To be clear, there’s a difference between a prepaid plan and a no-contract plan. Both are the sort of service you can sign up for that typically run month to month, but the no-contract options tend to offer more value for your money. Namely, you get more data or extra perks for roughly the same price as a prepaid plan.
Whereas most of the big-name carriers have largely gotten away from contracts, they still want you to stick with them. That’s why they occasionally offer an exclusive phone. It’s why they don’t mind spreading device payments out over 24-30 months.
This brings up another key difference in no-contract versus prepaid. The former tends to give customers more phone selection at a carrier level with the latter offering fewer options.
Another pain point for some is whether a carrier will perform a credit check prior to service. The prepaid route should never run your credit, but no-contract options may sometimes do so, particularly if you’re financing a device.
There is also the concept of equipment installation agreements. You may be splitting the cost of your phone up over a period of say, two years. Alas, you might not be able to walk completely away from your service provider without some sort of payoff or fee.
The four largest service providers (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint) have their own prepaid brands. While the coverage is largely the same, the features and handset selection might differ.
You’ll find that it’s very obvious whose network supports some prepaid carriers. Verizon Prepaid is, of course, powered by Verizon’s network. But others, such as Cricket, might be harder to understand. Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the prepaid brands that operate under the various top carriers.
- AT&T: AT&T Prepaid, Cricket
- Verizon: Verizon Prepaid
- T-Mobile: Metro
- Sprint: Sprint Prepaid, Boost Mobile