Find the Cheapest Cell Phone Plans: $4-$50 per month

Cheap Phone Plans & How to Get Out of a Contract

Holding cell phones in a circleThe “big four” wireless carriers (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint) total more than 430 million subscribers, but you don’t have to pay hefty bills to use their cell towers.

Nowadays, there are much cheaper options to help you budget and save. Red Pocket Mobile and Mint Mobile (not to be confused with the budgeting app) are two of the more popular ones, but first, a bit of history to show how these new (cheaper) wireless carriers came about.

In 1983, Motorola released the first portable cell phone, the DynaTAC 8000X. It cost $3,995 and was pretty much a status symbol, like a Mercedes Benz, since only the rich could afford it.

In the 1990s, cell phones became more affordable, but the consumer was forced into a corner: pay thousands of dollars upfront for a phone or lock yourself into a long-term contract.  You signed a two-year deal, and in exchange your carrier would subsidize the cost of your phone.

Then came the emergence of Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNO), and cell phone service exploded. MVNO’s brought the coverage of the major carriers at half the cost.

MVNOs are prepaid carriers like Boost Mobile and Cricket Wireless. They use the same cell towers as the “big four”, but offer prepaid plans that you can usually sign up for without a credit check.

The cheapest cell phone service options are all offered by MVNOs and their popularity is rising. According to iPass, a company that specializes in wireless technology, 10% of wireless subscribers belong to an MVNO.

If you want to save money on your cell phone bill, consider subscribing to one of the dozens of MVNOs running in the U.S. Here are some options for those of you on a tight budget:

Cheapest Cell Phone Plans for One Person

Individuals looking for the cheapest, bare-bones options will save the most money. Beast Mobile is that. But there are also some inexpensive options with a few more bells and whistles for those shopping for themselves.

Beast Mobile Logo

Beast Mobile

Cost: $4/month

Talk and Text: unlimited

Data: 0

Network: Sprint

At A Glance

Beast Mobile’s unlimited talk and text plan caters to the low-income consumer. It’s pretty straight forward: talk and text as much as you want for $4 a month. The downside? No data. This plan will only work for you if you’re content to rely on the WI-FI in your home or office.

Beast Mobile offers just 18 phones, the newest being the Samsung Galaxy s8. But like most MVNOs, they’ll let you bring in your own device. To see if your phone is compatible with Beast Mobile, visit their website.

Tello Logo

Tello

Cost: $14/month

Talk and Text: unlimited

Data: 1 GB

Network: Sprint

At A Glance

1GB isn’t much in the way of data, but if you’re resourceful enough to make use of WI-FI, it shouldn’t matter. If 1GB really does seem paltry, not to worry. Tello lets you customize your plan to fit your needs. You can mix and match minutes and data so you’re not paying for stuff you don’t use. For example, 2GB of data plus 100 minutes of talk and unlimited text would cost you $15 a month. You can add as many minutes or subtract as much data from this plan as you want and Tello will price your plan accordingly. Unlimited talk and text, plus 10GB of data would cost you $39 a month.

Mint Mobile Logo

Mint Mobile

Cost: $15/month

Talk and Text: unlimited

Data: 3 GB

Network: T-Mobile

At A Glance

Mint Mobile keeps its plans so cheap by offering bulk deals. The more months you pay for up front, the cheaper your bill will be. The 12-month plan offers the best discount. For $180 you get 12 months of unlimited talk and text, plus 3GB of data per month. This sounds like a contract but it’s not. Yes, you’re paying up front, but if you decide to cancel there are no early termination fees. Also, you don’t have to worry about overages, since you can only use what you’ve already paid for. If you use all your data before the end of your cycle, simply text UPDATE to 6700 and follow the instructions.

Cheapest Unlimited Cell Phone Plans

Whether it’s for work or recreation, some people do need an unlimited plan, however, the big four wireless companies aren’t the only ones that have them. Look to these cell phone plans to get the most out of your smartphone without shelling the most out of your wallet.

U.S. Mobile Logo

U.S. Mobile

Cost: $40/month

Talk and Text: unlimited

Data: unlimited

Network: T-Mobile

At A Glance

A $40 a month unlimited plan is bound to come with a few catches. This is the price for standard speeds of 1 mbps, which will allow you to surf the web and stream audio. However, your videos will only stream in low resolution between 240-360p. Netflix recommends speeds of at least 1.5 mbps to stream standard definition videos smoothly, with little to no buffering.  You can upgrade to speeds of up to 5 mbps, which will allow for video conferencing and 480p streaming, for an extra $5. At $45 a month that’s still cheaper than most other unlimited plans. But if you want to stream in HD, it’ll cost you another $10.

Visible Logo

Visible

Cost: $40/month

Talk and Text: unlimited

Data: unlimited

Network: Verizon

At A Glance

Visible offers you speeds of up to 5 mbps. They never throttle you, though your speeds may slow down during times of high-network congestion. This is something you can expect from most networks.

The downside is their speeds never go over 5 mbps, which means no HD streaming. This isn’t much of a downside. If you’re paying for a standard unlimited plan from one of the major carriers, you’re getting the same standard definition streaming.

Metro Logo

Metro

Cost: $50/month

Talk and Text: unlimited

Data: unlimited

Network: T-Mobile

At A Glance

Metro by T-Mobile’s plan is a little pricier than the others, but it may be worth it for high data users. They have a data cap of 35GB! That means they won’t deprioritize your data until you’ve used up 35GB. This is almost abnormal. Verizon deprioritizes you after 22GB.

Metro’s unlimited plan also comes with a 5GB hotspot, which can be handy for high-data users who often find themselves between points of WI-FI.

Cheapest Family Plans

Cell phone bills really pile up once you start adding lines, but there are some MVNO’s that also cater toward families. These non-traditional family plans will save you the most.

Xfinity Mobile Logo

Xfinity Mobile

Cost: $12 per line

Talk and Text: unlimited

Data: 1 GB

Network: Verizon

At A Glance

Xfinity mobile is only available to current Xfinity customers. They charge you $12 a line for up to five lines. You get 1GB of data at 4G LTE speeds. Each line you open adds another GB to be shared across all lines. So, if you have four lines, you’ll have 4GB of data to share across all lines, which will cost you $48 a month. For comparison, Verizon has a line access fee of $20 a month. This means if you want to open four lines you pay $80 ($20 per line) before factoring in your minutes and data. 4GB of shared data (plus unlimited talk and text) from Verizon is $50 a month.

To sum it all up, 4GB of data plus unlimited talk and text for four lines would cost you $48 a month with Xfinity and $130 a month with Verizon.

Xfinity Mobile also lets you access one of the 18 million hotspots they have scattered around the country. Visit their website and look up your zip code to find ones near you. The hotspots tend to be clustered in large cities, so if you’re living out on a ranch somewhere in the great plains, you’re out of luck. Otherwise, be on the lookout for these hotspots so you can stay connected and save your data.

Red Pocket Logo

Red Pocket Mobile

Cost: $30 per primary line; $20 for each additional line

Talk and Text: unlimited

Data: 3 GB

Network: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon (pick one)

At A Glance

Red Pocket Mobile charges $30 for the first line. Each line you add will cost $10 to activate then $20 for monthly service. Unlike the larger carriers which charge you each month just for having a line, you’ll only pay a one-time activation fee.

Say you want three lines. The first month you’ll pay $30 for the primary line, then $20 to activate two more lines. You’ll pay another $40 to service those two added lines. All-together, the first month will cost you $90 for three lines.  After that, it’s $70 a month.

The next month (and every following month) you’ll pay $30 for the primary line and $40 for the other two lines. That’s $70 for three lines. This price is only available with auto-refill, the prepaid version of auto-pay.

Total Wireless Logo

Total Wireless

Cost: $25-$30 per line

Talk and Text: unlimited

Data: 15 GB – 20 GB

Network: Verizon

At A Glance

Total wireless follows the more traditional approach to family plans, where the more lines you add the more you save. The max is four lines. Two lines of unlimited talk and text plus 15GB of shared data would cost you $60 a month. If you want to add more lines, you have to add more data as well. They won’t let you share 15GB of data on three lines. You’d have to go with the $85 20GB plan. Still, that’s $28 a line for data running at 4G LTE speeds.

How to Get Out of a Cell Phone Contract without Paying an Early Termination Fee (ETF)

So, you’ve found a new plan that will cut your monthly cell phone bill in half. Only problem is you’ve still got eight months left on your current contract.

Your carrier doesn’t want to see you go, and they won’t let you walk away even if you ask politely. However, there are a few ways to part with your carrier early, without paying an ETF. Here are some suggestions:

Transfer to a Carrier that Will Pay Your ETF

The competition amongst the big four for your cell phone service is tight. That’s why they’re often willing to offer absurd deals. Some will go as far as paying your ETF. These offers are usually limited time only.

Right now, T-Mobile is offering to pay off as much as $350 in early termination fees if you switch to their side. Sounds nice, right? The obvious pitfall here is you’ll be freeing yourself of one contract to be locked into another.

Still, if your current carrier has poor service in your area or your rates are just too high, a fresh contract with a new carrier is worth considering.

Transfer Your Contract to Someone Else

Most contracts allow you to transfer your service to someone else. This is similar to transferring a car lease. Find someone willing to take on the service and fill out a transfer service application. Just remember the new owner will need to pass a credit check. Keep your bill current, as you will be responsible for all payments until the application is finalized.

If you don’t know anyone willing or able to take on your contract, you can visit a third-party website like Trademycellular.com. They’ll match you with somebody interested in taking on your plan.

Look for a Loophole in Your Contract

You’ll need to rummage through the fine print in your bills to look for any modifications you don’t recall agreeing to. If this sounds meticulous that’s because it is. But If your carrier has made changes to your contract after you signed it, you may have a legitimate claim to cancel your service without paying the ETF.

However, many cell phone contracts state they can change the terms whenever they wish. You have to prove the changes are “materially adverse” in order to legally opt out. An example of a materially adverse change would be if your carrier agreed to charge you $90 a month for service, then out of nowhere upped it $110 a month. This is uncommon.

When deciding on a cell phone plan, remember to ask yourself what features are invaluable to you. Some of us can get away with using wi-fi at home or at the office, we only need 1GB of wiggle room for our daily commute. Others will struggle with their limits if their plan provides anything under 20GB for watching Netflix.

Whatever your circumstances, there are plenty of high-quality and affordable options with MVNOs that will allow you to save your money and stay out of debt.


Sources

Statista (2019) Number of Subscribers to Wireless Carriers in the U.S. Retrieved from https://www.statista.com/statistics/283507/subscribers-to-top-wireless-carriers-in-the-us/

Jones, D. (2016, October 6) MVNOs in the U.S. Retrieved from https://www.ipass.com/blog/mvnos-in-the-u-s/

Loftsgordon, A. ND. The Two Main Types of Cellphone Contracts. Retrieved from: https://www.lawyers.com/legal-info/consumer-protection/protections-for-consumer-purchases/the-two-main-types-of-cell-phone-contracts.html

ND. How-Tos and FAQs. Retrieved from: https://www.xfinity.com/mobile/support

ND. FAQ. Retrieved from: https://www.visible.com/faq

ND. Support and FAQ. Retrieved from: https://www.metropcs.com/support/faq

ND. FAQ. Retrieved from: https://www.mintmobile.com/faq/

NA.ND. FAQs. Retrieved from: http://support.totalwireless.com/expresshelp