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Compare prepaid phone plans
Know exactly what you’re getting ahead of time so you can better manage your data — and money.
At the end of your cell phone contract and looking for options to save money and better manage your data? A prepaid cell plan could be the way to go. Our breakdown of what prepaid cell plans are and a plan comparison can help guide you to your next step.
What is a prepaid cell phone plan?
A prepaid cell phone plan involves paying ahead for the data or amount of credit you wish to use. You’re free to use your phone as much or as little as you like until all data or credit runs out. When it does, you pay again to get more airtime on your cell.
How to compare prepaid plans
Price is likely the main factor in choosing a prepaid cell phone plan, but there are several other considerations as well:
- Data. Most prepaid plans sell you a fixed amount of data to use within a specific time period. And once you’ve used it up or you’ve reached the expiration, you’re done. Any plan that offers you data for $1 or less per 1GB is a solid value — though lower value is fine if you’re conservative in your use.
- Data banking/rollover. Some plans offer a data rollover feature that helps you avoid being left short on data during times of high usage, or losing leftover data at the end of your expiration period. It can be a good fit for users with variable data usage.
- Expiration period. The time limit for your pay-as-you-go plan is typically one month. Each company has a slightly different idea of what one month is, but usually it’s between 28 and 30 days. Some companies offer prepaid limits of 90 days and even up to one year.
- Data-free streaming. Some providers will let you stream music or video from specific platforms without consuming plan data, such as free music streaming on Apple Music or Netflix. These can be useful extras to save data if you frequently use these platforms.
- International inclusions. If you are traveling or have many contacts abroad, finding some inclusions for communicating overseas could be worth it. If you prefer to rely on voice chat apps like WhatsApp, it might be wise to tack on some extra data for each period.
Pros and cons of prepaid cell phone plans
Here’s a quick breakdown of a few reasons people like, and don’t like, prepaid phone plans:
- Cheaper than contract plans. You pay only for the data you use, so there are no surprise charges at the end.
- No credit check. There’s no need to check creditworthiness since you’re paying for the service upfront.
- No long-term commitment. You have the freedom to use your service as long as you wish, anywhere you go.
- Good for kids. Parents have more control over their kids’ phone and data usage.
- Data limitations. It can be frustrating when your data or call time runs out in the middle of a conversation.
- Must own your own phone. Unlike contracts, there are no options for new phone integration.
- Limited roaming options. If you’re a world traveler, roaming options may be scarce in other countries.
Prepaid vs. contract cell phone plans
With a prepaid cell phone plan, you pay up front for the service. There are no surprise fees and you can pay as you go. Contract cell plans require payment at the end of each month under a long-term commitment. Depending on your usage, your payment amounts could fluctuate with any extra services and fees you’ve used during the month.
Here’s a rundown of how the two compare:
|Payment due||Before service starts||At the end of the service term|
|Extra service charges||No||Yes|
|Data or credit expiration||From seven days to one year, with 30-day periods being most common||At the end of each month|
|Bring your own phone||Yes||Yes, but many contracts integrate a new phone into the plan|
|Bonus features||No||Yes, with frequent promotional offers|
Are prepaid phone plans worth it?
Whether going prepaid or contract is best for you depends on your budget, lifestyle and communication needs. If you only need your phone to text and make a few calls and don’t want any bells and whistles, prepaid could be worth it. But if you use your phone to run a side hustle like Uber or DoorDash, a contract plan may be your best bet.
Prepaid plans can be money-savers that allow you more freedom to move around and choose your terms. But they can be inconvenient if you’re traveling abroad, or if you use your phone for business purposes. Weigh the advantages, disadvantages and plan options among providers before making a decision.
Frequently asked questions
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