Prepaid Carriers Buyer's Guide

Getting Started

As wireless carriers continue to evolve and adapt we find ourselves in an era where contracts and long-term service agreements are longer a thing. Largely, many consumers are not contractually obligated to a service provider. At least not in the traditional sense.

For the sake of this buyer’s guide we will be looking at the prepaid carriers and their respective options. To that end, we’ll cover the main brands that utilize the tier-one networks offered by the big four companies: Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint.

Rate Plan

Once you’ve determined that service will be available where you need it, you’ll need to pick the right rate plan. In most cases you’ll find that you get unlimited talk and texting capabilities. Gone, for the most part, are the days of worrying about minutes. This is not to say, though, that you might not have to occasionally add talk time to a plan.

Other features that often come with prepaid plans include voice mail, caller ID, call waiting, and three-way calling. Chances are very good you will not get the “nickel and dime” treatment over these.

As you start to look at the various plans offered by the big four carriers you might find some overlap. Most will offer some of the same features but every so often there will be some standout options or reason to consider them.

No-Contract versus Prepaid

Contrary to what some might believe, there’s a difference between a prepaid carrier and a no-contract plan. Both plans 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. To that end, they’ll try to get you into plans that keep the same data allotment and bundles, and handset selection.

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. In the past we found prepaid brands often sold older tech that was a generation or two behind. Today’s prepaid carrier options are much more attractive.

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 the no-contract options may sometimes do so, particularly if you’re financing a device.

Indeed, there are also the notion of equipment installation agreements to contend with; 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.

Carrier Options

Verizon Prepaid

Customers can choose from a variety of devices to be used with its prepaid rate plans. In addition to single line plans, Verizon gives consumers the option to add discounted lines to an account.

Single Line Plans

  • $30 per month: 500MB of 4G LTE data
  • $40 per month: 3GB of 4G LTE data
  • $50 per month: 7GB of 4G LTE data
  • $60 per month: 10B of 4G LTE data
  • $75 per month: Unlimited 4G LTE data

All plans receive:

  • Unlimited US Talk & Text
  • Carryover data
  • Unlimited Text to over 200 international destinations
  • Mobile hotspot

Unlimited and 10GB plans also get:

  • Unlimited Talk to Mexico & Canada

T-Mobile Prepaid

As a service provider that utilizes a GSM network, T-Mobile’s Prepaid plans can be paired with pretty much any unlocked smartphone. Indeed, it’s a simple as purchasing a SIM card and picking the proper rate plan.

Given that T-Mobile was the first to move away from contracts, its Simply Prepaid plans are not all that different from its post-paid offerings. Specifically, you get a lot of the same benefits that come with its standard option. This means you get features such as Wi-Fi Calling, Data Maximizer, Music Unlimited, and mobile hotspot. Coverage in Mexico and Canada can be added for $5 per month.

Simply Prepaid:

  • $45 per month: 4GB of 4G LTE data
  • $55 per month: 6GB of 4G LTE data

T-Mobile Simply Prepaid gives customers access to the same T-Mobile’s network but without any strings attached. All of its plans offer unlimited talk, text, and data; speeds slow to 2G upon hitting the monthly data allotment.

T-Mobile ONE Prepaid:

  • $75 per month: Unlimited 4G LTE data

10GB (per line) No Credit Check Family Plan:

  • 1 line: $50
  • 2 lines: $80
  • 3 lines: $100
  • 4 lines: $120
  • 5 lines: $140

Last, but not least, T-Mobile also has a Pay As You Go route which starts at $3 per month. For the money, customers receive any combination of 30 minutes of talk or text messages.

AT&T GoPhone

Subscribers can choose from a selection of phones specifically paired with GoPhone plans or purchase a GoPhone SIM card kit for unlocked or approved handsets.

Customers interested in more than one line of service can save with multi-line discounts through GoPhone.

  • $35 per month: 1GB of LTE data  w/ Rollover Data
  • $45 per month: 6GB of 4G LTE w/Rollover Data
  • $65 per month: Unlimited 4G LTE
  • $85 per month: Unlimited 4G LTE with 6GB mobile hotspot

Monthly phone plans include:

  • Unlimited talk and text in the U.S.
  • Unlimited text from the U.S. to over 100 countries
  • Eligibility for Multi-Line Discount
  • Discount when you enroll in AutoPay

Customers can purchase additional data in add-on plans; options and pricing vary based on the monthly plan. A $30 monthly plan includes unlimited talk and text but relies on Wi-Fi for data. Alternatively, GoPhone subscribers can opt to pay $2 per day for unlimited nationwide talk and text or $0.25 per minute and $0.20 per text message.

Sprint Prepaid

Sprint Prepaid, as one might expect, uses the same nationwide network as its tier-one offering, but without any long-term commitments. Whereas there are specific pools of data to pick from, customers can enjoy unlimited access.

As of today, Sprint’s prepaid options are broken into two plans:

$40 per month: 4GB of 4G LTE data with unlimited talk and text, unlimited international text, and mobile hotspot. Adding users cost $30 per line with up to five total lines.

$60 per month: Unlimited 4G LTE data with unlimited talk and text, unlimited international text, and mobile hotspot. Adding a second line is $40 with each additional line costing $30 each.

The selection of phones is quite bare as compared to its standard post-paid rate plans, but all of them are wallet-friendly and often cost under $100.