’d rather pay as you go, T-Mobile offers a plan that starts at $3/month for any combination of 30 minutes of talk or 30 texts, with options to add a high-speed data pass with daily ($5/day for up to 500MB of LTE data) and weekly ($10/week for up to 1GB of LTE data).

How to reload

To reload your account online, go to T-Mobile’s website, either through one-time payments or by setting up recurring payments. You can also call -A-D-D (-2-3-3) from your T-Mobile phone to reload your account via credit, checking account or T-Mobile Refill card. Refill cards are available to be purchased online or in-store at a T-Mobile location.

Mint Mobile

Mint Mobile is a T-Mobile subsidiary owned by Ultra that sells its plans in multi-month bundles. You can buy a phone from Mint or bring your own T-Mobile-compatible or unlocked GSM phone.

Price

All of Mint’s plans include a 7-day money back guarantee, along with unlimited talk, text, and 2G data, international calls to Mexico and Canada, and mobile hotspot.

  • 2GB of LTE per month — $45/3 months
  • 5GB of LTE per month — $60/3 months
  • 10GB of LTE per month — $75/3 months
  • 2GB of LTE per month — $108/6 months
  • 5GB of LTE per month — $144/6 months
  • 10GB of LTE per month — $180/6 months
  • 2GB of LTE per month — $180/12 months
  • 5GB of LTE per month — $240/12 months
  • 10GB of LTE per month — $300/12 months

If you try out one of the 3 month plans and decide to stick with Mint, you can retain the introductory pricing by buying a whole year at a time — otherwise, there’s a slight price increase.

How to reload

Sign into your Mint Mobile account online or download the Mint app on Android or iOS to renew your plan manually or set up automatic re-ups.

Straight Talk

Straight Talk is a prepaid carrier that doesn’t rely on just one wireless network to provide services to it’s customers. It purchases the right to use other the towers of the four major carriers — AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and Sprint.

Straight Talk offers prepaid phones for purchase, and also lets you bring your own device. But just because it offers service from four carriers, that doesn’t mean you get access to all four at the same time — you get to choose between T-Mobile or AT&T if you bring your own phone, or Straight Talk may choose the right carrier based on your location when you buy a phone from it.

Price

Straight Talk has five tiers of wireless plans available for your smartphone starting as low as a dollar a day, as well as extended plans up to a one-year unlimited plan for $495.

  • 100MB of data, 1500 minutes of nationwide talk, unlimited texting — $30/month
  • 2GB of LTE, unlimited talk and text — $35/month
  • 10GB of LTE, unlimited talk and text — $45/month
  • Unlimited LTE data — $55/month
  • 10GB of LTE + international talk and text — $60/month
  • 3-Month Extended Plan: Unlimited talk, text, and data (10GB of high-speed data) for 90 days — $130
  • 6-Month Extended Plan: Unlimited talk, text, and data (10GB of high-speed data) for 180 days — $255
  • 12-Month Extended Plan: Unlimited talk, text, and data (10GB of high-speed data) for 365 days — $495

How to reload

Go to the Straight Talk site to reload your account via service card, setting up recurring automatic payments, or downloading the Straight Talk My Account app for Android or iOS.

Cricket Wireless

Cricket Wireless

After being acquired by AT&T, Cricket Wireless has supported devices that use AT&T’s HSPA+ and LTE network. You can purchase a phone from Cricket, or BYOD.

Price

Cricket Wireless offers five plan levels, from talk and text to unlimited data.

  • Talk & Text: Unlimited nationwide talk and text — $25/month
  • 2GB of LTE, unlimited talk and text — $30/month
  • 5GB of LTE, unlimited talk and text — $40/month
  • Unlimited data at up to 3Mbps — $55/month
  • Unlimited LTE data — $60/month

Any plans starting at $40 are eligible for a Group Save Discount when you add additional lines to your account. Save $10 when adding a second line, $20 off your third line, $30 off your fourth line, and $40 off your fifth line for a total eligible savings of $100.

Receive a $5 credit on your monthly bill by signing up for Auto Pay (not available with the Group Save Discount).

Cricket’s unlimited data plans include unlimited texts to 37 countries, as well as unlimited calls, texts, and data to and from Canada and Mexico — though Canada usage can’t exceed 50% of your overall usage for the month.

There’s also a bunch of add-on features available for each plan.

How to reload

Log in to My Account on the Cricket Wireless site to pay your bill or sign up for Auto Pay, or download the My Cricket app for Android, iOS and Windows Phone.

Virgin Mobile

Virgin Mobile

Virgin Mobile uses Sprint’s CDMA and LTE networks. You have the option of buying a phone through Virgin or bringing your own Sprint-compatible device.

Price

All of Virgin Mobile’s plans are no-contract and offer unlimited talk, text, and 2G data, along with the LTE data you pay for. You also get access to Virgin’s Member Benefits, including discounts on food and merchandise.

  • 5GB of LTE — $35/month
  • 10GB of LTE — $45/month
  • Unlimited LTE data — $60/month

Virgin’s plans don’t include mobile hotspot by default, but you can add it for $3 a day (500MB), $5 a month (1GB), or $10 a month (2GB). You can also add international calling to your plan for $5 a month — unlimited calls to Canada and Mexico, and unlimited worldwide texting.

How to reload

You can top up your Virgin Mobile account by buying a Virgin Mobile Top-Up card and entering it along with your Virgin Mobile number online, or simply pay online with your credit/debit Card or PayPal.

Verizon

Verizon’s prepaid option gives you full-access to Verizon’s nationwide network without locking you into a lengthy contract. You have the option of buying a prepaid phone from Verizon or BYOD.

Price

Verizon offers monthly smartphone plans, featuring no annual contract, no activation fee, and no credit checks.

  • 500MB with data rollover — $30/month
  • 3GB with data rollover $40/month
  • 7GB with data rollover — $50month
  • 10GB with data rollover — $60/month
  • Unlimited LTE data — $75/month

Verizon’s prepaid plans all include unlimited talk and text, but it’s important to note that they don’t fall back to 2G when you run out of LTE data. On the bright side, every plan includes mobile hotspot and unlimited international texting to 200 countries, and the 10GB and unlimited data plans include unlimited calling to Mexico and Canada.

How to reload

Reload your Verizon account online, buy refill cards, or pay in-store at a Verizon Wireless location.

Simple Mobile

Simple Mobile

Simple Mobile uses T-Mobile’s HSPA+ and LTE network and offers options to purchase a new phone or bring your own T-Mobile- or AT&T-compatible GSM phone.

Price

Simple Mobile offers five prepaid plans, which all feature no contract or credit check, unlimited talk and text, unlimited international texting, international calling to 68 countries, and roaming to 16 Latin American countries.

  • 1GB of up to LTE speeds + hotspot — $25/month
  • 2GB of up to LTE speeds + hotspot — $30/month
  • 6GB of up to LTE speeds + hotspot — $40/month
  • Unlimited LTE data — $50/month
  • Unlimited LTE + 10GB hotspot — $60/month

How to reload

ReUp through the Simple Mobile website via credit card or pin. You also have the option to pay in advance with Stash, allowing you to add money to your plan when you have it, so you don’t have to worry about re-upping when your service runs out.

Project Fi

Project Fi

Google’s first foray as a wireless carrier only charges you for the data you actually use. Sounds great, huh? The only unfortunate bit is that the service is currently limited to to a handful of Google-approved devices. You can bring your own phone if you already have one of the approved devices, or you can buy one from Project Fi with some attractive pricing incentives and financing options.

Price

Project Fi’s pricing is fairly flexible and straightforward. For $20 per month, you get unlimited domestic talk and text, unlimited international texts, mobile hotspot, and coverage in 170+ countries.

You pay for data as you use it. Featuring LTE speeds, you set your own custom data budget at $10 for every GB of data you use — but you’re refunded if you don’t reach that limit, measured down to the MB. Once you’ve hit past 6GB, you’re no longer charged for the extra data, but you may get slowed down for the month after exceeding 15GB.

In addition, you can add up to 5 people to your plan for $15 each, though the threshold to reach unlimited data increases with each user, and you all pull from the same collective data bucket.

How to reload

Everything is controlled through the Project Fi app and website.

Updated September 2018: This guide has been completely revamped for 2018. Enjoy your bargain-hunting!

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