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The Best Cellphone Plans of 2015

MONEY found the right plan, at the right price, for every type of cellphone user.

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Getting hit with data overage charges? Is your family’s cellphone bill busting your budget? Now you can land a better, cheaper smartphone plan. After studying more than 70 plans from 10 different wireless carriers, we picked the best plans for every kind of user.

To read the 2016 version, click here.

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  • Best For Light Users

    Ryan Snook

    Best for individuals:
    Boost Mobile Data Boost 1GB

    Best for families:
    Virgin Mobile Wi-Fi Lovers Delight

    Individual Plan: Boost Mobile Data Boost 1GB Family Plan: Virgin Mobile Wi-Fi Lovers Delight
    Monthly service bill $35 $80 ($20 each for four plans)
    Two-year cost with phones $1,390 $3,920
    Can you bring a phone? Sprint only No
    Data 1GB Wi-Fi only
    Data overage? Speed slows Not applicable
    Network Sprint 3G/4G LTE Sprint 3G/4G LTE
    Why it wins Don’t need the bells and whistles of a data-driven plan? This is our pick for bare-bones functions like talk and text, as well as data to cover basic email needs. If you have a data-heavy month, your speeds will be reduced, but you won’t be charged extra. Virgin Mobile is the only carrier here offering sub-$100 service for four lines. Downsides: Each user has only 300 monthly talk minutes (all other plans are unlimited), cellular data isn’t included, and you can’t get an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy S6. But customer satisfaction ratings are high.
    You should also know … An iPhone 6 is $100 cheaper than at other carriers. The two-year cost includes a $500 Samsung Galaxy S5 for each user.
    Runner-up The MetroPCS $30/Month plan offers similar options and features for $5 less per month, but iPhones aren’t available. Want an iPhone and just a wee bit of cellular data? T-Mobile Simple Choice offers the iPhone 6 and 1GB per line for $100 a month.
    Methodology: For all plans we added up the cost of two years of service and a 16BG iPhone 6 for each user (or a Samsung Galaxy S6 if the iPhone wasn’t offered). We looked at both 2-year service contracts and non-contract plans. Family plans are priced for four lines. Winners were chosen on the basis of price, plan features, and ratings for network quality, and customer satisfaction.
  • Best for Typical Users

    Ryan Snook

    Best for individuals:
    Cricket Basic

    Best for families:
    Cricket Basic with Group Save Discount

    Individual Plan: Cricket Basic Family Plan: Cricket Basic With Group Save Discount
    Monthly service bill $40 $100
    Two-year cost with phones $1,610 $5,000
    Can you bring a phone? Yes Yes
    Data 2.5GB 2.5GB on each line
    Data overage? Speed slows Speed slows
    Network AT&T 4G LTE AT&T 4G LTE
    Why it wins Cricket uses AT&T’s network, so you get Big Four coverage for only $40 a month. That amount drops to $35 if you enroll in an autopay program. Though the carrier doesn’t offer the iPhone 6, it does have an iPhone 5c, along with other smart and basic phones. The price includes taxes and fees. By offering big discounts when you add other lines, Cricket is also a good deal for the entire family. If you’re worried that 2.5GB isn’t meeting your data needs, you can add 1GB to a line for only $10 per month. As with the individual plan, taxes and fees are included, and an iPhone 6 isn’t offered.
    You should also know … Get a Galaxy S6 for $0 down with a phone payment plan. Sign up for four lines, and service for a fifth phone comes free.
    Runner-up For $5 less a month, get the iPhone 6 with Boost Mobile’s $35 Data Boost Up plan. ­Video streaming, however, can be limited to a slow 3G. Sprint’s Family Share Pack lets you share 8GB of data for $130 a month.
    Methodology: For all plans we added up the cost of two years of service and a 16BG iPhone 6 for each user (or a Samsung Galaxy S6 if the iPhone wasn’t offered). We looked at both 2-year service contracts and non-contract plans. Family plans are priced for four lines. Winners were chosen on the basis of price, plan features, and ratings for network quality, and customer satisfaction.
  • Best for Bargain Hunters

    Ryan Snook

    Best for individuals:
    Sprint $60 Unlimited

    Best for families:
    Cricket Pro with Group Save Discount

    Individual Plan: Sprint $60 Unlimited Family Plan: Cricket Pro With Group Save Discount
    Monthly service bill $60 $160
    Two-year cost with phones $2,090 $6,440
    Can you bring a phone? Yes Yes
    Data Unlimited 10GB on each line
    Data overage? None Speed slows
    Network Sprint 4G LTE AT&T 4G LTE
    Why it wins “Sprint is positioning itself as the value leader,” says FierceWireless editor Phil Goldstein. Savings, he says, can be even greater than promised by Sprint’s Cut Your Bill in Half promotion. Save further over two years by leasing an iPhone 6 for $20 a month instead of buying one. The 10GB of high-speed data per month should be more than enough for the heaviest users. Anything more would be “a bit extreme,” says Kirk Parsons, senior director of telecom services at J.D. Power.
    You should also know … Sprint will pay your early-termination fee if you hand in your old phone. Get service on a fifth line for another $20 per month.
    Runner-up If Sprint’s network is slow in your area, you can get a $60 Unlimited plan (but no iPhone) from MetroPCS. If you want an iPhone 6, you can go with Sprint’s Unlimited Family plan for an extra $20 a month.
    Methodology: For all plans we added up the cost of two years of service and a 16BG iPhone 6 for each user (or a Samsung Galaxy S6 if the iPhone wasn’t offered). We looked at both 2-year service contracts and non-contract plans. Family plans are priced for four lines. Winners were chosen on the basis of price, plan features, and ratings for network quality, and customer satisfaction.
  • Best for Power Users

    Ryan Snook

    Best for individuals:
    Verizon More Everything 6GB with Verizon Edge

    Best for families:
    AT&T Mobile Share Value 20GB with AT&T Next 18

    Individual Plan: Verizon More Everything 6GB With Verizon Edge Family Plan: AT&T Mobile Share Value 20GB With AT&T Next 18
    Monthly service bill $85 $210
    Two-year cost with phones $2,690 $7,640
    Can you bring a phone? Yes No
    Data 6GB 20GB shared
    Data overage? $15 per GB $15 per GB
    Network Verizon 4G LTE AT&T 4G LTE
    Why it wins The RootMetrics mobile analytics firm ranks Verizon first in the nation in overall network performance, reliability, and speed. “Particularly when you talk about the
    advanced technology—4G, 4G LTE—their coverage tends to be broader,” says Parsons.
    AT&T invented “rollover” plans back when users were afraid of getting overage charges for talking too long. Now that data is capped, not talk, you can roll unused gigabytes over to the next month. That can come in handy if the kids decide they want a Star Wars marathon.
    You should also know … New subscribers receive a $100 bill credit for activating a smartphone on Edge. Should you get tired of your phone, you can upgrade it after 18 months.
    Runner-up A two-year contract with AT&T at $110 a month gets you 6GB of data. And AT&T is No. 1 in customer satisfaction, says J.D. Power. Don’t need rollover data? Verizon’s More Everything With Verizon Edge is just $200 a month for 20GB.
    Methodology: For all plans we added up the cost of two years of service and a 16BG iPhone 6 for each user (or a Samsung Galaxy S6 if the iPhone wasn’t offered). We looked at both 2-year service contracts and non-contract plans. Family plans are priced for four lines. Winners were chosen on the basis of price, plan features, and ratings for network quality, and customer satisfaction.
  • Best for Frequent Upgraders

    Ryan Snook

    Best for individuals:
    Sprint Family Share Pack 2GB with 12-Month Term Lease

    Sprint Family Share Pack 2GB With 12-Month Term Lease
    Monthly service bill $80 (includes phone lease)
    Two-year cost with phones $1,920
    Can you bring a phone? No
    Data 2GB
    Data overage? 1.5¢ per MB
    Network Sprint 4G LTE
    Why it wins An early upgrade plan “is not necessarily financially the best option for everyone,” says Tara Donnelly, U.S. editor at plan comparison site WhistleOut. “But if you like to update your phone regularly, it’s not a bad idea.” Sprint will lease you an iPhone 6 for $30 a month and upgrade you to a new model after a year, costing you 45% less than buying two new iPhones outright. To keep either phone, though, you’ll have to pay extra once its year is up.
    You should also know … Lease an iPhone 6 Plus for $35 a month.
    Runner-up Even if you choose half the data of Sprint’s plan, AT&T Next 12 is more expensive. But AT&T often has first dibs on the newest phones.
    Methodology: For all plans we added up the cost of two years of service and a 16BG iPhone 6 for each user (or a Samsung Galaxy S6 if the iPhone wasn’t offered). We looked at both 2-year service contracts and non-contract plans. Family plans are priced for four lines. Winners were chosen on the basis of price, plan features, and ratings for network quality, and customer satisfaction.
  • Best for Technology Recyclers

    Ryan Snook

    Best for individuals:
    Straight Talk Unlimited Bring Your Own Phone Promotion

    Straight Talk Unlimited Bring Your Own Phone Promotion
    Monthly service bill $45
    Two-year cost with phones $1,080
    Can you bring a phone? It’s required
    Data 5GB
    Data overage? Speed slows
    Network Multiple 4G LTE
    Why it wins Bring your own device to Straight Talk and get 5GB for $45 a month, or $41.25 if you pay for a year upfront—remarkably low prices. Just call your old carrier and ask it to “unlock” your phone from its network, and then go to straighttalkbyop.com to see if your phone is compatible. Straight Talk says phones from AT&T and T-Mobile should work, as should most Verizon and Sprint phones.
    You should also know … An activation kit or SIM card for getting started runs $5.
    Runner-up If you’ll never use close to 5GB of data and have an AT&T or a T-Mobile phone, move it to Cricket Basic and get 2.5GB of data for $40 a month.
    Methodology: For all plans we added up the cost of two years of service and a 16BG iPhone 6 for each user (or a Samsung Galaxy S6 if the iPhone wasn’t offered). We looked at both 2-year service contracts and non-contract plans. Family plans are priced for four lines. Winners were chosen on the basis of price, plan features, and ratings for network quality, and customer satisfaction.
  • Best for Data-Hungry Teens

    Ryan Snook

    Best for families:
    T-Mobile Simple Choice 1GB and 5GB Combined

    T-Mobile Simple Choice 1GB and 5GB Combined
    Monthly service bill $140
    Two-year cost with phones $5,960
    Can you bring a phone? Yes
    Data Two lines have 1GB; two have 5GB
    Data overage? Speed slows
    Network T-Mobile 4G LTE
    Why it wins Maybe this describes your family: Mom and Dad need less than a gigabyte, but the kids are sucking up way more data per month. With this plan, data allotments are segregated; if ­Junior’s goes over his allowance, his data is slowed, but no one else’s is. Plus, music streamed via Pandora, Spotify, and more than two dozen ­other services won’t count against your children’s data usage.
    You should also know … You can roll over unused data on the 5GB lines.
    Runner-up If 5GB still isn’t enough, give two kids unlimited lines for just $160 a month.
    Methodology: For all plans we added up the cost of two years of service and a 16BG iPhone 6 for each user (or a Samsung Galaxy S6 if the iPhone wasn’t offered). We looked at both 2-year service contracts and non-contract plans. Family plans are priced for four lines. Winners were chosen on the basis of price, plan features, and ratings for network quality, and customer satisfaction.

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