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Which Carrier Has the Cheapest Cell Phone Plan

by on February 24, 2014
in Phones and Mobile, News, Cell Phones, Blog, Money Savers :: 26 comments

Woman shopping for a smartphoneThere has never been a better time to be shopping around for a new cell carrier. Verizon and AT&T recently announced new, less-expensive plans. Contract-free providers like Aio and U.S. Cellular made price drops too, as did Sprint and T-Mobile. Everyone, it seems, is falling over themselves to offer a better deal.

But with plans varying so widely between carriers, how can you compare between them? To do just that, Techlicious contacted all the major U.S. cell carriers and asked them to make us their absolute best deals for individual and family plans. We demanded unlimited calling and unlimited text. We also asked them to price out a separate set of plans to make sure all smartphones get at least 1GB per month of data. Here's what we found.

Note: Before you switch carriers, Techlicious recommends you do your research to find out which has the best cell reception in your area. You can use an app like Glove or OpenSignal to help compare coverage with other people in your area.

Individual Plans

If you want to stay loyal to one of the big four U.S. cellular providers, you’ll find the absolute cheapest individual smartphone plan at AT&T. There, $45 a month buys you unlimited calling, texts and 300MB of data. That’s a slightly better deal than T-Mobile ($50 for 1GB), Sprint ($55 for 1GB) and Verizon ($55 for 250MB). T-Mobile is now the least expensive major carrier, with a $40 for 500MB of data deal currently in play. Both Verizon and AT&T offer $45 plans with less data. Sprint's least expensive plan will run you $55, but that comes with a larger, 1GB data allotment.

Bumping your data allotment up to at least 1GB per month gets incredibly expensive, at least on Verizon. Their customers pay $70 per month. Better deals are at T-Mobile ($50 for 1GB), Sprint ($55 for 1GB) and AT&T ($65 for 2GB).

If you’re willing to venture beyond the more familiar names, you can find an even better deal. Regional carrier MetroPCS has a 500MB smartphone plan for $40 and a 2.5GB plan for $50. Boost Mobile, meanwhile, offers a plan with 2.5GB of data that starts at $55 monthly and drops as low as $40 after making 18 on-time payments.

Want even better deals? Zact Mobile offers highly customizable, inexpensive plans if you're willing to give up unlimited calls and text. A plan with 500 minutes, 1000 texts and 1GB data costs about $35. A plan with 250 minutes, 400 texts and 200MB costs about $17 per month. And, you can go even lower. FreedomPop offers free cell phone service, though naturally, there are a few catches involved.

Feature phone in handFamily Plans (2 Smartphones, 2 Feature Phones)

Feature phones are quickly disappearing from the marketplace, with some carriers discontinuing them entirely. But if you have small kids, finding a clamshell phone is worth the effort. It could save you a bundle every month.

Of the carriers we surveyed, MetroPCS has the absolute cheapest 4-line plan that includes feature phones. Just $70 buys you unlimited talk, text and 500MB of data per smartphone. Bump the data allotment up to 2.5GB per line and the cost rises to $90 per month.

If you want a major carrier, AT&T has a 4-line plan for $130 that offers a 2GB shared data pool for the smartphones. Verizon's MORE Everything offers the same size plan, albeit at a cost of $190 per month. 

Family Plans (4 Smartphones)

Of the major carriers, T-Mobile offers the most compelling deals for families: Four smartphones, each with 1GB of high-speed data, can be had for just $100 per month. Increase each phone’s high-speed data allotment to 3GB, and the price climbs to just $140. It’s the best family smartphone deal out there, and that's before you consider the company's offer to buy you out of your current contract.

If you need to use your phone as a hotspot, AT&T's newest family deal offers a 10GB pool of data shared amongst 4 smartphones for $160 per month. Again, Verizon is the most expensive, charging $230 per month for 4GB of shared data. Update (4/14): You can get the same $160 for 10GB of shared data offer at Verizon via a MORE Everything with Verizon Edge plan.

Cell Phones Plans by Carrier – Prices & Data Allowances Valid as of Feb. 21, 2014****

  AT&T Verizon Sprint T-Mobile MetroPCS US Cellular Virgin Boost
Indv. Plan
with some data
$45
300MB
$45 ♦
250MB
$55
1GB

$40 ♦
500MB 

$40
500MB
$50
500MB***
$55
2.5GB***
$55**
2.5GB***
Indv. Plan
with 1 GB data

$65****
2GB

$70 ♦
1GB
$55
1GB

$50****
1GB***

$50
2.5GB
$60
2GB***
$55
2.5GB***
$55**
2.5GB***
Family Plan
with some data
(2 smartphones/
2 feature)
$110****
300MB*
$155
250MB*
    $70
500MB/line
$155
300MB 
   
Family Plan
with 2GB data
(2 smartphone/
2 feature)
$130****
2GB
$190
2GB
    $90
2.5BG/line
$190
2GB
   
Family Plan
with some data
(4 smartphones)
 $160
10GB
$160 ♦
10GB
$160
1GB/line
$100****
1GB***/line
$140
500MB/line
$175
300MB 
   
Family Plan
with 4GB data
(4 smartphones)
 $160
10GB
$160 ♦
10GB
$160
1GB/line
$100****
1GB***/line
$180
2.5GB/line
$230
4GB
   
Additional cost
per month to
use smartphone 
as a hotspot
 $0
Included
$0
Included
$10
1GB
$0
Included
n/a $0
Included
$15 $10

Note: Chart shows the least expensive plan available to meet the criteria set forth: unlimited text, unlimited calling and specified data package. Prices provided by carrier, with exception of T-Mobile and Sprint, whose most recent prices were pulled from their website February 21, 2014. Pricing based on you bringing your own device, where possible. Some carriers do not support feature phones.
* Plan offered, but not recommended by carrier
** Price drops $5/mo. after 6 months of on-time payments until $40/mo.
*** Amount of high-speed data in plan. Speed reduced to 2G thereafter without overage charges.

**** UPDATE (3/10): New pricing for AT&T and T-Mobile announced March 7-10.

UPDATE (4/15): New pricing for Verizon announced. New pricing for T-Mobile also added.

[Woman in cellular phone shop, Feature phone in hand via Shutterstock]

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Discussion loading

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Good comparison.. it definitely help

From rk on February 25, 2014 :: 4:17 am

Good comparison.. it definitely help to take an informed decision   http://www.telecomvibe.com

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Virgin Mobile

From Michael Reynolds on February 25, 2014 :: 11:47 am

I’m paying $35 a month for 300 minutes, unlimited text and data - using a 2 year old HTC EVO 3D.

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Chart lacks Ting

From Adam on February 25, 2014 :: 12:19 pm

You use 4 gigs of data? That would come out to about 60 bucks (plus 6 bucks per phone). You think you might use 4 gigs of data, but only actually use 1 gig this month? Congratulations, you just saved 40 bucks, because your rate per month is based automatically on how much you actually used that month. I don’t understand how they haven’t stolen like every ounce of business away from, say, verizon, with their hilariously terrible overages.

Granted, Ting is *most* effective at competing for people who don’t use their phone that much a month (I generally pay 13-16 bucks a month, depending mainly on whether any spammers sent me unsolicited text messages that month; occasionally I go past 100mb of data and pay ~25 bucks instead.) Still, even for more heavy phone users, it still competes quite impressive.

And while they don’t subsidize your phone purchase, that is *more* than made up for by the fact that you can buy any random Sprint-branded phone off ebay or whatever, and convert that phone to a Ting phone in just a few minutes.

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You missed my carrier

From Melinda Curtis on February 25, 2014 :: 12:35 pm

I’ve been using http://www.mysimplemobile.com as my cell phone carrier for about 3 years.
Unlimited everything.
$43.00 a month and they use and were originally part of the TMobile network.
They’re great. The only downside is you have to buy your own unlocked phone.

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Cricket wins

From Marty on February 25, 2014 :: 1:07 pm

I’ve been with Cricket for the past year and am a fan (previously had been with Verizon for a decade).  The “big boys” are just far too expensive and most still require that fun 2 year contract and will charge you to cancel.  I get unlimited talk and text and 5GB of data for $55/mo. Unlimited data is provided at slower speed after hitting that 5GB.  Hotspot is included (that’s how I get my home internet connection, by using my phone as a hotspot). The price includes a $5 reduction if you sign up for auto-pay.  There is a $45 plan they offer for 2.5GB too.  Cricket now piggy-backs off one of the “big boys” towers, so the service reception is actually pretty good.

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Biggest problem with Cricket is:

From Will on February 28, 2014 :: 10:23 pm

Biggest problem with Cricket is: ROAMING. Step 1” outside their “coverage area” and be prepared to be hit with some hefty roaming charges.

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Why isn't Republic on this list?

From John Henschen on February 25, 2014 :: 1:10 pm

I switched to Republic Wireless back in November. They’re $40/mo for 4G unlimited everything. Or $25/mo for 3G unlimited everything. I haven’t regretted it for a second.

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Well if Melinda is going

From John Henschen on February 25, 2014 :: 3:21 pm

Well if Melinda is going to use her referral link, I’m going to use mine. smile
http://referrals.republicwireless.com/a/clk/1qf0kV

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question

From Bea on February 26, 2014 :: 1:20 pm

What additional charges are added to your bill?  Taxes, line charge?

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Yep. If I recall, it's

From John Henschen on February 26, 2014 :: 2:43 pm

Yep. If I recall, it’s around like $4 but it will depend on where you live.

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Agreed with John, why isn't Republic on this list?

From Rushell Tuggle on February 25, 2014 :: 2:52 pm

I switched to Republic Wireless just this month and I absolutely love it. I went from Sprint, to Boost Mobile, to Straight Talk, to Republic Wireless. This is over a 15 year span, but each time reduced my bill. I don’t think I will ever get any lower than Republic Wireless and with everything I need, at price points, everyone can afford. They have Wifi only plans (great for kids) $5 a month, unlimited cell and text for $10 a month, unlimited cell, text, and 3g date for $25 a month and then unlimited 4g with everything for $40 a month. The best part about it all, you can make calls over a WiFi network when cell signal isn’t the best at your house, like mine. http://referrals.republicwireless.com/a/clk/wVQx

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Sorry, not Melinda; I meant

From John Henschen on February 25, 2014 :: 3:23 pm

Sorry, not Melinda; I meant Rushell.

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New Competitive Rates

From Daniel NLN on February 25, 2014 :: 3:58 pm

Honestly, it’s about time we got a break on these rates. I suppose these are for new sign ups only right? Can’t cut your existing plan back if you still have contract time left? I can save $60 per month!

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What's not mentioned...

From D Coker on February 25, 2014 :: 5:08 pm

Unfortunately for many of us, price isn’t everything.  There’s a big difference in coverage among the different companies, and if you’re not going to be inside a city all the time, the choices are much narrower.  For those of us who discover dead zones in the areas where we may find ourselves, we have to unhappily pay more.

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Are only talking contract prices?

From Chad on February 26, 2014 :: 2:03 am

I am curious because I have At&T’s new $60 no contract smartphone plan: it is unlimited with 2 GB of Data. This is certainly cheaper then the above mentioned price.

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boost 3G not 2G

From James Morrow on February 26, 2014 :: 7:06 am

just a quick comment. for the *** notation on boost mobile 2.5GB data cap you have it noted as free 2G service after reching the cap. this is incorrect. it is 2.5GB of 4G data with unlimited 3G data. the only downside is that 3G data counts towards the data cap if 4G isn’t available so you might not get a full 2.5GB of 4G.

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GIV Mobile

From Jessica Prah on February 26, 2014 :: 11:43 am

When looking for great service with a more affordable plan that even donates to charity, GIV Mobile is the way to go. GIV Mobile utilizes T-Mobile’s high speed, reliable 4G network but comes at the affordable cost of $40/month for an “Unlimited Everything” plan. A great unique aspect of GIV Mobile’s service is that they donate 8% of customer’s monthly bills to up to three charities of the customer’s choice such as Mercy Housing, Ronald McDonald House Charities and the American Cancer Society.

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T-Mobile ' s little known plan

From Tracey on February 26, 2014 :: 2:49 pm

I have T-Mobile plan that is prepaid, available on - line only. $30 a month gives me 5 GB of LTE speed, unlimited texts and 100 minutes. 100 minutes seems little but, really not. I gave gone over two times by 60 minutes,for a charge of $6.00. I went from a $200 phone bill to $90.

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BEAT DEAL - REPUBLIC

From Philip on May 09, 2014 :: 12:54 am

Their $25.00 unlimited call and text plan includes 5GB of data at 3G ($40.00 for 4G)
I am still using my “old” 3G Motorola at $19.00 monthly
Is there anyone who can beat this price, for unlimited calling and 5GB of data???

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No...

From John Henschen on May 09, 2014 :: 1:13 am

Republic doesn’t have a cap.

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I should have stated that only 5GB was at full speed

From Philip on May 09, 2014 :: 1:40 am

You can go over 5GB, but you will be throttled down after 5GB if you exceed it too many times. But there is no penalty fee for exceeding it. Other carriers make their best profits on those who exceed the pre set data limit. 2 cents per MB means to $20.00 per GB.

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Still no...

From John Henschen on May 09, 2014 :: 8:58 am

They don’t throttle at all, unless they’ve changed that policy in the last week.

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Verizon Still Offers Unlimted Data

From Stephen Larsen on May 10, 2014 :: 6:18 pm

Hey I just wanted to ask you if you wouldn’t mind putting up an article about us. I’m a franchise owner and we sell Flash Wireless service. We’re one of the only ones Verizon allows to sell unlimted everything still along with Sprint. Is there any way you could add us to your comparison? As I’m looking at your list it’s nice to know that we’ve been competing well here.

Cheers,
Stephen Larsen

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Flash Wireless offers unlimted everything

From Stephen Larsen on May 10, 2014 :: 6:20 pm

Hey I just wanted to ask you if you wouldn’t mind putting up an article about us. I’m a franchise owner and we sell Flash Wireless service. We’re one of the only ones Verizon allows to sell unlimted everything still along with Sprint. Is there any way you could add us to your comparison? As I’m looking at your list it’s nice to know that we’ve been competing well here.

Cheers,
Stephen Larsen

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family plan

From Hassan on July 09, 2014 :: 6:54 am

T-mobile family plan everyone should go for, they offer great coverage and also cheaper since you bring more family member to the plan, your friends can participate to your plan as family.

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Save Hundreds!

From Nathan on August 01, 2014 :: 8:06 pm

If you truly want to save on you cell phone plan go to:

http://walmartdeals.weebly.com/

Reply

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