AT&T vs. Verizon vs. Sprint vs. T-Mobile: Who has the best individual plan?

best individual plan prices
Looking for an individual plan for cell service from U.S. carriers can make you feel even more alone than heating up a frozen lasagna for one. Even though our wireless carriers have become better at simplifying and presenting plans, you’re still going to run into asterisks and exceptions that if misunderstood, could mean accidentally signing on for two years of contract hell by mistake.

Don’t get stuck with the wrong plan. We’ve compiled a comprehensive guide on how to pick the individual plan that best serves your needs and saves you money.

Choosing contracts

Do you want a two-year contract?

If you’re looking to stick around with a plan for two years, you’ll have to pass on T-Mobile. As a part of the company’s “Uncarrier” plan, T-Mobile has done away with contracts entirely. There are a handful of different plans — the differences between them related only to data — but all of them are month-to-month, requiring no long-term commitment. If for some reason you’re desperate to get into the two-year territory, you’ll have to take a look at the other major carriers: Sprint, Verizon, and AT&T.

Because it’s not interested in making life easy for anyone, Verizon has two options that are hard to tell the difference between:

  • Single Line Plan: The most basic plan offered by Verizon is the Single Line Plan, which provides unlimited voice and text, plus various levels of data.
  • More Everything Plan: The second is the More Everything plan. It offers the same unlimited minutes and messages as the single line plan, plus different levels of data. The difference is, More Everything subscribers get mobile hotspot ability, unlimited international messaging from the U.S., and 25GB of Verizon Cloud storage. (More Everything users also get access to NFL Mobile and Verizon Educational Tools.)

Verizon also has a program called Edge that has some vague benefits like getting out of contracts and upgrading devices early. The Edge contract is monthly and is only available to customers of seven months or longer, or those who pass a credit check. Single-line plans with Edge do have the added benefit of $15 off monthly line access up to 8GB and $25 off over 10GB. There’s also a $100 bill credit for new customers for each new line on the Verizon Edge plan.

Verizon

Over at AT&T, things are a little simpler. Start with unlimited talk and text, then pick the level of data you want. We get into data next, so we won’t break it down here. If you want to go monthly with AT&T, you can save $15 a month on your bill.

AT&T

Paying full price for your phone

The downside of contract-free plans is that you’ll have to pay the full, unsubsidized price of the smartphone of you buy. Sprint, Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile let you pay installments on the device, typically $20 to $30 a month over a period of 24 months. The two-year contract option gives you the benefit of a nice discount on your new smartphone right from the get go. However, depending on which smartphone you buy and how often you like to upgrade, the two-year contract plan may end up costing you a whole lot more in the long run.

Contract-less plans can be cheaper over the long term and offer you more flexibility because you’ll be able to switch carriers at any time. If you decide to get a two-year contract, you’ll have to pay an early termination fee (ETF) if you leave the carrier before the contract period ends. At Verizon, ETFs cost as much as $350 with $10 knocked off for every month on contract and at AT&T, you’ll have to pay up to $325 with the same $10 off for every month on contract. Sprint’s ETF starts at $350 and remains the same until six months into the contract, then takes $10 off in month seven and $20 off every month after that — though your ETF will never drop below $100.

How much data do you need?

Since talk (phone calls) and texting come unlimited essentially by default from major carriers, the real place that you’ll have to make your decision — aside from the bottom line — is the amount of data you’ll need. This will depend on what you plan to do on your phone. If your primary use is entertainment — streaming videos, music, and the like — keep in mind that those things use megabytes of data quickly unless you do them on Wi-Fi networks. If you’re more of an email person who makes the occasional Google search, don’t pay for more than a gigabyte or two of data.

Also keep in mind your general proximity to Wi-Fi throughout the day. If you’re in the house, office, or hitting up public hotspots on a regular basis, you don’t need to dip into your well of data at all times. If you download stuff while on Wi-Fi, you may not use much at all. But if the Internet is how you pass the time on long commutes, business trips, or other stays away from a grounded connection, then having a bigger hopper of bandwidth is handy.

If you choose wrong or underestimating your usage, you’ll face overage charges. This is less than ideal, because carriers are not generous when it comes to spotting you some extra bandwidth.

First, it’s worth noting that T-Mobile doesn’t mess around with overages. You have a limit but if you exceed it, T-Mobile just cranks down your connection to 3G speed, or lower. It’s a minor inconvenience at worst, and considerably better than an extra charge on your monthly payment.

Verizon’s overage charge actually varies on your base data plan. If you purchase 1GB of data a month, you pay $15 for every additional 500MB you need. Purchase 2GB of data a month and you’ll get 1GB of data for the same $15. So if you spend more up front, you get a little more leeway on the backend if you need it. Regardless of the plan you get, you’ll pay at least $15 just for going over.

For those on AT&T, the overage process is similar. If you don’t choose a data plan, every MB you use is $2, which is, well, yikes. For those with data, you’ll pay a different rate depending on your plan—and that price will only get you so far. It’s $20 per 300MB on a 300MB plan, $20 per 500MB on a 1GB plan, and $15 per 1GB on all other plans.

Sprint’s overage cost is 1.5 cents for each MB. That works out to $15 per 1GB, the same as the upper level plans on Verizon and AT&T, but you don’t pay for it in a full chunk — you just pay for what you use. It’s the fairest overage system we’ve ever seen, other than T-Mobile’s complete lack of overages.

AT&T Sprint T-Mobile Verizon

Mobile

Xiaomi shows how its folding smartphone will look, and you’re going to love it

Xiaomi is the latest manufacturer to show off a folding smartphone prototype. The unnamed phone has a different design than others we've seen, adopting a double fold where the sides of the screen fold over the back of the device.
Mobile

These patent images may show the new Moto Razr folding phone

The Motorola Razr V3 is one of the world's most iconic phones, and it could be making a stylistic return in the form of a foldable Motorola smartphone -- but it may cost around $1,500. Is the nostalgia worth it?
Mobile

HMD Global confirms which Nokia phones will definitely receive Android Pie

Android 9.0 Pie has been released. But is your phone getting Android 9.0 Pie, and if so, when? We've done the hard work and asked every device manufacturer to see when their devices would be getting the update.
Mobile

AT&T and Rush System are using 5G to create the 'hospital of the future'

Ready to experience a radical transformation in mobile communication? AT&T is launching mobile 5G in cities across the country over the next few months. Here's everything you need to know about the AT&T 5G rollout.
Mobile

Here's how (and why) to use safe mode with an Android phone

When you have an issue with your phone, safe mode can help you determine whether a third-party app is to blame. If you’re wondering how to access it, or how to turn the feature off in Android, then you have come to the right place.
Music

Here's our head-to-head comparison of Pandora and Spotify

Which music streaming platform is best for you? We pit Spotify versus Pandora, two mighty streaming services with on-demand music and massive catalogs, comparing every facet of the two services to help you decide which is best.
Product Review

Honor puts the Magic back into smartwatches by going small, not big

Honor has taken the Huawei Watch GT and made it a little smaller, designed it a little better, and come up with the Honor Watch Magic. The alterations are winners, for the most part, and we’ve tried the various different versions on to…
Mobile

The Meizu Zero punctures tradition by eliminating nearly all its holes

The Meizu Zero has cut as many holes as possible to create an almost completely seamless device. There's no speaker, no headphone jack, not even a charging port. Here's everything you need to know.
Mobile

LG teases air-gesture technology in LG G8's MWC 2019 event invite

LG is expected to release a successor to the LG G7 ThinQ, possibly called the LG G8 ThinQ, this year and rumors about it are already spreading. Here's everything we know about it so far.
Social Media

Twitter shares sneak peek at simpler, less cluttered design with new features

Twitter shared a sneak peek of an upcoming redesign of its website, showing a less cluttered design with a handful of new features. The update brings keyboard and emoji shortcuts, improved search, and a two-column layout.
Mobile

iPhone 8 vs. iPhone 7: Is it time to upgrade your device?

We take a closer look at Apple's iPhone 8 to see how it measures up against the iPhone 7. Is there enough going on to justify an upgrade? Which of these iPhones would suit you best? Find out in our comparison.
Wearables

Casio’s all-metal G-Shock uses its smart tech carefully, and for best effect

Casio has proved that not all connected watches have to be complicated, or have poorly designed apps, with its G-Steel GST-B100XA watch. We've been wearing it to see if it's worth the $600 price.
Home Theater

How to master your equalizer settings for the perfect sound

You may know what an EQ is, but do you know how to adjust equalizer settings for the best possible sound? We go through the basics of the modern EQ and lay out some guidelines for how to achieve tip-top sound from your system.
Computing

Perform a Windows reset on your Surface device with these quick tips

If you have Windows 10 on your Microsoft Surface and the device is running poorly, it may be time for drastic measures. We've mapped out how to reset the device to factory settings to get it running like new.
1 of 3