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Best cell phone plans in 2022: The best options for your monthly phone service

It’s always a good idea to make sure you’ve subscribed to one of the best cell phone plans. But with new phones now available — Samsung’s Galaxy S22 is on sale, and the cheaper iPhone SE 3 could arrive this month — you have the opportunity to make sure your new device is tied to a great plan. After all, many of the best phone carriers offer deals on phones that require you to commit to their wireless service. We can give you the confidence to know you’re getting a good plan from whomever you choose.

Best cell phone plans: quick links

Best cheap cell phone plan: Mint Mobile
Best option for coverage: Verizon
Best unlimited plan on a budget: Visible
Best family plan: T-Mobile

Even if you’re not in the market for a new phone, it’s good to see what cell phone plans are out there. Carriers shuffle up their options so frequently that the plan you currently have may no longer be the best option available.

Of course, there’s more to picking the best cell phone plan than just selecting the cheapest option. 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.  It also helps to get a plan from a top phone carrier so that your service comes with some solid perks.

To make the decision easier, we’ve gone through the plans of both major wireless carriers and smaller MVNOs to create a list of the best cell phone plan for all sorts of different needs. You’ll find our top picks and a little bit of helpful advice on how to choose the plan for you.

Cheap cell phone plans

Simply want a cell phone plan on a budget? There are plenty of carriers that can offer you a cheaper plan if you don’t mind sacrificing your data cap somewhat.

If you’re the kind of person who occasionally uses social media and the essential apps like Google Maps, WhatsApp or general browsing of the internet, you could get away with a plan offering anywhere from  1GB to 4GB of data each month. Depending on the wireless provider you use, you can get your costs down somewhere between $10 and $15. In fact, three of the four plans below hit that price range, and the fourth gets less expensive the longer you stick with it.

Unlimited cell phone plans

On the opposite end of the spectrum to the best cheap phone plans above, unlimited cell phone plans are often going to be among the most expensive on the market. But if you’re glued to your phone to stream Netflix on the go, scroll through Facebook and power through lots of data each month, the additional cost of an unlimited plan could well be worth it.

Realistically, you should expect to pay at least $30 here, though the bigger carriers charge between $60 and $90 a month for unlimited data. Those more expensive plans include more perks, such as free streaming service subscription, increased data for hotspots, and more. The best unlimited data plans often include 5G coverage, too.

Family cell phone plans

When shopping for the best family cell phone plan, cheaper isn’t always better. More expensive options tend to have larger data caps (or unlimited data), better coverage and more perks. 

The best value does tend to be around the four-line mark but there are also plenty of two-line plans if that suits you better. Realistically, for four lines of data, you should expect to pay in excess of $100 and anywhere up to $200 depending on the plan and carrier. 

Prepaid cell phone plans

For a lot of people, the best prepaid phone plans are going to be the ideal way to go. They are often some of the most affordable plans around, offering flexible contracts that usually have no contracts or credit checks.

If you don’t want to get tied to a contract, that flexibility to cancel anytime will be a huge bonus. While these plans tend to focus on more affordable, low data contracts, you can also get unlimited data plans or slightly more expensive options with more benefits.

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. These promotions can vary over time, so we’d suggest keeping an eye on any new carrier deals when you’re mulling a switch, as you could find extra ways to save money.

Wireless carriers have spent the past several years 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 with unlimited plans can also access T-Mobile’s 5G towers with a compatible smartphone. AT&T had required you to sign up for its most expensive unlimited data plan options for 5G, but now any unlimited plan qualifies for coverage. Verizon includes full 5G coverage in three of its four unlimited plans currently, but the cheapest plan, Start Unlimited lacks 5G Ultra Wideband coverage. Both AT&T and Verizon have extended 5G coverage to prepaid customers with unlimited data plans.

  • What is 5G? The definitive guide to what wireless carriers are doing

What kind of cell phone plan do I need?

eSIM

(Image credit: AndreyPopov)

As you would expect, there is no simple answer to this and the question is more about what is the best plan for you. This will obviously depend on a wide variety of factors.

For those on a budget and looking for some flexibility, a prepaid cell phone plan will be an excellent way to go. These are often the cheapest options and the lack of contracts is going to be a massive bonus, especially if you like to change up carriers frequently.

If you frequently stream Netflix on the go, like to play games on your phone or just generally drain your data at impressive speeds, an unlimited plan is an excellent way to go — especially as 5G becomes more common.

The best cell phone plan carriers
Best cheap carrier Best for coverage Best for unlimited Best family plans Best prepaid carrier
Carrier Mint Mobile Verizon Visible T-Mobile Mint Mobile
Best plan 4GB – $15 Unlimited Do More – $80 unlimited plan – $40 T-Mobile Magenta – $140 10GB – $20

Family cell phone plans are an excellent way to save money, especially as many carriers offer discounts as you add more lines to your plan. It will be no surprise that this is the way to go for the average family.

If you are simply after the lowest price possible, carriers including Mint Mobile and Tello can offer you really low costs if you don’t mind sacrificing some data. 

Realistically, cell phone plans tend to fall into one of these categories: cheap, prepaid, family, unlimited, kids or seniors. If you work out which one you fit into best you can narrow your search drastically.

MVNOs and main carriers: what’s the difference?

MVNOs are a slightly strange concept but they do offer an excellent way to get a cell phone plan on a budget. So what are they and how do they differ from the main carriers.

Firstly, it’s important to note the main carriers. These are: AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, which absorbed Sprint in 2020. You can also include US Cellular in that group, though its coverage remains regional compared to the Big Three carriers. These brands use their own technology and run their own regional cellular networks.

MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators) on the other hand are brands that don’t own and operate their own technology and instead ‘piggyback’ off of the services of one of the above brands. This allows them to be far cheaper than the main carriers but does mean they are the first to be restricted during peak usage periods and don’t get access to as many additional benefits.

MVNOs used to have limited 5G coverage, though that seems to be changing, as carriers build out their coverage. We explain more about this in our MVNO guide, but the main players are:

  • Mint Mobile: runs on T-Mobile
  • Metro by T-Mobile: runs on T-Mobile
  • Cricket Wireless: runs on AT&T
  • Visible: runs on Verizon
  • Boost Mobile: runs on T-Mobile and is transitioning to AT&T

Cell phone plans comparison