The Best U.S. Prepaid Voice and Text Deals

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(Originally published in August 2009), last updated 26-Nov-2010 with removal of Virgin Mobile Texter’s Delight Plan, which is no longer offered.
Prepaid Operator Logos

Prepaid mobile plans are finally getting the popularity they deserve in the U.S.  This is happening at both the high and  low ends of the market.

It’s easy to see why. Post paid plans start at $40 after taxes and that’s  for a limited bucket of minutes, typically about 300. SMS is not included and costs a whopping 20 cents per message as an inducement to sign up for a text bundle at $5 to $15/month. More expensive postpaid plans offer more minutes and for heavy users there are unlimited voice and text plans at $100 a month and up,  taxes and “fees” bring the total to $110 or more.

Just about  everyone on a post paid mobile plan is paying more than they need to.  A properly chosen prepaid plan is almost always less expensive.  And prepaid means there are no contracts.  Sure you get a $100-$300 discount on a phone by signing a two year contract. But you typically end up paying that back several times over during the life of the contract in higher monthly fees compared to prepaid.  And you’re locked to that operator even if their service goes to hell or they don’t support the latest handset that you’re lusting for.  With prepaid not only are there no contracts but you should never have to pay more than about $50/month no matter how much you text and talk. The secret is finding the right prepaid plan for your usage patterns. I’ve looked at all the operator’s prepaid offerings and found what I consider to be the best deals for every type of user.

Heavy users,  talking over 1000 minutes and/or sending more than 1000 texts per month should be on one of  the unlimited voice and SMS prepaid plans.  The best choices are  Verizon MVNO PagePlus‘ $44.95/month Unlimited Talk n Text plan, the $45/month Straight Talk_Unlimited, from American Movil/Tracfone, another Verizon reseller, T-Mobile‘s $50/month unlimited voice, text and picture messaging plan or Sprint‘s $50/month unlimited voice, text and data Boost Mobile Unlimited plan which uses either Sprint’s CDMA or iDEN network depending on which type of handset is assigned to the plan.

For moderate users (less than 1200 minutes and 1200 texts per month) PagePlus‘ $29.95/month1200 Minutes + 1200 Text/MMS Messages + 50 MB Data  Talk n’ Text 1200, Straight Talk‘s $30/month 1000 minute plus 1000 text All You Need Plan or Virgin Mobile’s $40/month, 1200 minute, unlimited text and data  Beyond Talk Plan look like the best deals.

Heavy texters who don’t talk much can get unlimited SMS for $15/month from T-Mobile or about  $20 a month from Verizon, AT&T, Page Plus.   Voice charges are  4 -10 cents/month on Page Plus, 10 cents/minute on Virgin and T-Mobile and a steep  25 cents/minute  on AT&T and  Verizon. PagePlus also offer a package providing 2,000 Text Messages for $10.95 per month. Another good choice is Virgin Mobile’s $25/month Beyond Talk package that incudes unlimited text and data and 300 minutes of talk time.

Light users (under 375 minutes and texts combined per month) can save even more. Basic service on prepaid is available for as little as $2.50 a month on PagePlus or $3.33/ month on Boost or T-Mobile. Prepaid rates range from 4 to 10  per minute and  text on these plans.

These aren’t regional operators or plans either.  Prepaid users on all of these plans have full access to the Sprint, T-Mobile or Verizon nationwide networks.

There are unfortunately a couple of downsides to prepaid, handset selection and data plans.  Handsets are mainly an issue with CDMA operators who, except for Page Plus,  limit their prepaid users to a few rather basic models.  Page Plus will activate any Verizon handset postpaid handset, including all smartphones except for BlackBerrys. Even non-Verizon CDMA phones can be used on Page Plus providing the user knows how to do the requisite and non-trivial manual programing.   Thanks to SIM cards on GSM networks any of the operators own phones and any unlocked phone supporting U.S. GSM frequencies will work with GSM networks like AT&T and T-Mobile.

Data is a bigger issue.  If you are reading this blog you are probably a heavy user of the browser and web enabled applications on your phones.  For prepaid users the available data options are all pretty limited.  They are also complex and confusing and deserve a post of their own.

Here are some tables summarizing what I consider the best current prepaid deals in the U.S.

Best Unlimited Prepaid Voice and Text Deals
Operator Plan or Package Network Technology Monthly Cost Voice min. SMS Data
Boost Mobile Unlimited Nextel iDEN 50.00 unlimited unlimited unlimited
T-Mobile Unlimited T-Mobile GSM 50.00 unlimited unlimited walled garden
Straight Talk Unlimited Verizon CDMA 45.00 unlimited unlimited unlimited
Page Plus Unlimited Talk n Text Verizon CDMA 44.95 unlimited unlimited 20 MB
Best Prepaid 1000-1200 Minute and Texts Deals
Operator Plan or Package Network Technology Monthly Cost Voice min. SMS Data
Virgin Mobile Beyond Talk Sprint CDMA 40.00 1200 unlimited unlimited
Straight Talk All You Need Verizon CDMA 30.00 1000 1000 30 MB
Page Plus Talk n’ Text 1200 Verizon CDMA 29.95 1200 1200 50 MB
Best Unlimited Prepaid Text Deals
Operator Plan or Package Network Technology Monthly Cost Voice min. SMS Data
Virgin Mobile Beyond Talk Sprint CDMA 25.00 300 unlimited unlimited
T-Mobile Unlimited Messaging T-Mobile GSM 20.00 0.10 unlimited walled garden
Verizon Unlimited Messaging Verizon CDMA 20.00 0.25 unlimited 0.99/day
AT&T Unlimited Messaging AT&T GSM 19.99 0.25 unlimited 20.00/100MB
Best Pay as You Go Deals
Operator Plan or Package Network Technology Monthly Cost Voice min. SMS Data
Boost Mobile Pay As You Go Sprint CDMA or iDen 3.33 0.10 0.10 0.35/day
T-Mobile Pay As You Go T-Mobile GSM 3.33* 0.10-0.33 0.10/0.05 walled garden
Page Plus Standard Rate Plan Verizon CDMA 2.50 0.04-0.10 0.8 1.20/MB

* After purchasing $100 in T-Mobile refills users are enrolled in the “Gold Rewards” plan where all refills last one year, making the monthly cost as low as $0.83 when purchasing one $10 refill per year.

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31 thoughts on “The Best U.S. Prepaid Voice and Text Deals

  1. This Boost deal really keeps getting better and better and only for $50! I’m on the same network with Sprint and paying more than $60 with fees and taxes for the same plan – unlimited service should have a stable price across one network. If I wasn’t tied to Sprint with a contract I would totally switch over to Boost, but then again I really don’t want to loose my great network speed and calling coverage. A friend told me about this website where Sprint customers are getting together and emailing Sprint’s CEO and letting him know that all customers deserve savings. Check it out

    • Sprint and Boost CDMA actually use the same network with the same speed.

      The main difference is that in areas with no Sprint native coverage, Sprint customers can roam at no added cost on Verizon and regional operators like US Cellular while Boost customers have no service and can’t text or make calls at all other than 911. Compare the Boost CDMA coverage map with the Sprint one and the difference is obvious.

      Sprint customers also have a wider selection of phones and subsidized phone pricing.

      I agree that Boost is a better deal for most people, but Sprint and Boost service isn’t identical and it isn’t reasonable to expect the pricing to be identical.

  2. I mean what else could you want besdies a .10 a minute calls and .03 texting – Theres nothing out there that can really beat Net10’s deal. The best thing about Net10 is the freedom to switch phones and minutes at will based on use without any penalties and secret charges that the cellphone company well sent you. I’m saving more than over 50 dollars a month with Net10. It totally helps me save and offers great coverage.

  3. I really like Net10 actually. Their coverage is great and their plans are affordable and very clear calling and texts rates (10c a minute for all local, long distance and roaming calls and 5c texts). The other thing is if you buy a new Net10 phone you get the first 300 minutes and 30 days free, so try it out for the price of a cheap phone (cheapest is $19.99). Hope this helps. I like the coverage too. I haven’t had any issues with service.

  4. Hi,

    I use very little of text and voice per month. Less than 100 minutes and 20 txt per month. Which is the best deal? I don’t care much about phone function. I just need it in case of emergency.

  5. I just got the new samsung phone with slider keyboard from straight talk and I LOVE IT!!! I was impressed with the selection of phones from their website, heck they even have a touch screen phone on there. I still can’t believe I only pay 45 bucks for unlimited talk/text/web browsing…perfect for a starving college student. I was getting ripped off with AT&T and the iphone package, decided to down-grade but I wouldnt call it that.

  6. I’m very happy with Straight Talk and am impressed with their coverage on Verizon.

    To me, the $30 – 1,000 minutes, 1,000 texts deal is unbeatable. I travel a lot and have never had a problem.

    When I had Metro POS, it worked fine in town but as soon as I got outside the city, fuhgeddaboutit!

    You get what you pay for, or in the case of Straight Talk, MORE than you pay for!

  7. Tmobile’s new “Even More+” plans might be a good alternative for some. Eg, for $30/mo., or $40/mo. with text, you get 500 minutes plus free nights, weekends and calls to Tmobile monthly customers. This is a post-paid plan, but no annual contract. The taxes are likely higher than prepaid.

  8. att gophone just started $60 unlimited talk and text which upgrades their previous offering of just voice. im using this plan with an iphone 3gs and my numerous gsm phones.

    now all i need is gophone to give us more than the measly 100MB of data for $20. hey att how about at least 1GB for that $20? thanks!

  9. Platinumtel at $60 unlimited talk, text and 3G data on the right phone should get a mention also.

  10. Thanks for the feedback, Dennis. Your chart, summarizing the unlimited Texter’s delight plan, showed 20 cents for talk (now updated). That plan, and the $14.99 texter’s delight plan, drop the regular talk price/minute to 10 cents. These are plans, not packs, using their terms. The Virgin Mobile website is difficult to interpret, but their plans are just right for some people, like my daughter. For example:

    You can also buy minute packs and message packs under the regular ‘Pay as you go’ plan. Talk: $50 for 1000 minutes (5 cents each); $30 for 400; $20 for 200. Minutes roll forward as long as you buy another pack within 30 days (you can set up ‘automatic replenish’ for minute packs so that you don’t forget and wipe out your balance). Messages: $5 for 200; $10 for 1000; $20 unlimited, per month.
    Message packs are charged and reset every 30 days, automatically, unless you change the quantity before your auto-purchase.
    The trick under Pay as you go plan is to predict your usage and purchase the right packs.
    – For message packs, you look at historical usage (if you can), and compare that to the breakeven point between the various packs. If you use 400/month, you are at the b/e point between the $5 (x2) and the $10 pack.
    – For minute packs, you need to use algebra (or trial and error math): what combination of packs should you use over a year to minimize your cost? The answer is that you ignore the $30 pack. Combinations of $20 and $50 packs over time will always yield a lower cost per minute. Strategy: When you get a low balance, buy $50 pack. Then buy $20 packs until you deplete the large balance. Set up auto-replenish to protect your rollover balance.

    Even thought it is complicated, this plan works best of any I have found for my daughter’s usage. She always uses more than 300 minutes and 200-500 texts/month, but no data. It takes time to monitor her message use a few times each month and pick either $5 (when her message balance is low) or $10 packs (lasts the whole 30 days for her). And when talk minutes get low near the end of a 30-day period, I buy the $50 pack for one month, then switch the settings back to $20. They are counting on kids not doing this kind of maintenance.
    Also, Virgin charges sales tax when you use a credit card to add money to the website. To avoid that, some people purchase card codes online, or look for sales at stores like Target (E.G, $44 for a $50 card).

  11. Thanks Rex, I’m guessing V-Mobile means Virgin Mobile. In which case I agree that you really need to visit their site to sort out their confusing array of about a dozen different plans and options. Although the Virgin Mobile site is pretty confusing too.

    20 cents/minute is what they charge for traditional Pay-As-Go usage where unused minutes roll over every month. To get 10 cents/minute you have to buy a $15 “Texter’s Delight” pack of 1000 minutes. This is a reasonably good deal for people who use close at least 200 texts/month.

    In comparison, Boost minutes are always 10 cents with no monthly charges, as are T-Mobile’s with the higher value refill cards. Page Plus minutes are as low as 6 cents.

  12. V-Mobile Text Delight plan charges 10 cents/min for talk, not 20 cents. They have a $14.99/mo text plan that provides 1000 texts/month. See their website for accurate data limits.

  13. Why is Virgin offering this plan only to people who are unemployed? Isn’t it the governments job to look out for these people? It is my opinion that Virgin might be becoming way to concerned about the welfare of the unemployed who arent their customers and is losing sight of their customers who have been with them for a while already. I want to know why Virgin isn’t offering a student discount. Or a good grades discount like insurance companies do. I mean, the younger crowd was the original target for Virgin, why do I feel like were being left behind now in order to take care of people who aren’t contributors to your company. Im in college, im broke, and i need a phone. Help ME out VIRGIN!!!

  14. If you want to use your existing quad band unlocked GSM phone and/or need data AT&T or T-Mobile Flex Pay are your only real options.

    If you don’t care about data and/or are willing to use a cheap handset Net 10 or T-Mobile are probably best bets. Ten cents a minute and you can pick up a basic phone for about $20 at most big box retailers.

    The best all around resource I’ve seen for comparing US prepaid options is

  15. Coming to the US in November and want to purchase either a pre paid sim card or phone so I can us it in the US Which comapny has the best deals with NO contract please.Will be arriving in San Deigo

    thank you
    From Down Under

  16. att now has 60 bux a month but just for voice. however you have the option of using any unlocked phone. i actually use the iphone 3gs. with 100mb of data a month i also have free texting using google voice or any of the free text apps on the iphone.

  17. The only nationwide operators in the US with their own networks are AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile. The others mentioned in the article are virtual.
    Boost and Virgin are both owned by Sprint and use the Sprint networks.
    The others
    PagePlus is a privately held company using the Verizon network.
    StraightTalk is owned by América Móvil one of the largest operators in the world and also uses the Verizon network.

  18. Marsha, The only low income related special I’m aware of from Virgin is their “Pinkslip Protection” offer.

    Customer’s who sign up by Sept. 30, 2009 and have a monthly plan ($29.95 plus tax and up) can get three month’s free service if they lose their job provided they have been paid up customers for two months. Proof that they are collecting unemployment benefits is required Details:

    Tracfone has a program called Safelink that provides low income customers in Alabama, Connecticut, DC, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin with a free phone, free service and about 60 free minutes a month. See:

    Also look at PagePlus which has consistently the lowest prices of any US operator. Costs range from $2.50.month for 20 minutes to unlimited voice and texts for 39.95/month. These prices are available to anyone regardless of anyone.

  19. Prepaid? I’m interested!

    I have a question about Virgin Mobile. Are they offering a low-cost pan for unemployed and other people who need a basic phone w/o the big bills? I keep hearing that they make a $10 a month plan available for those who can’t afford more but I don’t see it on their site.

    Do they have it? If so why don’t they announce it?

  20. I have the Straighttalk prepaid Motorola Razr V3a unlimited plan for $45. I absolutely love it! It is the best purchase I have ever made because I save so much money. The best part about Straighttalk is that I get great service since it’s under the Verizon wireless nationwide network. I just heard too that Starighttalk just got awarded as number 1 for coverage by Consumer Reports and J.D.Powers. That’s why I’m sticking to Straighttalk!!

  21. pre-paid carriers such as cricket, metro pcs, and page plus either have their own phones or allow a multitude of different phones FROM OTHER CARRIERS on their networks, including smartphones. changing the phone isn’t necessarily that difficult. i am no longer impressed nor believe in this “GSM freedom” of phones.

  22. Thanks for the comment Christopher. I was vaguely aware of the i wireless deal but dismissed it as something limited to users in the i wireless coverage area.

    It looks like you have to purchase a phone (cheapest is a $20 Samsung) and agree to a credit check! to qualify. Interestingly I was able to add a HTC Dash, BlackBerry or wireless USB modem to the $50 dollar unlimited plan in the cart. I’m too chicken (and broke) to actually place the order to see if it would work. Maybe one of our readers will give it a try.

  23. Ricky, I have to agree with you. Prepaid data options are lousy. I’m working on a followup piece detailing just how bad they are and highlighting the best of the (bad) lot.

  24. The only problem I have with prepaid setups is the phones – most of these MVNOs are CDMA-based (or iDEN, for Boost), which means that I have to use their phones, and cannot use whatever phone I wish. This is especially an issue when looking at the unlimited messaging/data plans, as the phone that go with are usually so lame you wouldn’t want to use data on them, anyways.

  25. excellent summation of the current status and availability of non-contract mobile service.

  26. Don’t forget the new i.wireless test-plan. They’re a T-Mobile MVNO that has a Boost Mobile-style plan which still includes unlimited (3G) data for $49/month.

    i.wireless has said anyone in T-Mobile coverage can sign up, even though they are supposed to be a regional operator.

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