Typical cell phone plans require a two-year service agreement. During that time, customers cannot cancel or greatly modify their plan without having to pay a fee. A no-contract plan gives users similar options for purchasing and using a cell phone, but without the service agreement. Typically, with a no-contract plan, the user is required to pay full-price for the purchase of a cell phone and may pay slightly higher usage rates.
Cell Providers Offering No-Contract Plans
Most major wireless providers offer prepaid phone plans as an alternative to service agreements that require contracts. In general, most no-contract plans are prepaid rather than postpaid, like a conventional monthly plan. With a prepaid plan, a user pays for cell phone text, data, and minutes up front. These plans can be charged monthly to a credit or debit card or paid for in the store. Some providers offer prepaid cards. With this type of payment plan, the user loads money on to the card and usage fees are subtracted on an as-needed basis. Typically, these pay-as-you-go plans have a higher cost for minutes and data than prepaid monthly plans.
Cell phone plans change frequently, so it is best to check with your carrier of choice for the most up-to-date information. The information provided here is thought to be accurate as of March 2018.
T-Mobile prepaid plans require no annual contract and no credit check. These plans all contain talk, text and data with unlimited usage. There are several options, including Simply Prepaid starting at $45 a month, T-Mobile ONE Prepaid starting at $75, and the 10GB No Credit Check Family Plan starting at $50 (for one line).
Simply Prepaid is the most straightforward, but you are limited in the amount of full-speed 4G LTE data you get each month. Once you reach this threshold, you are throttled down to 3G speeds. The T-Mobile ONE Prepaid plan offers unlimited high speed data. The family plan offers discounted rates for additional lines, each of which gets up to 10GB of 4G LTE data.
Boost Mobile's phone plans also do not require a contract. Single line plans start from $35 per month for 3GB of data, plus unlimited talk and text. This price includes all taxes and fees. Their family plans allow you to add additional lines for $30 per month per line. The additional lines get the same amount of data as the base plan.
Operated by TracFone Wireless, Straight Talk is available through Walmart stores across the country. Straight Talk works with T-Mobile and compatible unlocked phones. The basic plan is $30 per month for 1,500 minutes, unlimited texts and 100 MB of data. Plans with unlimited nationwide or international calling and between 2 GB and 10 GB of high speed data (before falling back to 2G speeds) range from $35 to $60 per month.
Also offering no-contract plans and operating under the TracFone umbrella, NET10 Wireless has pay-as-you-go plans starting at $20 per month for 200 minutes, as well as 30-day monthly plans with data starting at $31.50 per month (with auto-refill). Their monthly plans include unlimited nationwide talk and text, plus 2 GB of high speed data before being throttled down to 2G speeds. The plan offerings are very similar to those of Straight Talk.
Virgin Mobile USA boasts a nationwide 4G LTE network, offering its services with no annual contract, no hidden fees, and a 14-day guarantee. The $50 per month InnerCircle by Virgin plan is one of their best options. It includes unlimited 4G LTE data with no overage charges, unlimited talk and text, and access to member benefits like special deals from hot brands. You need an iPhone to qualify for this plan, so you either need to bring your own or buy one from Virgin. Cheaper plans with limited data start at $35 per month.
FreedomPop is one of the more unique cell phone companies in the United States. This wireless provider actually offers a free basic plan that includes 200 minutes, 200 text messages and 500 MB of data on a nationwide 4G LTE - CDMA network. If your usage exceeds this, premium plans range from about $15 to $35 for unlimited talk and text, and between 500 MB and 4GB of data. There are no contracts and no termination fees.
Whereas many other wireless carriers proudly boast their unlimited services, Republic Wireless says that "unlimited is unnecessary" and recommends spending your money "on a flexible cell phone plan that's right for you." Their My Choice Plan starts with a $15 monthly fee that includes unlimited talk and text. High speed data is charged at $5 per gigabyte. Republic Wireless offers a 14-day money back guarantee and there are no contracts or hidden fees.
Google Project Fi
If you're looking for the best possible coverage everywhere you go, Google's Project Fi is one of the most compelling and innovative solutions for conract-free cell service. Service is limited to select compatible devices like the Google Pixel. With specially developed technology, your phone will find the best connection between Wi-Fi and three different 4G LTE networks, giving you more access to more cell towers in more places.
Their basic plan for unlimited domestic calls and texts is $20 per month. From there, you pay $10 per gigabyte (including partial gigabytes) based on usage up to 6 GB. After that, there are no overage charges, though your speeds may be slowed after you reach 15 GB. You can also use your phone, including data, in over 170 countries and destinations with no additional roaming fees.
Operating on the T-Mobile network in the United States, Ultra Mobile strives to provide great value to its customers. The cheapest monthly plan is just under $20 and includes unlimited talk to numbers in the United States and over 75 international destinations, plus unlimited global texting and 500 MB of 4G LTE data. This scales all the way up to the unlimited 4G LTE plan for just under $50 per month.
If you're looking for options as to which network you'd like to connect with, ROK Mobile has an interesting color-coded proposition. ROK Blue plans, which start at $20 per month for 1GB of LTE data, operate on a GSM network. ROK Yellow plans, which start at $30 per month for 4GB of LTE data, run on the Sprint network. And ROK Red plans, which start at $35 per month for 3GB of LTE data, run on the Verizon network. All plans come with unlimited talk and text, free international calling, complimentary roadside assistance, and ROK Rewards.
Advantages of Contract-Free Plans
Having a cell phone without having to sign a contract can be beneficial for some users.
- Freedom to switch carriers: When you are not locked in to a service agreement, you have the option of switching to a different cell phone provider at any time. This would allow you to take advantage of special promotions and rate changes offered by cell phone carriers.
- Ability to cancel: With a no-contract plan, you have the ability to cancel your service at any time without having to pay a cancellation fee. A wireless plan with a service agreement typically carries a lofty fee for early cancellations.
Drawbacks to Consider
There are also disadvantages to think about when choosing these types of cell phone plans.
- Missing out on special promotions: People using a no-contract plan may not be eligible for the promotions offered to wireless customers on a service agreement. For example, you will likely have to pay full price for the mobile phone up front if you do not sign a contract, effectively skipping the promotional discount that comes standard with a service agreement.
- Higher equipment costs: With no-contract service, handsets typically won't be discounted, so the up-front equipment cost can be higher than if you were signing a contract. That's why investing in a quality unlocked phone may be a good idea if you go this route.
No-contract plans can help keep costs under control and provide great flexibility. These plans can be a terrific option for people who don't want to be tied down to a specific plan with a specific provider for a minimum of two years. They can also make mobile phones much more accessible by users who may have bad credit or no credit rating.