Technology

Best cell phone plans in 2020: The best options for your monthly smartphone service

You probably don’t wonder if you’ve got one of the best cell phone plans unless you’re in the market for a new smartphone. But you don’t have to wait until you’re shopping for one of Apple’s best iPhones, the Samsung galaxy s20 or one any other device to figure out if you could be paying less each month on your wireless bill. Wireless carriers are constantly reshuffling their offerings, and a better plan may already be available from the company already providing service to your smartphone.

A lot of criteria goes into finding the best cell phone plan to fit your needs. Beyond just dollars and cents, you need to consider which phones are supported by which wireless carriers and what coverage and data speeds are like in the area where you’ll use your phone the most. Throw in frequent plan changes – including multiple tiers of unlimited plans – and it’s a recipe for confusion.

To make the decision easier, we’ve gone through each carriers ’plans to figure out which one is the best cell phone plan for your particular needs.

What are the best cell phone plans?

As you’ll see, there’s no one-size-fits-all for cell phone plans. All the different wireless providers have different options for both individual users and families, and there’s different tiers of data as well (though these days, the Big Four carriers are emphasizing unlimited data plans). We take a deeper look at the different options for the best family cell phone plan, best unlimited data plan for individuals and best prepaid phone plans elsewhere, but here’s our summary of the best cell phone plans overall.

T-Mobile’s Magenta unlimited data plan is the best family plan, offering better value than what you’ll find at AT&T and Verizon. T-Mobile’s $ 70 plan is also the best unlimited data plan for individuals, though you can get a bare-bones unlimited data plan from T-Mobile for $ 10 less.

If you don’t find yourself using much data these days, T-Mobile’s new T-Mobile Connect plan lets you spend just $ 15 a month for 2GB of data. But if you’d prefer a plan without as many restrictions, Verizon offers a more compelling individual cell phone plan, costing $ 55 a month for 5GB.

Prepaid customers should take advantage of Verizon’s supersized prepaid plans, which deliver 16GB of data for $ 45 a month, while Visible’s discounts on multiple lines of unlimited data should appeal to families. If you make frequent international trips, Google Fi lets you use your data at no extra cost when you’re overseas.

Note that while the T-Mobile-Sprint merger has been finalized, we’re waiting to see what impact the combined company will have on the best cell phone plans. T-Mobile indicates that it will fully absorb Sprint over the summer, with that carrier’s plans disappearing. (Current Sprint customers will be able to keep their existing plan.) It’s also unclear what will happen to Boost’s plans, after that Sprint-owned company is going to be spun off into a new carrier operated by Dish.

The best cell phone plans

best cell phone plans: t-mobile family plan

(Image credit: T-Mobile)

1. T-Mobile Family Plan

Best cell phone plan for families

Name of Plan: T-Mobile Magenta | Monthly Cost: $ 160 (for 4 lines of data) | Amount of Data: Unlimited | Special Features: 3GB of LTE hotspot data; 480p video streaming; Netflix included

Attractive perks

Affordable price

5G coverage included

Can’t mix-and-match unlimited plans

HD video streaming costs extra

Even as carriers offer multiple tiers of unlimited data plans, T-Mobile Magenta is still the best choice for families. It gives a family of four unlimited data for $ 160 a month, though occasional discounts to additional lines sometimes lower that cost. As of this writing, T-Mobile is waiving the $ 20 monthly cost of a third line of data, bringing the total bill for a family of four down to $ 140.

We wish T-Mobile let you stream HD video as part of its Magenta plan, but for most users, 480p video on a smartphone-sized screen will be good enough. (Families can pay an extra $ 10 per month per line for Magenta Plus if they really want HD streaming.) T-Mobile’s Magenta plan includes other nice perks like LTE hotspot data and a free Netflix subscription if you have two lines or more on your plan .

T-Mobile’s network delivers comparable performance to Verizon, which still charges more for its best unlimited family plan even after a price cut. Both Verizon and Sprint let you mix and match different unlimited options for each line of your family plan if you prefer flexibility.

best cell phone plans: T-mobile unlimited plan

(Image credit: T-Mobile)

2. T-Mobile Unlimited Plan

Best cell phone plan with unlimited data

Name of Plan: T-Mobile Magenta | Monthly Cost: $ 70 | Amount of Data: Unlimited | Special Features: 3GB of LTE hotspot data; 480p video streaming; Unlimited 2G data overseas

Attractive perks

Affordable price

5G coverage included

HD video streaming costs extra

All four major carriers offer different thirds of unlimited data plans. We think T-Mobile’s $ 70 option provides the best mix of value and performance.

Sprint’s basic unlimited plan is cheaper than T-Mobile Magenta, but its network isn’t as fast (and it will soon be folded into T-Mobile anyhow). The entry-level plans from Verizon And AT&T both carry too many restrictions, relative to T-Mobile’s $ 70 plan. (And if you don’t mind restrictions, T-Mobile Essentials is cheaper still at $ 60 a month.)

T-Mobile Magenta features a good price on a strong network, and if you want to upgrade from 480p video streaming to HD, it’s just $ 15 more per month for individuals; if HD streaming is what you prize, though, consider Verizon’s $ 80-a-month Play More plan, which also includes an Apple Music subscription along with 720p video support.

best cell phone plans: verizon tiered data plan

(Image credit: Verizon)

3. Verizon 5GB Plan

Best cell phone plan with tiered data

Name of Plan: Verizon 5 | Monthly Cost: $ 55 | Amount of Data: 5GB | Special Features: Carryover data; Safety mode

Safety mode prevents data overages

Affordable plan if you don’t need unlimited data

Unused data carries over

No 5G coverage

While wireless carriers are pushing unlimited data plans these days, not everyone needs to pay for that much data. If you don’t do a lot of video streaming, 5GB of LTE data is more than enough to get you through each month, while keeping your monthly cell phone bill down.

Verizon is one of the few wireless carriers to still offer tiered data, and its Verizon 5 plan offers the most data at a discount from one of its pricier unlimited plans. AT&T offers more data with its 9GB Mobile Share plan, but that plan will set you back $ 60 a month; Verizon’s plan costs $ 55 after a $ 5 autopay discount.

If you’re worried about data overages, Verizon offers a Safety Mode, which lets you slow down data speeds after you use up your 5GB allotment, without incurring any charges. Unused data gets carried over to the next month under Verizon’s tiered data plan.

best phone plans: Verizon prepaid plan

(Image credit: Verizon)

4. Verizon Prepaid Plan

Name of Plan: Verizon 8GB Prepaid Plan | Monthly Cost: $ 45 | Amount of Data: 16GB | Special features: Currently double the normal amount of data; LTE hotspot data

Lots of data under current promotion

LTE hotspot data

Speeds can be throttled if Verizon’s network is congested

Verizon’s regular $ 45-a-month prepaid plan used to get you a decent amount of LTE data – 8GB. But last year, Verizon doubled that to a staggering 16GB and has kept this “limited time” around so long, it feels permanent now (or as permanent as phone plans can be).

Even better, Verizon is currently knocking $ 10 off the price of this prepaid plan. That brings the cost of 16GB of data to $ 35. This $ 10 discount is also listed as for a limited time only, and in this case, we think Verizon means it.

The advantage to going with Verizon’s prepaid service is you benefit from the carrier’s extensive LTE network, which outperformed others in our last round of testing to see who had the fastest wireless network. Prepaid customers will see their speeds slowed down if Verizon’s network gets congested, though.

Should Verizon’s generous 16GB allotment ever shrink back down to its normal 8GB size, Metro by T-Mobile has a compelling alternative for prepaid users. You’ll get 10GB a month for $ 40, and that rate incorporates taxes and fees.

best cell phone plans: Metro By T-Mobile unlimited plan

(Image credit: T-Mobile)

5. Metro By T-Mobile Unlimited Plan

Best prepaid plan with unlimited data

Name of Plan: Metro Unlimited | Monthly Cost: $ 50 | Amount of Data: Unlimited | Special features: 5GB of LTE hotspot data; 100GB of Google One storage

Uses T-Mobile’s network

Additional lines cost just $ 30

No restrictions on audio streaming

Video streaming limited to 480p

Speeds can be throttled when network is congested

Several prepaid carriers offer monthly plans with unlimited 4G LTE data, but Metro by T-Mobile remains the best, thanks to its superior network performance and perks. Metro uses T-Mobile’s network, which performs well in our testing. As with any prepaid service, your data speeds may be slowed when the network is congested. Metro customers with a compatible phone can also use T-Mobile’s 5G towers at no extra cost.

Metro gives you unlimited data for $ 50 a month, with 5GB of LTE hotspot data and access to Google One cloud storage. Like other Metro plans, the unlimited option includes taxes and fees so that you’ll know what you have to pay each month. Upgrade to the $ 60 plan, and you get 15GB of hotspot data plus an Amazon Prime membership on top of Google One.

That tops Boost’s similarly priced unlimited plans, though Boost does offer more hotspot data, and you can get HD video streaming with its $ 60 plan. However Boost limits the speed of audio and game streaming, which Metro does not.

If you prefer AT&T, note that the carrier has increased the autopay discount on its Unlimited Plus prepaid plan to $ 25 a month, bringing the total monthly cost down to $ 50 – the same as Metro’s rate for unlimited data. Like Metro, AT & T’s Unlimited Plus plan features 5G coverage, but unlike Metro, you can stream video at HD quality, and you get double the hotspot data. AT & T’s reduced cost is only available through Oct. 29, though.

best cell phone plans: T-Mobile connect plan

(Image credit: T-Mobile)

6. T-Mobile Connect

Best cell phone plan under $ 30

Name of Plan: T-Mobile Connect Plan | Monthly Cost: $ 15 | Amount of Data: 2GB | Special features: Plans grows by 500MB every year

T-Mobile adds 500MB of data to allotment annually

Low cost

Once you hit 2GB cap, you’re out of data

We’ll not really know what the true impact of the T-Mobile-Sprint merger is for years. But one short-term effect has already seen T-Mobile introduce one of the best cell phone plans for under $ 30. The T-Mobile Connect plan, launched right before T-Mobile completed its merger with Sprint, gives you 2GB of data each month for just $ 15.

Need more data than 2GB? Upgrade to the 5GB T-Mobile Connect option for $ 25 a month.

There’s a big limitation to T-Mobile Connect plan, as you might imagine. Once you use up your 2GB (or your 5GB), you’re out of data for the rest of the billing cycle. Many rival plans simply slow your speeds when you hit your monthly limit.

At least your data pool gets larger over time. T-Mobile says it will add 500MB every year for five years while keeping that $ 15 price the same.

best phone plans: visible family plan

(Image credit: Visible)

7. Visible Map

Best prepaid plan for families

Name of Plan: Visible Party Pay | Monthly Cost: $ 100 (for 4 lines of data) | Amount of Data: Unlimited | Special features: Hotspot data

Uses Verizon’s network

No caps on speed

Speeds can be throttled when network is congested

Visible, the Verizon-owned prepaid service, now beats Metro by T-Mobile and Boost Mobile at their own game by offering very attractive discounts when you add multiple lines.

Visible has just one option – an unlimited data plan for $ 40 a month – and adding a second line reduces the per-line cost to $ 35 each. Four lines of unlimited data cost $ 25 each for a total of $ 100 a month – $ 40 less than what four lines of unlimited data cost at Metro and Boost. Best of all, Visible doesn’t cap data speeds at present, so you get the full benefit of Verizon’s top-performing network. (Your speeds may be slowed if Verizon’s network is congested, but that’s common to all prepaid networks that use another carrier’s service.)

Visible offers a wide range of phones – both iPhone and leading Android models. But if you’re happy with the phone you have, you always bring it over to Visible, provided that the phone’s compatible with the company’s service. (That applies to the iPhone 6 or later, plus a number of recent phones from Samsung, Google, LG, OnePlus and Motorola.)

Best cell phone plans: Google Fi international plan

(Image credit: Google)

8. Google Fi Unlimited Plan

Best cell phone plan for international travel

Name of Plan: Fi Unlimited | Monthly Cost: $ 70 | Amount of Data: Unlimited | Special features: Uses service from multiple carriers; Free texting and data when traveling

Great international coverage

Supports a wider variety of phones

Optimized features limited to select phones

Cheaper plans available elsewhere

Sign up for Google Fi, the wireless service from Google, and you need never worry about running out of data when you’re overseas. The carrier offers a $ 70 unlimited plan that covers all of your talk, text and data needs and compares favorably to T-Mobile’s best plan, at least for individuals. (Families should look beyond Google Fi for coverage; the multiline discounts aren’t as generous.) Don’t need all that data? Google Fi’s tiered plans cost $ 20 a month for talk and text, plus $ 10 for each gigabyte of data you use (or, in other words, $ 1 for every 100MB).

When you travel, Google Fi lets you draw from your regular high-speed data in more than 200 countries with no roaming charges. Unlimited international texting comes with every plan and calls cost just 20 cents a minute – unless they’re over WiFi, in which case they’re free. Google Fi used to be limited to a handful of select Android devices, but now you can use it with just about any phone, including iPhones. (Fi-certified devices still enjoy some advantages, though, like the ability to switch seamlessly between Sprint, T-Mobile and US Cellular towers for the best signal at any given time.)

If you’d prefer a different carrier, T-Mobile remains a strong alternative for international travelers, letting T-Mobile One subscribers use data in more than 210 countries, though at 2G speeds. You can talk and text for free in Canada and Mexico, though T-Mobile limits you to 5GB of LTE data in those countries. (Be aware that the carrier’s lower cost T-Mobile Essentials unlimited plan doesn’t include these international perks.)

How to choose the best cell phone plan for you

Price is a big consideration when looking for the best cell phone plans, especially if you’re getting more than one line for other members of your family. Most carriers offer escalating discounts as you add lines, so you’ll want to compare the total cost of your plan based on the number of lines that require service.

Cell phone plans are about more than just the amount on your bill each month, though. You also need to consider who offers the best coverage in your area and whether they support the phone you’ll want to use. Our guide to the best phone carriers can answer some of those questions, but you’ll also want to ask friends, neighbors and co-workers about how a specific carrier’s coverage is at your home and office, if you’re looking to switch wireless providers.

Speaking of switching carriers, the major carriers are all willing to pick up some of the cost to get you to switch. Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile all offer incentives for each phone you switch over to pay off your phone purchases and early termination fees. These promotions can vary over time, so we’d suggest keeping an eye on the best wireless carrier deals when you’re mulling a switch, as you could find extra ways to save money.

As of this writing, Sprint offers an incentive in the form of a low-cost unlimited for you to leave your current carrier behind. When you bring your current number over to Sprint, you can qualify for an Unlimited Kickstart Plan which gives you unlimited talk, text and data for $ 35 per line. In exchange for that low cost, you’ll give up some of the perks that Sprint offers for its higher priced unlimited plans. Video streaming is restricted to 480p and there are speed limits on music and game streaming, too. You also don’t get Hulu bundled with your service as you do on Sprint’s other plans. However, Sprint does include free text and 2G data in more than 200 countries with Unlimited Kickstart. (Still, if you need more than two lines of data, you’re better off with Sprint’s Unlimited Basic plan, since the carrier is offering discounts on additional lines through July 31, 2021.)

T-Mobile launched a promotion where it will honor some discounts offered by rival carriers to convince people to switch to its network. You’ll need to bring in a bill to T-Mobile showing an eligible corporate, affiliate, military or senior discount, and T-Mobile will try to match that discount in $ 5 increments up to $ 15 for one line and $ 30 for two or more lines.

Wireless carriers have spent the past year building out their 5G coverage, and if you’ve got the right 5G phone, you can benefit from faster speeds if a carrier offers 5G service in your area. T-Mobile includes 5G coverage with its Magenta Plan, and Metro By T-Mobile customers can also access T-Mobile’s 5G towers with a compatible smartphone. Sprint and AT&T require you to sign up for their most expensive unlimited data plan options for 5G – Unlimited Premium for Sprint and either Unlimited Extra or Unlimited Elite for AT&T. Verizon includes 5G coverage in three of its four unlimited plans currently, but the cheapest plan, Start Unlimited, costs an extra $ 10 per month on top of the regular $ 70 rate if you also want 5G coverage.

  • 5G phones: Every known model and release date
  • What is 5G? The definitive guide to what wireless carriers are doing

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