Cellular plans are not a one-size-fits-all proposition. That's because users come with different needs. You want the best rates when you travel overseas? Or maybe you are a Netflix junkie who streams show after show to a phablet. Or you want the cheapest cell phone plan around. Different people, different plans. But we have you covered. Drill down into this roundup of nine of the best plans for the one that fits you.
Ultra-low cost. StraightTalk, from Walmart, is the frugal caller's choice. Katelyn Cresmer, who writes a minimalism blog called Taking it Back a Notch, tells why: “For just $45 dollars a month you get unlimited text, talk and data.” Cresmer, of course, acknowledged that only 2 GB of the data is at 4G/LTE speed. But she added, "If you use the Bring Your Own Phone program, which I do, you get 5GB, which I never go through.” (The average cellular customer uses 2.9GB of data per month, according to researchers NPD Group.) Note: this plan is pre-paid. No credit check required.
Best switch incentive. All the major carriers offer deals where they will pick up all or most of the “early termination fee” you are slapped with for leaving a postpaid cellular provider before the contracted period (two years, usually) is up. T-Mobile goes one better by not locking incoming customers into a contract. T-Mo will also buy your phone from you: “Just trade in your devices, and we’ll cover your remaining phone payments with a trade-in credit and Visa Prepaid Card,” it promises. The Visa Prepaid card, by the way, is as good as cash at any store that accepts Visa.
The Light User. Boost Mobile, another prepaid service, is the choice for light users - $30 a month for unlimited talk and text and 2GB of data (which grows as you make more on time payments; it can become 5 GB over time). Boost runs on Sprint - so before taking this plunge be sure Sprint coverage is good where you are.
The Ultra-light User. Republic Wireless patches together a blend of the Sprint network (for talk/text) and mainly uses WiFi for data services. A plan that includes unlimited talk/text and 0.5 GB of cellular data runs $14.50/month. For the user who wants a cell phone just because it has become a necessity, this is the cure.
Best Family Plan. Cricket is your service especially for a big family. Five lines, unlimited talk and text and 2.5GB high speed data per line for $100. Total. Want fewer lines? The first line is $40/month. Second line is $30. Third line is $20. Fourth line is $10. Fifth line is free. Cricket is prepaid, no credit check. It now runs on and is owned by AT&T.
The Power User. What you want is the Verizon Plan XXL, which offers unlimited talk and text plus 18GB of fast 4G data that can be shared among your devices, also among other members of a family plan. The Verizon network is strong, robust, and just about everywhere in the U.S. If price is no issue, go here. Also: an XL plan offers 12GB for $80/month. Data overage is $15 per GB. But with 18 GB - or even 12 GB - it is hard to see that happening.
The New iPhone Freak. Sprint has the deal, with its iPhone Forever plan. Trade in an iPhone 6 and for $1/month you get an iPhone 6S. And whenever Apple introduces a new iPhone, you are eligible to upgrade, right then. T-Mobile, by the way, has a similar plan - priced a bit higher ($5 per month with an eligible trade-in) - but it lets you upgrade three times per year to anything you please. You realize you really crave a new Samsung Galaxy? T-Mo is your ticket. But if what you want is the newest iPhone at the cheapest price, Sprint is where to shop.
International traveler. T-Mobile is what travel columnist Joe Brancatelli - who blogs at JoeSentMe.com - recommends for cellular users who never leave home without a passport. Calls to/from Canada and Mexico count as the same as the U.S. (included at no charge in most plans). There’s unlimited data and texting in 140 countries and, yeah, base speeds are pokey (T-Mo sells high speed if you insist), but for SMS, navigation and maps, email, and similar, the speed is fine. Calls from abroad? 20 cents per minute in much of the world and that is a sliver of what many carriers charge.
Data uncertainty. You have no idea how much data you will use from month to month? Google Project Fi is your dream. Unlimited talk/text is $20 a month. Data is $10 per GB - and you pay only for what you use. Other carriers lock you into fixed deals - a contract for, say 5GB a month. Not Google. Sign up for 5 GB, use 1 GB and you pay only for 1 GB. The service runs on networks provided by Sprint, T-Mo and WiFi.