Strapped for cash? Here are the best prepaid iPhone plans in the U.S.!

Strapped for cash? Here are the best prepaid iPhone plans in the U.S.!

iMore compares the best pre-paid iPhone plans available on AT&T, T-Mobile, H2O, Cricket, Straight Talk, and more!

Taking your iPhone to a prepaid plan can save you quite a bit of cash and if you live in the United States, there are quite a few options these days. Whether you're a talker, texter, or web surfer, there's something to be had for everyone when it comes to moving to a prepaid plan. Some may require tweaking a few settings to get things like picture messaging fully up and running, but if you need to save some cash or just don't fancy signing contracts, prepaid is a great option.

Let's take a closer look at some options across all the major iPhone compatible prepaid carriers in the United States.

Check for coverage

The most important aspect of choosing a carrier, prepaid or not, is whether or not there's good coverage in your area. We'd suggest checking coverage maps for each respective carrier so you can eliminate ones that are sub-par or non-existent where you spend most of your time. That'll ultimately make the decision a lot easier.

  • T-Mobile Coverage Map - Link
  • Straight Talk Coverage Map - Link
  • H2O Coverage Map - Link
  • Virgin Mobile Coverage Map - Link
  • Cricket Coverage Map - Link
  • Net 10 Coverage Map - Link

Once you've decided which carriers actually have good coverage in your area and which ones you can immediately rule out, you can start looking at what plans are actually available to you.

Unlimited everything prepaid plans

If you're looking for a completely unlimited plan on prepaid, there are actually quite a few options out there. T-Mobile is the most expensive option for unlimited everything but is the only one that comes with WiFi hotspot functionality. If you plan on using your iPhone to tether other devices such as your iPad or computer where WiFi isn't available, T-Mobile is the only unlimited option.

Straight Talk is the cheapest option available and runs off AT&T's network, so if your area is known to have good coverage with AT&T, Straight Talk is the best option if you don't need tethering functionality. Straight Talk also offers an unlimited plus international plan that allows you to call and text to outside the United States. It'll cost you a little more but is probably worth it if you intend on calling out of the country. This obviously doesn't mean you can travel internationally, and only includes calls and texts outside the country made from within the United States.

Net 10 and Cricket Wireless also have international plans available that are about on par with Straight Talk. However, Cricket only offers the feature up for text, not voice.

For most people, choosing a carrier, even prepaid, should always depend on what coverage is like in your area. Coverage aside, T-Mobile is the best deal and the only option if you want tethering while Straight Talk offers the most value and makes the most sense for people who need international options.

Tiered prepaid plans

If you don't need unlimited data and/or talk and text, you can get off a little cheaper yet. If Net 10 is available in your area, you can get dirt cheap unlimited data for $25 a month. You'll also get unlimited text and 720 minutes. It's a pretty good deal and if you aren't a big talker, it's a nice option. Just be aware that your data will be slowed down after a meer 1.5GB according to Net 10's terms of service.

H2O doesn't have any unlimited data plans that we could find with their plans topping out at 2GB. We also couldn't find any information on whether or not they will cap speeds after using a certain amount. However, if you talk and text more than anything, H2O has some good options if you don't plan on using a lot of data.

For heavy data users who don't really care about minutes at all, Virgin Mobile offers unlimited data and text on every plan they have. For as little as $35 a month you can get unlimited data and text with the tradeoff being only 300 minutes. If you're okay with watching your minutes, it's a good option.

If you talk and text a lot, but don't need a ton of data, either H2O or T-Mobile are your best bets. If you're the opposite, Virgin Mobile is worth a hard look since all their plans come with unlimited data and text.

The bottom line

When it comes to choosing a prepaid carrier, all of the above have their advantages and disadvantages. For the most part, T-Mobile and Straight Talk will have the best nationwide coverage. Cricket, H2O, and Virgin have spottier coverage but if it's strong in the areas you'll spend the most time, it doesn't mean you should rule it out if money is an issue.

Net 10 also has its advantages since they own spectrum on both GSM and CDMA. This means they can take advantage of both networks which gives them pretty good coverage nationwide as well. Considering the price points they offer, it's worth a hard look if they have options available in your area.

If you're looking to get the most bang for your buck with the best coverage, we'd recommend Straight Talk. Not only are their plans reasonable, there are international options to be had as well. And since you can take advantage of the AT&T network, traveling within the United States with a Straight Talk phone shouldn't be an issue.

If you use your iPhone with prepaid, what carrier do you use and which ones would you recommend?

Allyson Kazmucha

Help and how to editor for iMore. I can take apart an iPhone in less than 6 minutes. I also like coffee and Harry Potter more than anyone really should.

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Strapped for cash? Here are the best prepaid iPhone plans in the U.S.!

29 Comments

As much as I'd love to switch to a cheaper plan, I travel for work and need the best coverage overall, this leaves me stuck on Verizon. I even have potential for overseas work so I need my global Verizon iPhone 5.

Apologies for my incomplete post from earlier today, which was attempted from the iMore app on my iPhone, which doesn't always cooperate as it should.

Straight Talk is an Walmart owned MVNO cell service provider, and they get spectrum from BOTH Verizon and AT&T. If you already have an iPhone, or some other compatible device, then you can use your own device on Straight Talk. (BYOD) They pricing speaks for itself, as for service you'll need to be aware that if you get close to your data limits in your billing cycle they will enact significant throttling. Some claim to even get cut off.

If you can get yourself set up online and use your device without the carrier's assistance, you'll probably be fine. If you need customer service...you're in pure hell.

An RV blog I'm familiar with did a great write up on this recently, as they switched to using Straight Talk, and comments section is full of great insights as well. Go to www.wheelingit.wordpress.com and go to the May 12, 2013 post titled Cheap Cellphone Service With Straight Talk -> Saving $$ & Severing Verizon Ties!

Great job Ally, in providing information for those who may wish to use these services.

This is a great summary of prepaid plans. I plan to move to one of these soon. The only comments I'd make is that if cash is tight, not all of these apply since a new phone must be purchased in order to use it on each provider's network. I can take my iPhone 4 from AT&T to T-Mobile, but I'd have to buy a new iPhone 4S (16GB) for $382 to use Virgin Mobile. This is now a fairly old phone with little storage yet a large upfront cost. With my monthly savings, it would take almost a year to make up the cost of the phone, at which point the 4S would be two models old. Point is that you have to take into account whether you have to buy a new phone or not if switching carriers. Do any of these prepaid carriers let you bring your existing phone other than T-Mobile if you're coming from AT&T?

Hey Ryan, I'm pretty sure most of them will let you bring phones from other carriers as long as they're compatible with their network. You'd just purchase the SIM etc and not a device.

Net10 let's you bring an AT&T iPhone. That's what I'm currently using. But it costs $50 not $25. I bought the $25 card and they wouldn't activate or allow me to use the minutes. So now I have $25 worth of useless minutes. Other than that I have good service.

My wife uses StraightTalk on her iPhone 4S (with an AT&T SIM) and she has no issues with it. She didn't have a data plan before, so the slower ST network doesn't bother her one bit.

Only issue she has is sometimes the APN settings for cellular data & MMS like to reset and she has to manually re-input them.

I don't believe I ever stated that it was an AT&T iPhone 5? I said straight talk uses at&t's network, which for a majority of their customers, it does, like the iPhone 4S. Certain devices use Verizon, and in the iPhone 5's case, that is because the Verizon variant is sold GSM unlocked but can also run on the CDMA towers straight talk owns in their spectrum. It supports more bands than the GSM variant, which is my guess as to why Straight Talk opted for that model. They have the luxury of choosing since they own both CDMA and GSM spectrum.

This article also wasn't mean to be iPhone 5 inclusive by any means, just iPhone in general.

There is also the option of SimpleMobile. I am considering them for my next phone.
UNLIMITED TALK, UNLIMITED TEXT, UNLIMITED INTERNATIONAL TEXT, UNLIMITED DATA & 4G DATA, 3 WAY CALLING, VOICE MAIL, CALLER ID & MORE for $50 a month. Sorry about the caps, but I don't feel like retypting.

Lol that's okay. I looked at them but i just chose so many of the big ones that have coverage in the most areas. I almost included them but didn't know enough about them or couldn't find enough info to really stack them against, but they seemed like a good option, if they cover your area.

I will probably be switching to them once my Verizon contract is up since if I have to buy a phone at full price I might as well not deal with big red anymore.

Just wanted to clear up some misinformation from the article...

H20 - MVNO running on AT&T's network. They will not have spottier coverage than other AT&T MVNOs in the article (Straight Talk, Net 10). They have the same coverage as AT&T Go Phone...the map you link to is straight from AT&T.

Net 10 does not own any spectrum, and spectrum is not CDMA or GSM. Net 10 is an MVNO owned by the same folks who own Straight Talk. The only way to get an iPhone working on Net 10 is through their BYOD program. Depending on the SIM purchased, you could be operating on the AT&T network or the T-Mobile network. Currently, SIMs for the AT&T network are not available from their website. This leaves you with the option of running on the T-Mobile network.

Straight Talk - There are two ways to get an iPhone on Straight Talk. You can go through their BYOD program and purchase a SIM, or you can purchase a new iPhone 5 from WalMart. The iPhone 5 purchased from WalMart is the CDMA model and is SIM unlocked. However, it does not use a SIM for service throught Straight Talk. It runs on the VZW CDMA network (1x and EVDO only...no LTE). While you can purchase a SIM from Straight Talk for your iPhone, AT&T SIMs are currently unavailable from their website. They are sometimes still available in WalMart stores or through Ebay. Just like Net 10, this leaves you with the option of running on T-Mobile's network unless you can find an AT&T compatible SIM in WalMart or on Ebay.

Thanks! I noticed when shopping on their site (Straight Talk), they only offered T-Mobile SIM cards. I'm guessing AT&T will want to drive customers to their AIO Wireless.

The chart shows T-Mobile throttling at 2 GB of data but I'm fairly sure that they do not throttle on the unlimited plan.

Be careful with straight talk, they are notorious for shady practices and not giving a definite amount for data use and will cut you off without any notice. Google some reviews and see.

I just cancelled AT&T today couldn't take the outrageous pricing anymore and am looking at either net10 or h20. I have an unlocked iPhone 4S and so far I am leaning towards net10. Simple mobile seems interesting but bestbuy doesn't sell their sims( I have a bunch of store credit and BB gift cards so whomever I choose has to be through BB).

I moved my Verizon iphone 4s over to Page Plus. $55 a month for unlimited talk/text and 2GB data. They run on Verizon's towers so the coverage is the same. Also, you can shop around for pin reloads and find them even cheaper than face value on some websites. Last 2 I bought, I paid $50 for.

May I ask how you transferred your Verizon iphone 4S to PagePlus? I just spoke with a representative that told me they wouldn't support it. Did you have to do anything special? When did you switch providers? Also, does everything function properly?
Thanks for your time!

Thanks. I've got a Japanese KDDI iPhone, but they won't unlock it...ever.. :(
I wanted to use it when in the states, but its a no go for me...

OK, but read this and then tell me who's the best:

"No, Solavei is revolutionizing the mobile space, offering $49/month no-contract plans for unlimited text, voice and 4G data, and providing discounts with hundreds of top retailers across the country. Plus by rewarding you when you share Solavei with others, an unprecedented opportunity exists to get your piece of this multi-billion dollar industry."

Get informed, visit: alexandra(.)sharesolavei(.)com

Solavei is a rip off! They claim to be able to unlock iPhones and do repairs. I waited over two weeks to get my still not unlocked and not fixed iPhone back. Please watch out if you TRY to do business there!!

I've been collating all the best smartphone plans for US prepaid providers. It's still much cheaper in Europe and outside the US to get data plans off-contract, but good to see an emergence here beginning.

I'm publishing the results at www.prepaidfinder.com to try and convince others that prepaid is a better deal. I plan on putting together a cost comparison calculator soon too. Feel free to provide feedback! Good luck

No mention of TMobiles $30 prepaid plan? 100min talk, unlimited text, data is unlimited but gets throttled back once at 5GB. 10cents a minute if you go over the 100 min. Not a bad deal if you live in a Tmobile area. Coverage will vary and its usually EDGE or 3G once outside a tmob area. Oh building penetration can be a problem too.

Straight Talk isn't actually owned by Walmart. ST is a brand of TracFone which is subsidiary of America Movil, Mexico's largest telecommunications company.

Why does this mention Virgin Mobile over Boost Mobile? With Boost Mobile, Every 6 on time payments earns the customer a $5 discount. In a course of 18 months (Year and a half) the customer can be at $40 dollars a month. It's got the same features as Virgin Mobiles $55 unlimited talk, text, data plan*, Only it provides a total of $15 off in the long run as a reward to it's punctually paying customer base.

Virgin Mobile is really only has the biggest benefit to those who talk little. The $35 dollar plan (300 Min, Unlimited text, unlimited data *) with the $5 monthly discount for auto-pay customers is the cheapest plan we can provide for iPhone users.

* 2.5GB of high speed data, Then throttled.

No love for TING?

Although it runs on the Sprint network their pre-pay billing options are amazing and their customer support is second to none.