Best Prepaid Cell Phone Plans: A Buyer’s Guide

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Many of the best pre-paid cell phone plans come with no contracts, and are continuing to gain in popularity, with major cell phone carriers like T-Mobile and AT&T noting their first declines in contract-based plans in early 2012. Pre-paid plans are great for professionals, families and kids as they allow you to pay for the services you use and avoid for paying for extra features you don’t.  But there are hidden fees and technological limitations to many pre-paid plans, so here are several things to consider to know if prepaid is the way to go for you.

Advantages of pre-paid plans:

  • No chance of crazy overages.  You’re only on the hook for what you paid for, and after that you can’t exceed your limits.  If self-discipline is a problem for you or your kids,  pre-paid is a great way to ensure they don’t use more than they can.
  • No contracts on pre-paid plans ,make them a perfect option for short-term usage.  Whether you’re on an extended business trip, a vacation or are potentially between phones, pre-paid is the perfect solution if you only need a phone for a few weeks or months.
  • Prepaid phones also provide a good test of usage habits before locking into long term plan.  If you’re scared of making a commitment to a two-year contract because you just don’t know how much texting or calling you really want to do, prepaid can provide a nice test run as you settle on a more permanent option.

Disadvantage of pre-paid plans:

  • Hidden Fees can surprise you.  While you may think you’re getting a certain number of minutes for what you spent, carriers sometimes charge daily access fees that can quickly add up.
  • You can lose your minutes.  You paid for them, so you better hope you use them.  Without rollover solutions, you may end up paying for more minutes than you actually use.
  • Prepaid plans often only provide the most basic phones.  If you want the latest and coolest smartphones and gadgets, you’re likely out of luck if you are using prepaid plans.  Although there are some nice phones to be had that may seem a bit outdated but still powerful, they are not the top of the line versions.
  • No ability to transfer phone number after your prepaid service.  Prepaid numbers stay with the prepaid service, so if after a couple months you decide to switch to a plan with a two-year contract, you’ll likely need to get a new phone number.

If you’re interested in the different prepaid cell phone plans available, here’s an overview of some of the most popular:

Virgin Mobile – Plans start as low as $35 a month with unlimited data and messaging on all their offerings.  For more money, you can get more voice minutes. 

Cricket – Buy an inexpensive phone and pair it with their plan. Cricket also highlights their Muve Music library and includes downloads and music playback as a key feature of their service.

Metro PCS – Offering unlimited plans along with the ability to keep your number, offers plans by the minute, by the week or by the month, and can cost anywhere from around $40 to $70 per month.

Verizon Wireless – Offering $50 a month plans for basic phones and $80 a month plans for smartphones, Verizon is trying to capture pre-paid customers who are balking at two-year contracts.

US Cellular – US Cellular offers standard and prepaid plans, but is only available in certain parts of the country.  For only $10 per month, you can get a voice only plan, or upgrade to as much as $70 per month to get unlimited data and messaging.

AT&T GoPhone – With a ton of different pricing options, GoPhone lets you pay $50 for an unlimited plan, or a $2 daily rate that allows unlimited calls and texting only on the days you use it. 

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About author

Johner Riehl

Johner Riehl is a freelance writer focusing on families, technology and online safety. As founder and editorial director for FamilyFriendlyApps.com and FamilyFriendlyVideoGames.com, sites that provide reviews and recommendations geared towards families, he examines hundreds of family-friendly games and apps every year. He’s also host of Parent Savers, a podcast aimed at helping parents of newborns, infants and toddlers. TWITTER: @FamilyTechDad

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