Postpaid Plans vs. Prepaid Plans: Which One Is Actually Cheaper?
Prepaid plans are typically less expensive than postpaid plan.
But, they require you to purchase your phones at full price.
You miss out on the free phone deals offered by postpaid carriers.
So which is better? Getting a less expensive prepaid plan and paying more out of pocket for your phone? Or paying a higher monthly price on a postpaid cell phone plan from a major carrier and getting a free phone every two to three years?
I decided to find out.
I crunched all the numbers including device payments, device financing deals, and even included taxes and fees.
What I found shocked me, and you may find it surprising, too:
Prepaid vs. Postpaid For A Single Line
There is a HUGE price difference between prepaid carriers and postpaid carriers for a single line.
For example, Mint Mobile’s unlimited plan is just $30 per month.
That’s $20 less than the cheapest plan T-Mobile offers, Essentials Saver, for $50 per month. You save $240 per year by going with Mint Mobile in this example.
Prepaid plans are also cheaper on the Verizon and AT&T networks, too.
Visible's Unlimited Base plan is just $25 per month, taxes and fees included.
That’s $40 less than Verizon’s cheapest plan, Unlimited Welcome, which means Visible saves you a whopping $480 per year.
And on the AT&T network, you can grab a 30GB plan from Red Pocket for as low as $30 per month. That saves you $420 per year compared to AT&T Unlimited Starter.
BUT, we’re forgetting a key metric: the cost of owning a phone.
When you go with a prepaid carrier such as Mint Mobile, US Mobile, or Red Pocket, you’re required to purchase your device unlocked from the manufacturer.
That means buying an iPhone 14 unlocked from Apple for $829. Grabbing a Pixel 7 Pro directly from Google for $899. Or purchasing a Galaxy S23 from Samsung for $799.
When you go with a major carrier such as T-Mobile, Verizon, or AT&T, the phone cost changes dramatically.
All the major carriers offer a free iPhone 14, Pixel 7 Pro, or Galaxy S23 when you trade-in your old device.
These smartphone trade-in deals used to be exclusive for new customers. But now, even existing customers can typically get the same promotions. T-Mobile launched New In Two with their Go5G Plus plan, which promises a free new phone to existing customers every two years.
AT&T has also been rewarding existing customers with the same great device deals as new customers.
Verizon doesn’t always offer the same deals for existing customers as for new customers.
Right now, for example, new customers can get a free iPhone 14. Existing customers can only get up to $440 off.
That said, when a new iPhone is released Verizon typically matches T-Mobile and AT&T and gives both new and existing customers the opportunity to get the new iPhone for free.
How much money does getting a free iPhone save you?
Getting a free new iPhone every two years on T-Mobile saves you $21.25 per line per month:
And getting a free new iPhone every three years on Verizon or AT&T saves you $16.94 per line per month:
Assuming you get a free iPhone every two to three years from T-Mobile, AT&T, or Verizon, how do the total monthly costs compare between postpaid plans and prepaid plans when you factor in the cost of the phones?
It turns out that for a single line, there is no competition.
The prepaid cell phone plans, even ones with unlimited data, are way more affordable.
Here’s how T-Mobile’s postpaid plans compare to the prepaid options (that use T-Mobile’s network for coverage):
The same story rings true on Verizon. Here’s a Verizon postpaid versus prepaid cost comparison for a single line:
And here is the AT&T postpaid versus prepaid cost comparison:
You can see going with a prepaid plan will save you anywhere from $45 to over $600 per year for a single line.
But what about for multiple lines?
T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T all offer multi-line discounts. How do those discounts impact the pricing and what plan is a better offer?
I crunched the numbers for multiple lines, too:
Postpaid vs. Prepaid for Two Lines
For two lines, prepaid cell phone plans are still a way better value than the postpaid plans.
The prepaid cell phone plans will save you anywhere from around $200 to over $1,030 per year (not a typo) compared to their postpaid counterparts.
My three favorite options are Mint Mobile’s 15GB plan on the T-Mobile network, US Mobile’s Unlimited Starter plan on the Verizon network, and Red Pocket’s 20GB plan on the AT&T network.
Take a look for yourself at how the plans compare:
T-Mobile postpaid vs. prepaid cost comparison for two lines:
Verizon postpaid vs. prepaid cost comparison for two lines:
AT&T postpaid vs. prepaid cost comparison for two lines:
I think many people with two lines will appreciate the savings prepaid plans have to offer.
But what about for three lines?
Postpaid vs. Prepaid for Three Lines
Three lines is where things get interesting.
The postpaid cell phone plans have much better discounts when you have three or more lines, and in some cases I actually think it is now better to get a postpaid plan.
My top three picks for cell phone plans are T-Mobile Go5G Plus, US Mobile Unlimited Starter, and AT&T Unlimited Starter.
Let’s walk through each of the networks.
T-Mobile postpaid vs. prepaid comparison for three lines:
When you look at the T-Mobile plans, you can see Mint Mobile’s 5GB and 15GB plans are still the most affordable.
They will save you between $60 and $257 per year.
But then in third place we have T-Mobile’s Go5G Plus plan.
And I believe for most people, it is actually worth paying a bit extra to upgrade to T-Mobile Go5G Plus plan.
Why is that?
Because T-Mobile Go5G Plus is T-Mobile’s best plan.
It is packed with features. It comes with unlimited premium data, 50GB of hotspot data, 4K video streaming, 15GB of free data roaming in Canada and Mexico, and 5GB of free international data in over 215 supported destinations. Plus it even includes a free Netflix subscription and Apple TV+.
Yes, if you know how much data each line uses, you can still save money with Mint Mobile or another prepaid carrier.
But for a lot of people, I think the plan features, perks, and benefits Go5G Plus offers, along with including truly unlimited data, will make it a better pick.
Verizon postpaid vs. prepaid comparison for three lines:
Verizon’s plans are a completely different story from T-Mobile’s plans.
Verizon’s postpaid cell phone plans are so expensive that it actually still makes sense to go with a prepaid carrier.
US Mobile’s Unlimited Starter plan will save families with three lines over $680 per year.
And savvy shoppers who know their data usage could save a whopping $1,094 per year with the US Mobile 12GB shared data plan.
I wouldn’t go with Verizon here:
AT&T postpaid vs. prepaid comparison for three lines:
On the AT&T network, I believe it is now better to get a postpaid cell phone plan.
AT&T’s Unlimited Starter plan is a great value.
It includes all the features you need, such as unlimited data, 3GB of hotspot data, and unlimited high-speed data roaming in Canada and Mexico, and it is a great price.
The real savings for AT&T Unlimited Starter come from the fact that it is eligible for AT&T’s best device deals, effectively getting you a free new phone every three years.
AT&T Unlimited Starter comes out to under $50 per line for a plan and phone for three lines.
Sure, you could opt for Red Pocket’s 5GB annual plan and save well over $500 per year. But I think many people are starting to use over 5GB, and many may not want to commit to a full year of service.
For most people, I believe AT&T’s Unlimited Starter plan is the best option here:
Postpaid vs. Prepaid for Four Lines
Looking at four line pricing, and the answer is clear: go with a postpaid plan.
At this point, the multi-line discounts from postpaid plans along with the free phone deals make them more affordable options.
That is, except for Verizon.
Verizon’s plans remain more expensive than their prepaid counterparts, so you can still save a significant amount of money by going with a prepaid carrier.
My three favorite plans for four lines are T-Mobile Go5G Plus, US Mobile Unlimited Starter, and AT&T Unlimited Starter.
Here are the full cost comparisons:
T-Mobile postpaid vs. prepaid comparison for four lines:
Verizon postpaid vs. prepaid comparison for four lines:
AT&T postpaid vs. prepaid comparison for four lines:
Postpaid vs. Prepaid for Five Lines
If you have five lines, I’m going to keep this simple:
You should get a postpaid plan.
Except if you want Verizon.
Verizon’s plans are still quite expensive. You could save over $345 per year by going with US Mobile’s Unlimited Starter plan.
My top three picks for plans for five lines are T-Mobile Go5G Plus, US Mobile Unlimited Starter, and AT&T Unlimited Starter.
Here’s the full cost comparison:
T-Mobile postpaid vs. prepaid comparison for five lines:
Verizon postpaid vs. prepaid comparison for five lines:
AT&T postpaid vs. prepaid comparison for five lines: