On the rare occasion when I look up from my phone, I see everyone else is on their phones. We’re all addicted.

Problem is, cell phone companies know we’re addicted. They’ve got us. Cell phone bills creep higher and higher because there’s no incentive for the major wireless carriers to slash prices.

That’s why, for many families, monthly cell phone bills are some of the priciest non-negotiable expenses. And many won’t switch to a discount provider due to fears of lousy reception and poor customer service.

But technology and competition are providing us with better and better options for low-priced, high-quality cell phone service. A whole bunch of upstart companies are promising dramatically lower rates without too many tradeoffs.

If I were you, first I’d figure out what kind of plan I really want — particularly how much data you use each month. Then I’d go through this article and compare prices for that specific kind of plan.

Here’s our review of the top discount wireless carriers — their prices, their plans and their coverage.

Twigby

Network: Sprint, with Verizon’s network as a backup for calls and texting.

Twigby isn’t as well-known as some of the other choices on this list, but it’s developing a good reputation. It has taken pains to make sure its customer service is prompt and helpful. Instead of a call center, it uses online chat.

“They get right back to you. Most of the time, there’s an instantaneous response,” says customer Zak Wilson, who lives near Portland, Oregon. “They’re very quick and knowledgeable.”

Wilson used to have Verizon, but it cost too much. He tried a different discount carrier but was frustrated by dropped calls. With Twigby, he says he’s found cheap, reliable cell phone service. He and his wife can finally afford to add a phone for their daughter.

Twigby is exclusively online. You’ll custom-build your own prepaid plan — without locking yourself into a contract.

All plans include unlimited texting. Twigby has no unlimited data plans and offers 4 GB of data at most. If you’re streaming a lot of video on the commuter train, you might want to pick a different carrier.

Note: The charts for every carrier’s plan show prices per month.

Talk

200 minutes 500 minutes 1,000 minutes Unlimited minutes
$9 $11 $13 $15

Data

Wi-Fi only (no data) 150 MB 500 MB 1 GB 2 GB 4 GB
$0 $3 $6 $10 $15 $25

Mint SIM

Network: T-Mobile

Mint SIM is newer than most of the others on this list. It’s all online, with no storefronts or physical locations. Also, it has a cute cartoon fox for a mascot.

Here’s Mint SIM’s deal: It offers deeply discounted rates — as long as you pay for several months in advance.

It doesn’t sell phones. You bring your own phone, and you buy a package of three, six or 12 months.

Let’s say for the next year, you’ll want 10 GB of data per month. That costs $25 a month — and you’ll pay the whole $300 for the year up front.

If you’re not sure you want to commit, you could try a three-month plan with a seven-day money-back guarantee. If you don’t like it, you can get a refund online.

All plans offer unlimited talk and text. There are no unlimited data plans. Right now, Mint SIM has an introductory offer cutting the price of its three-month plan when you sign up. But if you re-up for three months after that, you’ll pay the regular price.

12-Month Plan and introductory rate for Three-Month Plan

2 GB 5 GB 10 GB
$15 $20 $25

Three-Month Plan

2 GB 5 GB 10 GB
$23 $30 $38

Six-Month Plan

2 GB 5 GB 10 GB
$18 $24 $30

Virgin Mobile

Network: Sprint

Here’s the most important thing to know about Virgin Mobile: You’ll need an iPhone. You can bring your own iPhone, or buy a new or used one through Virgin.

Virgin’s main cell phone plan is “The Inner Circle,” which offers unlimited talk, text and data. It’s just a $1 a month for your first six months, then $50 a month after that. Two cheaper plans offer less data.

Bonus: Virgin Mobile customers get access to discounts from a revolving selection of retailers and brands like H&M, Hulu and Reebok.

Here’s something extra for parents: You can set up digital curfews on your kids’ cell phones. (No calls after 9 p.m., young lady!)

Data (All plans have unlimited talk and text)

5 GB 10 GB Unlimited
$35 $45 $50

Cricket Wireless

Network: AT&T

Owned by AT&T, Cricket Wireless has retail locations all over the country. It’s a prepaid carrier, meaning you pay for service in advance. You won’t pay overage fees if you exceed your data limit, but your data speed will be throttled.

Cricket’s download speeds are already slow. Although Cricket uses AT&T’s network, it’s a cheaper secondary carrier whose download speeds are capped at 8 Mbps. For comparison, AT&T’s wireless service usually hits at least 25 Mbps.

That’s why Cricket automatically streams video in standard definition unless you’re using a Wi-Fi connection.

If you don’t need high-speed data, you can save some money by using Cricket.

And if you’re looking for a family plan, it offers group discounts on its data plans of 5 GB or more. You get a $10 discount on a second phone line, and a $20 discount on each of your family’s third, fourth and fifth phone lines. So you could save $70 a month if your family has five cell phones.

If you’re bringing your own phone, check here to make sure it’s compatible.

Data (All plans offer unlimited talk and text.)

Talk & text only 2 GB 5 GB Unlimited (3 Mbps) Unlimited (8 Mbps)
$25 $30 $40 $55 $60

MetroPCS

Network: T-Mobile

MetroPCS might be the biggest and best-known company on this list, partly because it has thousands of retail locations across the country.

It offers four different plans, all with unlimited talk and text. It sells its plans and phones exclusively in-store, not online.

Its $50-a-month unlimited talk-text-and-data plan compares favorably with several others on this list.

One thing about MetroPCS: You’ll find no shortage of complaints about it. Whether it’s fair or not, on any online review or forum about MetroPCS, you’ll find several readers’ comments bitterly complaining about the company’s service — even when the original review was positive.

If you’re bringing your own phone, check here to make sure it’s compatible.

Data Price
2 GB $30
5 GB $40
Unlimited $50
Unlimited plus 10 GB Hotspot $60

Republic Wireless

Network: Sprint and T-Mobile

What makes Republic Wireless different is its emphasis on “hybrid calling.”

When you make a call or surf the web from a Republic Wireless phone, you automatically get routed over Wi-Fi first. If no Wi-Fi connection is available, it defaults to cellular service. The idea is that, this way, you consume less data and cellular service, resulting in lower bills.

One important note: iPhones don’t work with Republic Wireless. You can bring your own phone or buy a phone from Republic. Just not an iPhone. Republic is working on that, company spokeswoman Cherie Gary told The Penny Hoarder.

If you’re bringing your own phone, check here to make sure it’s compatible.

In 2017, Money magazine named Republic Wireless as its “Best Basic Plan.”

Republic’s “My Choice Plan” charges this much:

  • $15 for unlimited talk and text
  • $5 per 1 GB of data

So if you want a Republic phone plan with 1 GB of data, that’ll cost you $20 (plus taxes). A plan with 5 GB of data will run you $40. A plan with 10 GB of data is $65. And so on.

“The cost is really good. It’s a great option for kids because you can get a good phone and choose how much data you’re willing to pay for,” says customer David Hile, who lives near Columbus, Ohio. “Everything is online, and the customer service is good.”

Ting

Networks: T-Mobile and Sprint

Here’s what sets Ting apart: You only pay for what you use. Imagine that!

Yes, Ting only charges you for the talk, text and data you use. I know, I know, that sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Who’s ever heard of such a thing?

You pay at the end of your billing cycle instead of at the beginning. Also, Ting provides you with a useful digital dashboard so you can keep tabs on how much data and how many minutes you’re using during the month. You can set up alerts for Ting to text you if your usage is approaching a certain limit, like 500 minutes of phone calls or 5 GB of data.

The dashboard is also a handy way for parents to monitor their kids’ cell phone use.

Ting’s data prices are a bit higher than some of its competitors, so it might be best for light data users.

Uschi Carhart of Portland, Maine, a member of The Penny Hoarder’s Facebook Community Group, signed her family of three up for Ting.

“I never liked regular cell phone plans where you pay a set amount every month, no matter how much you use your phone,” she says. “The division of data, calls and texts makes a lot of sense to us, and our bill is usually about $50 for the three of us.”

If you’re bringing your own phone, check here to make sure it’s compatible.

Lines

1 2 3 4 5 6+
$6 $12 $18 $24 $30 $6/phone

Minutes

None 100 500 1,000 2,100 More?
$0 $3 $9 $18 $35 1.9 cents/minute

Texts

None 100 100 2,000 4,800 More?
$0 $3 $5 $8 $11 1/4 cent/text

Data

None 100 MB 500 MB 1 GB 2 GB More?
$0 $3 $10 $16 $20 $10/GB

The Bottom Line

Again, decide what kind of plan you really want, and then make your price comparisons.

Here’s the nitty-gritty on the Penny Hoarding cell phone options we’ve looked at here:

Carrier Network The Bottom Line
Boost Sprint Only three plans. Mobile hotspots.
Cricket AT&T Discounts on family plans. Slow download speeds.
MetroPCS T-Mobile Biggest, best-known discount carrier. Mixed reviews.
Mint SIM T-Mobile Cheap rates — as long as you pay in advance.
Republic Sprint & T-Mobile No iPhones. “Hybrid calling” uses Wi-Fi and cellular service.
Ting Sprint & T-Mobile You only pay for what you use.
Twigby Sprint & Verizon Cheap, reliable service. No unlimited data plans.
Virgin Sprint iPhones only. Discounts from retailers.

Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He’s currently paying waaaaaay too much for cell phone service.

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