Prepaid Carriers Buyer's Guide

Getting Started

As wireless carriers evolve and adapt, we find that contracts and long-term service agreements are no longer a thing. Largely, many consumers are not contractually obligated to a service provider. At least not in the traditional sense.

While many consumers are familiar with names like Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint, there are numerous other carriers. Most of these are known as Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) and rely on the bigger brands for network coverage.

We have buyers guides for most of the MVNOs in the US to help you get a better understanding of them. Although your first instinct might be to go with the familiar brands, we invite you to consider these others for your wireless needs.

Rate Plan & Features

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.

Many prepaid carriers now include international calling and texting to Canada and/or Mexico as part of their plan. Moreover, they might offer a set amount of international data or mobile hotspot capabilities.

One feature you’re not likely to see across the various prepaid providers is 5G coverage. This next-gen ultra-fast tech is just starting to hit the upper tier carriers so it may take some time before prepaid services do, too.

No-Contract versus Prepaid

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