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Best Cell Phone Plans for 2021: The Ultimate Guide

Our comprehensive guide to the best budget plans, best cheap unlimited data plans, and best premium unlimited plans on Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile.

Best Cell Phone Plans for 2021: Cheap & Unlimited Plans

In this article, I’ll be covering the best cell phone plans for 2021 on Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile.

I’ll cover plans ranging from $10 to $30, the best cheap unlimited plans, and even the best premium unlimited plans for those of you who want to go all out. 

These plans will deliver the best value for your dollar and support many of the features you need, like VoLTE, Wi-Fi calling, personal hotspot, and more.

If we haven’t met before, hi! I’m Stetson and I’ve been reviewing cell phone plans since 2015. 

I built the website bestphoneplans.net to help people find and compare cell phone plans. My goal is to help you save money on your cell phone bill by finding an affordable plan that meets your needs.

To help you find the best cell phone plan for your needs, I’ll be breaking this article down into three major sections:

  1. How cell phone plans work in the United States
  2. How to determine what you need in a cell phone plan
  3. What the best plans are

With that said, let’s jump into it.

How Cell Phone Plans work in the United States

In the United States, there are three major carriers: Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile

These major carriers build cell towers across the U.S. and operate their own networks.

Because they operate their own networks, they are called MNOs, or Mobile Network Operators.

Building a cellular network is expensive though. To cover costs, these major carriers charge premium prices for their cell phone plans. Prices typically range from $70 to $90 per month.

These plans can be great for higher-income individuals and families, but the truth is not everyone can afford these $85 to $90 price points on these plans.

So what do the major network operators do?

They do two things:

  1. They create what are known as “flanker carriers”
  2. They lease access to their network to smaller carriers called “MVNOs”

First, they create flanker carriers.

Flanker carriers are carriers created by the same company to target different demographics of consumers.

Verizon’s flanker carrier is Visible, AT&T’s flanker carrier is Cricket Wireless, and T-Mobile’s flanker carrier is the inconspicuously named Metro by T-Mobile.

These flanker carriers typically offer significantly more affordable plans. 

For example, instead of paying $90 per month for an unlimited plan from Verizon, you can pay $40 per month for an unlimited plan from Visible and save yourself $600 per year.

The second strategy the major network operators use is they sell access to their networks to MVNOs.

MVNO stands for Mobile Virtual Network Operator because these are small carriers that are operating virtually on the existing networks.

Examples include US Mobile, Red Pocket, Mint Mobile, and Pure Talk.

MVNOs are able to offer more affordable plans because they are getting network access at wholesale rates, and because they use cost-saving strategies such as operating online only, not offering unlimited plans, creating self-help tools, and more recently by offering plans in bulk 3-, 6-, or 12-month packages.

That’s how you end up with plans like these, ranging from $25 to $30 per month and offering HUGE amounts of data that go from 12GB all the way up to 35GB:

This brings us to our next point: how do you know which plan is right for you, and how much cellular data you actually need?

How To Determine What You Need In a Cell Phone Plan

There are four factors that can help you determine which cell phone plans are best for you:

  1. Coverage
  2. Data Usage
  3. Features
  4. Price

First is coverage. You want to make sure you can use your cell phone plan in places you frequently visit, such as your home, work, and other locations. 

Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile’s network coverage vary a lot by location.

Thankfully my friend Chris has built an awesome tool on his site CoverageCritic.com where you can literally enter your ZIP code and it’ll tell you which network likely has better performance in your area.

You can also check independent sites like RootMetrics to see coverage and speed data collected from different users.

Or, you know, if you’re on the Verizon network right now and it works for you, you can just stick with the Verizon network and switch to a more affordable plan.

The second factor is data usage. How much data you need plays a big role in determining which plans are right for you. 

The truth is that while many carriers are advertising unlimited plans, you likely don’t actually need unlimited data. 

You can check your actual usage either in your phone’s settings on iPhone or Android, by checking the usage section in your online account, or by checking your current bill. 

Some carriers like US Mobile even have an awesome usage dashboard so you can monitor exactly how much data you are using.

Or, if you’re like me and lazy (better phrased as time-efficient), different studies are showing average consumers use about 5GB to 20GB of data per month:

So odds are that 82% of you reading this right now will be perfectly fine with a 15GB to 30GB plan, or right around the $25 to $30 price points. 

Third is features. For some people, certain features like Wi-Fi calling, eSIM support, 5G access, international calling, or international data roaming will be important to them. 

You know who you are. I lay out exactly what features each plan includes in this article, so be on the lookout to make sure a plan includes all the features you need.

And fourth is price. How much are you willing to spend on a cell phone plan? Would it be possible to curb your data usage and habits to save a little extra each month? Maybe you make sure your phone is on Wi-Fi at home and at work to reduce your data usage? Or is it worth it to you to spend a little bit more for a more premium plan?

Once you’ve determined what network you need for coverage (or networks if more than one is good in your area), how much data you need, what features are important to you, and how much you are looking to spend, you’re ready to move on to the best cell phone plans for 2021.

These are the best cell phone plans for 2021

Best $10 Cell Phone Plans

Our top picks for the best $10 cell phone plans are:

Tello

Tello’s $10 plan includes unlimited talk and text with 1GB of high-speed data. Tello uses the T-Mobile network for coverage and supports many features, but it turns out many of these features are currently exclusive to Android phones. MMS, visual voicemail, and Wi-Fi calling aren’t working on iPhones at the moment. Tello includes free international calling to Canada, Mexico, China, and Romania, and you have the option to purchase pay-as-you-go credit to make calls to 237 other countries.

Red Pocket

Red Pocket is another great option here. Their $9 annual plan includes 1000 minutes, unlimited texts, and 10GB of data, and is available on either the Verizon, AT&T, or T-Mobile network. Red Pocket also offers great feature support for both iPhone and Android users. A couple things to note are that visual voicemail is available as a $1 per month add-on for Verizon and AT&T customers but it’s not available for T-Mobile customers, and 5G access is actually only available for T-Mobile customers at the moment.

Red Pocket also includes free international calling to 80 countries, though you do have to disable VoLTE for international calling to work. You can also get an international data roaming add-on that starts at just $9 per month for 1GB of data that works across 50 countries. 

Unreal Mobile

Lastly in the $10 category is Unreal Mobile’s $10 2GB plan. And this very well may be the best option here. Unreal Mobile is actually now owned by Red Pocket, so it supports almost the exact same features we saw before. This includes Red Pocket’s free international calling to 80 countries, international data roaming starting at $9 per month, and even 5G access for Android phones.

Best $15 Cell Phone Plans Plans

Now let’s move on to the best $15 cell phone plans. Here we have fantastic options from US Mobile, T-Mobile Prepaid, Mint Mobile, and Red Pocket. 

US Mobile’s plan is simply one of the best options here. $15 gets you 5GB of data on either the Verizon or T-Mobile network (your choice when you sign up) and excellent feature support. 

Features include VoLTE, 5G, domestic roaming on the Verizon network, and international roaming. Hotspot is also available as a $5 add-on. 

It should be noted that you get 10GB of international data roaming included for free, but it’s available only as an eSIM data-only add-on. You need to have an eSIM compatible phone to take advantage of this feature. 

Finally, US Mobile offers a beautiful account dashboard for managing your plans and monitoring your data usage.

T-Mobile Prepaid is another decent option here. $15 only gets you 2GB of cellular data, but this plan is packed with features. The notable features are eSIM support, the included 100MB of domestic roaming data, and the fact that you can go to a T-Mobile store or contact T-Force for help and support. T-Mobile will also be increasing this plan to 2.5GB of data later this year.

Mint Mobile is another carrier that supports a lot of features––including VoLTE, Wi-Fi calling, hotspot, 5G, and eSIM––but this time it also delivers excellent value. 

$15 gets you 4GB of data per month, double the amount T-Mobile was offering. Mint is able to offer such a good value because their plans are sold in bulk 3-, 6-, and 12-month packages. They also offer a great app and customer support. 

Mint wants to make it as easy as possible for you to try their network, so we are actually partnering together for a giveaway. Each month Mint Mobile will be giving away one full YEAR of free service on one of their plans. It’s currently March, so that means there are 10 total chances to win. 

A new giveaway will be made available each month, so make sure to come back to this article to enter again. You can enter the giveaway here.

Finally in the $15 category, we have Red Pocket. This time I’m recommending their $15 3GB plan. This plan continues to support many of the popular features from before, including Red Pocket’s international features. 

I think this plan is best used on the AT&T network because you can find better deals on the T-Mobile and Verizon networks from Mint Mobile and US Mobile.

Best $20 Cell Phone Plans

Next we have the best $20 plans. We have great options here from US Mobile, Red Pocket, FreeUP Mobile, and Mint Mobile.

US Mobile’s $20 12GB plan is probably one of my favorite options here. It not only includes the most data, but it’s also a monthly plan as opposed to an annual plan. 

US Mobile’s plan is available on the Verizon or T-Mobile networks, and it includes the same features we’ve talked about before. Hotspot is still $5 to enable, and you’re still getting 10GB of international data roaming included for free via the international eSIM add-ons.

Next up we have another annual plan from Red Pocket. Their $20 plan includes 8GB of high-speed data before unlimited 2G. This plan is available on the Verizon, AT&T, or T-Mobile networks, and it includes decent feature support along with Red Pocket’s excellent international calling perks and international data roaming add-ons. 

If you’d prefer to pay monthly, Red Pocket offers a $19 plan, but the data amount drops from 8GB down to 3GB.

Stetson Doggett

Stetson is a technology enthusiast and cell-phone lover. He is passionate about helping people save money on cell service. He spends most of his time researching plans, writing articles, and filming review videos.

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