Best cheap data plans 2023

Galaxy S20+ 5G network with SIM cards
(Image credit: Samuel Contreras / Android Central)

Now matter your budget, nowadays there's no shortage of cheap data plans out there if you know where to look. Not only that, but carriers have simplified the switching process to the point where you can go from one carrier to the next in a matter of minutes. Suffice to say, it's a great time to be a wireless consumer.

Whether you want to work with a small MVNO or large carrier, you'll find a comprehensive list of the best cheap data plans below. But first, we'll give you a few tips on choosing the right plan for your needs. 

What do you really need in a phone plan?

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Before choosing a carrier and/or a wireless plan, spend some time thinking about your needs. The vast majority of plans now come with unlimited talk and texting, so the real question is data. Fortunately, most phones will tell you how much data you typically use in the settings, or you could have a look at your past phone bill. If you're using quite a lot, think about whether or not you can reduce that usage by connecting to Wi-Fi. Data used on Wi-Fi does not count towards your phone plan.

If you're using more than 30GB of data in a month, an unlimited plan may be in order, but there are still ways to save. If you're over the age of 55, a 55+ plan could save you money without even needing to change carriers. Still, some carriers have made unlimited data possible for everyone, with discounts for buying multiple months or joining their community platform.

The second major thing to think about is your phone. If you've already got an unlocked phone, you're a step ahead and you can start looking at plans. If you're stuck with a carrier-locked phone or are just ready for a new one, you can get nearly any phone unlocked so it can be activated on any carrier. There are a ton of cheap Android phones to choose from that will give you the freedom to feel out various plans before settling on one. You can also bring the latest and greatest of the best Android phones if you want as well.

If you've finished paying off your phone at your old carrier, you can have it unlocked to work on another carrier. Just keep in mind that some carrier-branded phones will work best on the network they were designed for, so you'll want to use a carrier that uses the same network.

All types of phone plans

In the end, the best phone plan is the one that works the best for you, and that's not always the cheapest option. If you get something too small, you may find that you've run out of data when you need it. Try to pick something that matches your usage rather than trying to match your usage to the plan.

The best cheap cell phone plan overall

Mint Mobile logo on a Zenfone 8

(Image credit: Samuel Contreras / Android Central)

Many Americans use significantly less data than they think. If this is the case for you, why not consider reducing your monthly bill and getting only what you need from your cell phone plan?

Mint Mobile's 4GB plan is the best cheap cell phone plan overall, thanks to enough data for most light users, as well as unlimited talk and text. Mint Mobile starts customers out with a three-month plan with a low introductory rate. You can keep this rate if they renew for 12 months, though they must pay the total amount upfront. After that, you can go with a shorter renewal, though your price will be a bit higher per month.

Mint Mobile uses T-Mobile's network, including 5G allowing for great coverage and speed when using a compatible 5G phone. You can buy a phone from Mint Mobile, but if your phone is already paid off and unlocked, there's a good chance you can bring it with you. You can check to be sure before you complete your purchase.

Mint Mobile also allows you to use your data as a hotspot and doesn't restrict video streaming quality on this plan. If you need more data, you can add it one or three gigabytes at a time, or simply upgrade to a larger plan by paying the price difference.

Other great cheap cell phone plans

Mint Mobile's multi-month approach isn't for everyone, and the T-Mobile network might not be the perfect fit either. If you need something a little different, Cricket is an AT&T prepaid carrier and offers a solid set of plans with some great family discounts. You may end up paying a bit more in the long run, but getting on the right network is more important for getting the most out of your phone. Something like Google Fi isn't the best value, but comes with some helpful international features for travelers.

Best unlimited cheap cell phone plans

Visible app on a Galaxy S20+

(Image credit: Samuel Contreras / Android Central)

People rely on their phones more than ever, and many people just want a ton of data without needing to think about how much they've used. Luckily, there are a handful of great unlimited options available. Most of these plans can reduce your speeds if you use too much data, though you won't be completely cut off, and hitting these upper limits is pretty difficult.

Visible operates on Verizon's LTE and 5G network, with no contracts or hidden fees. Visible has two totally unlimited plans, including unlimited hotspot data at 5Mbps. You will need an approved phone with VoLTE support on the Verizon network to get signed up, but this includes some of the most popular phones; including the Pixel 6 series, and most newer iPhones.

The cheaper Visible plan is $30 per month and comes with 5G access and basic data service. While it can connect to Ultra Wideband towers, its speeds will be limited. For most people, the base Visible plan will be more than fast enough. If you need a bit more speed, you can upgrade to Visible Plus at $45 per month. The more expensive plan also comes with a few extra international perks.

Other great cheap unlimited cell phone plans

Visible is far from the only unlimited option around, with nearly every carrier offering an unlimited plan, especially when they've just bought one of the best Android phones. Mint Mobile's unlimited plan can be a bit more expensive per month even with a 12-month renewal, though it's a lot more flexible with the T-Mobile network working with just about any unlocked phone. You can also find a plan with some nice extras, such as Metro by T-Mobile's cloud storage.

Best cheap prepaid phone plans

Ultra Mobile SIM card

(Image credit: Samuel Contreras / Android Central)

Sometimes less is more, and that can be the case with data. Many people don't even use 4GB of data per month. You can also make good use of Wi-Fi to reduce your usage if you're trying to save even more money on your phone bill.

Tello allows you to customize your phone plan with your choice of data, starting at just 500MB and up to 25GB. You can also choose your talk minutes starting at just 100 minutes. Texts are unlimited when you add any minutes to your plan. All of this works on T-Mobile's network with LTE and 5G support.

Tello offers a few premade plans starting with the Economy plan with 1GB of high-speed 4G LTE and 5G data, as well as unlimited minutes and texts for $10 per month. You'll also get free tethering and calls to the U.S., Canada, Mexico, China, and Romania. If you prefer to build your own plan and pick how many minutes or data you'll need, you can do so at a reasonable price.

Other great cheap prepaid cell phone plans

Tello is very cheap, but its custom nature isn't a perfect fit for everyone. There are a ton of other options starting with T-Mobile's growing Connect prepaid plan. If T-Mobile's network isn't the right fit, you can sign up with another carrier like US Mobile for Verizon, or AT&T Prepaid. Just keep in mind that it might be a little more challenging to add data if you need it.

Cheapest cell phone plans for seniors

Visible speed test on LTE

(Image credit: Samuel Contreras / Android Central)

Many carriers will offer a discount to seniors 55+ on their cell phone plans, which is a great way to take advantage of amazing service at a lower price. However, if you're someone who simply doesn't need that much data or extravagant perks, then these plans will guarantee that you only get what you need, and you won't need to pay a penny more.

T-Mobile has excellent core plans, and fortunately, each one comes discounted if you're 55+. The least expensive one is T-Mobile Essentials, which will cost $40 per month for one line (instead of $60) or $55 per month for two lines (as opposed to $90). Unfortunately, this plan is only available for one or two lines, though if you choose the larger Magenta 55+ or Magenta Max 55+ plans, you can bring up to four lines.

This plan includes unlimited talk and text, 50GB of premium data, unlimited mobile hotspot at 3G speeds, international texting, and unlimited talk, text, and 2G data when in Mexico and Canada. So if you're a senior that spends a lot of time on the go, this is a plan that can keep up with you with plenty of retail locations if you need help.

Other great cheap cell phone plans for seniors

All major postpaid carriers have some 55+ discounts, but most of them still end up quite a bit more expensive than prepaid options. Visible is an excellent choice for anyone, including seniors, thanks to its simple plan and great coverage. Something like Consumer Cellular is known for its customer service and has valuable discounts for seniors.

Cheapest data-only plan

US Mobile SIM cards

(Image credit: Android Central)

If you don't spend much time talking or texting, or find that you're perfectly satisfied using services such as WhatsApp or Telegram to call your friends, then a data-only plan might be something to consider.

US Mobile has one of the most customizable plans out there, making it a perfect option for a data-only plan. Because you're able to build your own plan that comes with free mobile hotspot and "Ludicrous" speeds, you can get up to 15GB of data only for $26 per month. If you need only 2GB, that'll cost you $10 per month.

US Mobile lets you use either the Verizon network or T-Mobile, so you can pick whichever makes the most sense for you. While you can get an unlimited plan, you will only be able to add a smaller hotspot plan to it, so if you plan to use most of your data in a hotspot, building your own plan gets you more.

If you travel abroad, US Mobile lets you purchase international data packs at low rates as long as you have an eSIM compatible device.

Other great cheap data-only cell phone plans

Quite a few carriers allow you to skip talk and text. Data-only options can range from a shared SIM card for your primary phone and a backup like Google Fi offers, or a true data-only plan as Cricket offers. The most important thing is to make sure you have good coverage where you live to make sure you can actually use the data you're paying for.

Cheapest International Plans

Google Fi SIM card with an LG phone

(Image credit: Samuel Contreras / Android Central)

If you often travel internationally or you have family abroad, then you'll want a carrier with a solid international calling plan, cheap data abroad, and easy online account management.

Google Fi hits the mark for international travel, with the same data rate when you're abroad as when you're at home. Google Fi uses partnerships with many different carriers to make sure you stay connected no matter where you go. If you start with the Flexible plan, data costs a flat $10 per gigabyte. If you go with the biggest unlimited plan, you can use your 50GB of high-speed data at home or abroad. Hotspot data is also included and shared with your phone data.

In the U.S., Google Fi primarily uses the T-Mobile network, including 5G support, though it can also use UScellular if it provides a better signal. To get this network switching, you'll need an approved phone; including the Google Pixel line, as well as the Galaxy S22 series. For other phones, you'll be stuck with the T-Mobile network, but you still get all the international perks.

Google Fi also includes Google's VPN service, so you can be sure your data is safe even when using the web from around the world.

Other great cheap cell phone plans for travelers

Google Fi is perfect for those that travel abroad often or spend a lot of time abroad, but for those that just need international calling or don't need to travel very often, there's a lot of money to be saved. Boost Mobile is known as one of the best international prepaid options. With a plan add-on, you can call and travel abroad for cheap, especially in Mexico. You can also pick from a plan with unlimited calling like Simple Mobile.

Cheapest Family Plans

OnePlus Nord N20 5G

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

You can often save money on your monthly phone plan by entering into family plans with various carriers. With prepaid carriers, you'll typically pay full price for the first line, but receive a discount on subsequent lines. Postpaid carriers like T-Mobile have a lower cost per line the more you bring.

T-Mobile's Magenta plan is one of the best family plans available. It's not as cheap as the Essentials plan, but it's a better fit for families thanks to a bunch of extra perks such as an included Netflix subscription, 5GB of high-speed hotspot data, and 2G of data abroad. T-Mobile also includes full 5G support if you have a compatible phone.

Each line gets 100GB of premium data meaning your usage won't be slowed down unless you use a ton of data each month. Unfortunately, streaming is limited to SD quality, though this will look fine enough for most people on a cell phone screen.

If you get at least three lines, the price drops significantly because of T-Mobile's generous "third line for free" offer. If you need four lines, you'll end up paying only $35 per line with taxes and fees included.

Honorable mentions

The best family plan comes down to your family's unique needs. For example, a family that plays sports may find unlimited data and hotspot data very valuable for long trips to and from games. It's also essential to pick a carrier that has excellent coverage where your family will be. Visible doesn't have specific family plans, but with Party Pay, it's cheap enough for a family, and separate members can even pay their own lines.

When Samuel is not writing about networking or 5G at Android Central, he spends most of his time researching computer components and obsessing over what CPU goes into the ultimate Windows 98 computer. It's the Pentium 3.

With contributions from