Stop Paying Too Much for Cell Phone Service. Here Are 9 Cheaper Options

Cropped shot of a group of friends using their phones together outdoors
PeopleImages/Getty Images


On the rare occasion when I look up from my phone, I see everyone else is on their phones. We’re all addicted.

Problem is, cell phone companies know we’re addicted. They’ve got us. Cell phone bills creep higher and higher because there’s no incentive for the major wireless carriers to slash prices.

That’s why, for many families, monthly cell phone bills are some of the priciest non-negotiable expenses. And many won’t switch to a discount provider due to fears of lousy reception and poor customer service.

But technology and competition are providing us with better and better options for low-priced, high-quality cell phone service. A whole bunch of upstart companies are promising dramatically lower rates without too many tradeoffs.

If I were you, first I’d figure out what kind of plan I really want — particularly how much data you use each month. Then I’d go through this article and compare prices for that specific kind of plan.

Here’s our review of the top discount wireless carriers — their prices, their plans and their coverage.

Mint Mobile

Network: T-Mobile

Mint Mobile is newer than most of the others on this list. It’s all online, with no storefronts or physical locations. Also, it has a cute cartoon fox for a mascot.

Here’s Mint Mobile's deal: It offers deeply discounted rates — as long as you pay for several months in advance.

It doesn’t sell phones. You bring your own phone, and you buy a package of three, six or 12 months.

Let’s say for the next year, you’ll want 10 GB of data per month. That costs $25 a month — and you’ll pay the whole $300 for the year up front.

If you’re not sure you want to commit, you could try a three-month plan with a seven-day money-back guarantee. If you don’t like it, you can get a refund online.

All plans offer unlimited talk and text. There are no unlimited data plans. Right now, Mint Mobile has an introductory offer cutting the price of its three-month plan when you sign up. But if you re-up for three months after that, you’ll pay the regular price.

Mint Mobile: 12-Month Plan and Introductory Rate for Three-Month Plan

2 GB 5 GB 10 GB
$15 $20 $25

Mint Mobile: Three-Month Plan

2 GB 5 GB 10 GB
$23 $30 $38

Mint Mobile: Six-Month Plan

2 GB 5 GB 10 GB
$18 $24 $30

US Mobile

Network: Verizon or T-Mobile. You get to choose which one you want.

US Mobile is a prepaid carrier that allows you to customize your phone plan a lot more than most carriers. You choose exactly how much talking, texting and web surfing you want to do.

It’s the only carrier on this list that primarily uses Verizon, which independent evaluators routinely rank as the top-rated wireless network in the U.S.

“I love their prices and variety of plans. I can buy as little or as much as I want. As someone who doesn’t need much talk or data, this is very appealing,” said US Mobile user Melissa Mitchell of Rochester, New York.

She’s a member of The Penny Hoarder’s Facebook Community Group, and she’s a real Penny Hoarder: Her cell phone bill is only $14 a month.

“They also make it incredibly easy to buy more if I run out before my next cycle,” she said.

US Mobile’s custom plans are the best bargain, but it also offers unlimited data plans with varying download speeds bundled with talk and text. With a custom plan, you’ll choose what you need of each:

US Mobile: Talk (Minutes)

40 100 300 500 1,000 2,000 5,000
$2.50 $3 $5 $6 $8 $10 $15

US Mobile: Texts

40 100 300 500 1,000 2,000 5,000
$1.50 $2 $3 $4 $5 $6 $7

US Mobile: Data (Uncapped data speed on Super LTE network)

100 MB 300 MB 500 MB 1 GB 2 GB 3 GB 5 GB
$2 $5 $8 $11 $16 $20 $26

Virgin Mobile

Network: Sprint

Here’s the most important thing to know about Virgin Mobile: You’ll need an iPhone. You can bring your own iPhone, or buy a new or used one through Virgin.

Virgin’s main cell phone plan is “The Inner Circle,” which offers unlimited talk, text and data. It’s just a $1 a month for your first six months, then $50 a month after that. Two cheaper plans offer less data.

Bonus: Virgin Mobile customers get access to discounts from a revolving selection of retailers and brands like H&M, Hulu and Reebok.

Here’s something extra for parents: You can set up digital curfews on your kids’ cell phones. (No calls after 9 p.m., young lady!)

Virgin Mobile: Data (All plans have unlimited talk and text)

5 GB 10 GB Unlimited
$35 $45 $50

Cricket Wireless

Network: AT&T

Owned by AT&T, Cricket Wireless has retail locations all over the country. It’s a prepaid carrier, meaning you pay for service in advance. You won’t pay overage fees if you exceed your data limit, but your data speed will be throttled.

Cricket’s download speeds are already slow. Although Cricket uses AT&T’s network, it’s a cheaper secondary carrier whose download speeds are capped at 8 Mbps. For comparison, AT&T’s wireless service usually hits at least 25 Mbps.

That’s why Cricket automatically streams video in standard definition unless you’re using a Wi-Fi connection.

If you don’t need high-speed data, you can save some money by using Cricket.

And if you’re looking for a family plan, it offers group discounts on its data plans of 5 GB or more. You get a $10 discount on a second phone line, and a $20 discount on each of your family’s third, fourth and fifth phone lines. So you could save $70 a month if your family has five cell phones.

If you’re bringing your own phone, check here to make sure it’s compatible.

Cricket Wireless: Data (All plans offer unlimited talk and text)

Talk & Text Only 2 GB 5 GB Unlimited (3 Mbps) Unlimited (8 Mbps)
$25 $30 $40 $55 $60

MetroPCS

Network: T-Mobile

MetroPCS might be the biggest and best-known company on this list, partly because it has thousands of retail locations across the country.

It offers four different plans, all with unlimited talk and text. It sells its plans and phones exclusively in-store, not online.

Its $50-a-month unlimited talk-text-and-data plan compares favorably with several others on this list.

One thing about MetroPCS: You’ll find no shortage of complaints about it. Whether it’s fair or not, on any online review or forum about MetroPCS, you’ll find several readers’ comments bitterly complaining about the company’s service — even when the original review was positive.

If you’re bringing your own phone, check here to make sure it’s compatible.

MetroPCS: Data

2 GB 5 GB Unlimited Unlimited Plus 10 GB Hotspot
$30 $40 $50 $60

Republic Wireless

Network: Sprint and T-Mobile

What makes Republic Wireless different is its emphasis on “hybrid calling.”

When you make a call or surf the web from a Republic Wireless phone, you automatically get routed over Wi-Fi first. If no Wi-Fi connection is available, it defaults to cellular service. The idea is that, this way, you consume less data and cellular service, resulting in lower bills.

One important note: iPhones don’t work with Republic Wireless. You can bring your own phone or buy a phone from Republic. Just not an iPhone. Republic is working on that, company spokeswoman Cherie Gary told The Penny Hoarder.

If you’re bringing your own phone, check here to make sure it’s compatible.

In 2017, Money magazine named Republic Wireless as its “Best Basic Plan.”

Republic’s “My Choice Plan” charges this much:

  • $15 for unlimited talk and text
  • $5 per 1 GB of data

So if you want a Republic phone plan with 1 GB of data, that’ll cost you $20 (plus taxes). A plan with 5 GB of data will run you $40. A plan with 10 GB of data is $65. And so on.

“The cost is really good. It's a great option for kids because you can get a good phone and choose how much data you're willing to pay for,” says customer David Hile, who lives near Columbus, Ohio. “Everything is online, and the customer service is good.”

Ting

Networks: T-Mobile and Sprint

Here’s what sets Ting apart: You only pay for what you use. Imagine that!

Yes, Ting only charges you for the talk, text and data you use. I know, I know, that sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Who’s ever heard of such a thing?

You pay at the end of your billing cycle instead of at the beginning. Also, Ting provides you with a useful digital dashboard so you can keep tabs on how much data and how many minutes you’re using during the month. You can set up alerts for Ting to text you if your usage is approaching a certain limit, like 500 minutes of phone calls or 5 GB of data.

The dashboard is also a handy way for parents to monitor their kids’ cell phone use.

Ting’s data prices are a bit higher than some of its competitors, so it might be best for light data users.

Uschi Carhart of Portland, Maine, a member of The Penny Hoarder’s Facebook Community Group, signed her family of three up for Ting.

“I never liked regular cell phone plans where you pay a set amount every month, no matter how much you use your phone,” she says. “The division of data, calls and texts makes a lot of sense to us, and our bill is usually about $50 for the three of us.”

If you’re bringing your own phone, check here to make sure it’s compatible.

Ting: Lines

1 2 3 4 5 6+
$6 $12 $18 $24 $30 $6/phone

Ting: Minutes

None 100 500 1,000 2,100 More?
$0 $3 $9 $18 $35 1.9 cents/minute

Ting: Texts

None 100 100 2,000 4,800 More?
$0 $3 $5 $8 $11 1/4 cent/text

None 100 MB 500 MB 1 GB 2 GB More?
$0 $3 $10 $16 $20 $10/GB

The Bottom Line

Again, decide what kind of plan you really want, and then make your price comparisons.

Here’s the nitty-gritty on the Penny Hoarding cell phone options we’ve looked at here:

Carrier Network The Bottom Line
Boost Sprint Only three plans. Mobile hotspots.
Cricket AT&T Discounts on family plans. Slow download speeds.
MetroPCS T-Mobile Biggest, best-known discount carrier. Mixed reviews.
Mint Mobile T-Mobile Cheap rates — as long as you pay in advance.
Republic Sprint & T-Mobile No iPhones. “Hybrid calling” uses Wi-Fi and cellular service.
Ting Sprint & T-Mobile You only pay for what you use.
Twigby Sprint & Verizon Cheap, reliable service. No unlimited data plans.
Virgin Sprint iPhones only. Discounts from retailers.
US Mobile Verizon & T-Mobile Highly flexible, cheap, prepaid plans on Verizon’s network.

Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He’s currently paying waaaaaay too much for cell phone service.

Do you think this article might help you put more money in your pocket?Thumbs UpThumbs Down