Should you choose a prepaid or monthly phone plan?
Prepaid wireless has completely transformed from its humble beginning as a cheap solution for the credit-challenged. It's now become a budget option for all consumers, with more plan choices, a wider phone selection (including smartphones and even iPhones), and better pricing than just a few years ago. "Any stigma attached to the [prepaid] phones -- they are a common prop in any show or movie about gangs and spies -- is falling away as prices drop and the quality of the phones rises," reports Jenna Wortham in The New York Times.
Unlike traditional monthly cell phone plans (covered in our report on cell phone plans), prepaid cell phone plans require no commitment and no credit check. Traditionally the only options for those with damaged credit, prepaid cell phones are also a good way to control costs for teenagers, those on a fixed income or people who want a cell phone only for emergencies.
These days, prepaid wireless is a good money-saving option for anybody, according to The New York Times, MSNBC.com and other sources. You can now get prepaid phone plans that are identical to all-inclusive contract plans, except for two things: They cost less, and you don't have to sign a contract (or risk a penalty of $200 or more if you cancel early). Often, you will pay more up front for your cell phone or smartphone, though cheap options still abound.
Large surveys conducted by Consumer Reports, J.D. Power and Associates and PCMag.com form the backbone of our report. These reviews poll thousands of households on overall satisfaction with their wireless carriers and are the best way to gauge overall network coverage, call quality and customer service. In addition, we found thorough prepaid cell phone buyer's guides at PrepaidReviews.com, CNET and About.com. Jim Miller at SavvySenior.org concentrates on inexpensive, basic prepaid phone plans for seniors. Laptop Magazine, The New York Times and MSNBC.com review several prepaid phone plans as well, as does TopTenReviews.com.