The Best-Kept Secret for Saving Big on Cellphone Plans

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Switch to a smaller prepaid carrier, and you’ll get big coverage at great prices.

What most people don’t know is that prepaid carriers use all the infrastructure muscle of the major carriers, so you’ll still get dependable coverage but at a lower cost.

Yes, it’s true. All of those same cellphone towers and technology that you get with the big four carriers are yours at a fraction of the price when you go with the smaller carriers. For example, prepaid carrier Cricket Wireless uses all of AT&T’s infrastructure, while prepaid Boost Mobile uses Sprint’s.

The fiercest competition today is in the prepaid market — it’s not just students or those trying to improve their credit who are using these plans, but also smart shoppers who are recognizing the value and switching.

If this would be your first time on prepaid, consider these benefits:

  • No surprise bills: Since you pay for your service upfront, you don’t have to worry about overages or other extra charges sneaking on to your monthly bill.
  • No contracts: There’s no binding contracts — switch anytime, pay as you go.
  • Families are welcome: Buy in bulk and save. Expect more discounts the more lines you buy.
  • No credit check: You don’t need to have good credit to get a great prepaid plan.

You can save hundreds a year, especially if you’re currently with the pricier Verizon or AT&T by ditching your postpaid plan. Switch to prepaid, and the only real difference you’ll notice — aside from a lower price — is when you pay. On a prepaid plan, you pay at the beginning of the month, prior to receiving your service, and with a postpaid you pay at the end of the month, after receiving your service.

Prepaid need-to-knows:

Check out these four things about getting the best prepaid plan:

  • Smaller carriers offer great network coverage because they use all of the same infrastructure as the major carriers but typically provide better values.
  • The major carriers do have prepaid plans, but they often offer fewer features at a higher cost than their premium postpaid plans.
  • Read the fine print. Some great prepaid options offer a super cheap deal, yet have some features removed to make them cheaper. For example, they may exclude mobile hot spots or offer slower 3G data speeds.
  • Autopay will save you as most carriers offer discounts if you choose to auto renew each month (typically $5/month discount).

Here’s our top picks for best prepaid cellphone plans:

Best Prepaid Plan for: Carrier Data Amount
Average Data Use H20 Wireless 3GB
Music Streaming Virgin Mobile 5GB
Unlimited Data Metro PCS Unlimited
Families (four lines) Cricket Wireless 12GB

Best prepaid plan for average data use: H2O Wireless

What you get: 3GB of fast data for under $30 each month with AutoPay. Subscribers will also receive unlimited national talk and text, plus unlimited mobile calls to Mexico and unlimited international texts, all on AT&T’s network.

Not sure if you’re an average internet user? Find out how much data you need.

Best prepaid plan for music streaming: Virgin Mobile

What you get: For a monthly cost of $35, you’ll receive unlimited talk and text, plus a generous 5GB of 4G LTE data with great coverage (since Virgin Mobile uses Sprint’s network). And that’s not all: The plan includes non-stop music streaming from Spotify, iHeartRadio, Slacker Radio, Pandora, 8tracks, Samsung Milk Music and Napster, without touching your data.

Best Prepaid Plan for Unlimited Data: Metro PCS

What you get: Pay $60 for Unlimited Data + 8GB of mobile hot spots, video streaming in high-definition, and Music Unlimited which allows you to stream Spotify, Pandora and other partner services without using your data. Expect solid coverage too since Metro PCS uses T-Mobile’s network, but be aware that during times of network congestion, MetroPCS customers may notice reduced speeds compared with T-Mobile customers.

Best prepaid plan for families: Cricket Wireless

What you get: Four lines with 12GB of data total (3GB/line) for $100! PLUS great coverage because Cricket Wireless uses AT&T’s infrastructure. Speeds are slightly slower than its parent AT&T’s at 8 Mbps — which is mostly unnoticeable and should not affect streaming quality.

Remember, prepaid or postpaid, the best plan gives you all that you need at the right price.

What’s your experience getting the right cellphone plan for your needs? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

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