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ATT logo on phone stock photo
Credit: Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

AT&T is the second-largest US carrier with 143 million subscribers as of early 2020, but it offers much more than just post-paid service. If you’ve considered making a move to prepaid service, it’s essential to do your homework. Luckily for you, we’ve done the legwork and packed it all into this handy AT&T prepaid buyer’s guide.

See also: The best AT&T deals

Here you’ll find everything there is to know about both pre-paid AT&T plans, as well as phones that work well on the network. If you’re looking to save even more money, we have a few other MVNOs you might consider as well. Ready to try a new carrier? Let’s get to it.

AT&T at a glance

AT&T has been around for longer than just about any other carrier, though it’s had more than a few names. It began as Southwestern Bell in 1877 as a subsidiary of Alexander Graham Bell’s own Bell Telephone Company.

Despite the long history, AT&T is not Better Business Bureau accredited, though it carries an A-plus rating. The customer reviews aren’t as friendly with a dismal one-star rating and an incredible 53,801 complaints addressed in the past three years. 16,924 of those complaints have come in the last 12 months alone.

As you would expect from a leading carrier with over 100 million subscribers, the AT&T 4G network extends through all 50 states. Its 4G coverage isn’t as large as Verizon’s and its 5G lags behind T-Mobile’s, but AT&T has the largest 3G base of the three.

You can check out AT&T’s product map here to find out more about its coverage.

Pre-paid AT&T plans

The carrier offers four different plans and a few special offers for the middle-tier plan. 8GB of data per month costs as little as $25 each as long as you pay upfront. Check out all of the plans below before you make a decision.

 2GB Plan8GB PlanUnlimited PlanUnlimited Plus Plan
Cost$35$50
$33 for 3 months
$25 for 12 months
$65$75
Data2GB8GBUnlimited, may be temporarily slowedUnlimited, may be temporarily slowed after 22GB
5G AccessNoNoNoYes
RolloverYesYesNoNo
HotspotYesYesAdd on availaleYes, 10GB
HD StreamingYesYesNoYes
InternationalPay per use in Canada and Mexico
Unlimited texting
Use in Canada and Mexico
Unlimited texting
Use in Canada and Mexico
Unlimited texting
Use in Canada and Mexico
Unlimited texting

2GB Plan

AT&T keeps the names simple for its prepaid plans, starting with the 2GB option. As you might have guessed, the plan offers 2GB of high-speed 4G LTE data per month. It’s the most affordable plan on the list at $35 per month per line, so there aren’t too many extra goodies included. You can use your data for hotspot and HD streaming up to the cap, but just be ready for how quickly you can chew through 2GB.

A 2GB plan is a solid option if you plan to spend some time in Canada or Mexico, as you can pay per use when it comes to calling. As with all plans, you can text from the US to over 100 other countries.

Highlights:

  • 2GB of 4G LTE data
  • $35 per line
  • Rollover and hotspot included

Best for:

  • Light data users who want to save some money

8GB Plan

If you don’t mind paying a bit more, AT&T’s 8GB prepaid plan makes more sense for most subscribers. Not only do you get four times the data per billing cycle, but you can also pay in advance to save even more money. Three months of service costs $99 ($33 per month) or you can prepay $300 for an entire year of service ($25 per month). Considering that one month costs $50, you can rack up the savings pretty quickly.

Many of the 8GB perks match those of the 2GB plan — no 5G access, rollover is included, and you can use the entire cap for a hotspot. However, the 8GB plan drops the pay per use structure in Canada and Mexico so you can call and text from anywhere in North America.

Highlights:

  • Save money when you prepay
  • 8GB of 4G LTE data with rollover and hotspot
  • International use in Canada and Mexico

Best for:

  • Users who are considering sticking with AT&T prepaid for the long run

Unlimited Plan

Although this prepaid option comes with unlimited data, there are a few exclusions that seem out of place. For starters, you’ll have to chip in extra for hotspot access, and HD streaming simply isn’t an option. Keep in mind, you’re paying $65 per month for this tier of service. There’s still no 5G access, and rollover data is gone too — though that’s because you don’t have a data limit.

Highlights:

  • Unlimited data
  • Use in Canada and Mexico

Best for:

  • Users who want unlimited data and select international usage without many extras

Unlimited Plus Plan

AT&T’s final prepaid option is the Unlimited Plus plan, which is about as close as you can get to post-paid service. You can tap into the 5G network, and you get unlimited 4G LTE service that won’t be slowed down until you cross the 22GB threshold. The Unlimited Plus plan adds in 10GB of hotspot data, and although it’s limited, it’s more than the 2GB or 8GB plans offer.

HD video streaming makes a triumphant return, as does international usage, but you still won’t need rollover data because there’s no limit.

Highlights:

  • 5G access included
  • Unlimited data without limits up to 22GB
  • HD streaming and 10GB of hotspot data

Best for:

  • Users who want post-paid perks with pre-paid commitment

Which of AT&T’s prepaid plans is right for you?

ATT logo stock image 1

Credit: Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

The answer to which plan is best lies in what you want to do with your service. If you don’t need much data or you’re confident that rollover can keep you afloat each month, opt for a limited plan. The unlimited options provide a bit more peace of mind, but you won’t get 5G access unless you opt for Unlimited Plus.

AT&T’s basic prepaid unlimited plan doesn’t offer hotspot or HD streaming, though the rest of the plans at least cover hotspot. There’s no unlimited 4G hotspot though, so you’ll have to monitor your speed and usage carefully.

AT&T Prepaid vs the competition

Sprint Verizon T Mobile and Verizon carriers stock photo 2

The best way to decide if AT&T’s prepaid service is right for you is to compare it directly to its top competitors. We’ve stacked Big Blue’s prepaid against Verizon, T-Mobile, and even Cricket Wireless — a wholly-owned subsidiary. All of our top plans come from our list of the Best prepaid and no contract plans in the US if you want to do more research.

 Simply Prepaid Unlimited Plus (T-Mobile)Prepaid Unlimited Plus (AT&T)Prepaid Unlimited (Verizon)Cricket More
Cost$60 for one line
$90 for two lines
$120 for three lines
$150 for four lines
$75 per line$65 per line$60 for one line
$90 for two lines
$110 for three lines
$130 for four lines
Talk and TextUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited
DataUnlimited
5G Access
Unlimited up to 22GB 4G LTE
5G Access
UnlimitedUnlimited 4G LTE
HotspotUp to 10GB 4G LTEUp to 10GB 4G LTEUp to 10GB 4G LTE for $5 per month15GB Mobile hotspot
StreamingStandard Definition (480p)High Definition (1080p)Standard Definition (480p)Standard Definition (480p)
InternationalAvailable for $5 to $15 per monthUnlimited talk and text to Mexico and Canada
Roaming in Mexico and Canada
Unlimited text to over 100 countries
Unlimited calls to Mexico and Canada
Calls, texts, and data in Canada and Mexico
Unlimited texts to over 200 countries
Mexico and Canada usage up to 50%
Texting to 37 countries
ExtrasMusic UnlimitedSave $25 with autopaySave with a loyalty discountNone

Verizon prepaid

As the largest US-based carrier, Verizon can give AT&T a run for its money. Its prepaid unlimited plan starts at just $65 per month and gets cheaper the longer you stay with Big Red. As usual, unlimited talk, text, and data are included. However, you’ll pay more for hotspot access if you need it.

Verizon’s prepaid plans offer some solid international access — talk and text to Canada and Mexico as well as texting to hundreds of countries. If you want 5G access, however, Verizon makes no mention of its speedy service when it comes to prepaid options.

Highlights:

  • Ample international access
  • Loyalty discounts
  • Hotspot access

T-Mobile Prepaid

T-Mobile’s prepaid service is another affordable alternative, and it’s another option with 5G access included. You’ll only be able to stream at 480p and international service costs an extra $5 to $15 per month though. It’s a great option if you plan on sticking to domestic data, and each line gets 10GB of a hotspot and unlimited 4G LTE.

One of the biggest selling points for T-Mobile’s prepaid service is the savings. The first line costs $60, but each additional line of service costs just $30 more.

Highlights:

  • 10GB hotspot included
  • Each additional line costs $30
  • Add-ons available

Cricket Wireless

Cricket’s most expensive option, the Cricket More plan, offers the best Cricket has to offer along with 15GB of a monthly hotspot. You can text 37 other countries and you can even use your service in Canada or Mexico as long as it’s less than 50% of your overall usage.

Many of the best Cricket features are available as add-ons, so it’s easy to run your bill up by a few bucks. However, that’s really the secret to unlocking Cricket’s full potential. Options include more hotspot, better international access, and extra data on select plans.

Highlights:

  • Customizable service with add-ons
  • 15GB of hotspot included

The best AT&T prepaid alternatives

AT&T has a number of MVNOs that rely on its powerful network, many of which offer better pricing than AT&T Prepaid. One of the best options is Cricket Wireless, which we’ve already talked about, but you can also give Consumer Cellular, Straight Talk, Red Pocket, and Tracfone a try. Check out the table below before we break each carrier down.

 Cricket Wireless (Cricket More)Consumer CellularStraight TalkRed PocketTracFone
Cost$60 for one line
$90 for two lines
$110 for three lines
$130 for four lines
Limited plans for as low as $18.33 per month
Unlimited plans for as low as $30 per month
Basic plans from $30 per month
Unlimited plans from $55 per month
Limited plans as low as $10 per month
Unlimited plans for $60 per month
Limited plans from $15
Unlimited options from $20
Talk & TextUnlimitedUnlimited1500 minutes for $30 per month
Unlimited from $35 per month
$10 plan includes 500 texts and 500 minutes
Plans above $15 include unlimited talk and text
500 minutes and 500 texts for $15
Unlimited for $20
DataUnlimited 4G LTE500MB shared for $18.33 per month
Unlimited shared for $30 per month
100MB for $30 per month
5GB for $35 per month
25GB for $45 per month
Unlimited for $55 per month
Starts at 500MB for $10
Unlimited data for $60
500MB for $15
3GB for $30
Hotspot15GB Mobile hotspotHotspot availableHotspot availableHotspot availableHotspot available
InternationalMexico and Canada usage up to 50%
Texting to 37 countries
Not availableGlobal calling cards from $10 per month
International unlimited for $60 per month
Free calls to 80 countriesInternational calling card available
ExtrasNoneAARP discountsMulti-month discountsFree SIM cardTalk, text, and data add-ons available

Cricket Wireless

We’ve mentioned Cricket previously as an AT&T Prepaid competitor, but it’s an MVNO as well. The top-end plan, Cricket More, offers unlimited everything as well as a 15GB hotspot included. You can even take your phone abroad in North America for free as long as it’s less than 50% of your service.

Consumer Cellular

Consumer Cellular is a network designed for users over 55. You can have up to three lines on an account, and an AARP membership can help you nab a discount. Plans offer unlimited talk and text, though it’s up to you to decide on data. There’s no international access or roaming though to help protect against extra fees.

Straight Talk

Straight Talk is a popular MVNO and signing up is as easy as going to Walmart. You can also sign up online and choose from a variety of plans, both with limited and unlimited data. Like many MVNOs, you can pay monthly and reload your account as you need more data. Best of all, basic plans start at just $30 per month.

Red Pocket

Red Pocket is unique among MVNOs in that it works on all of the major carriers. However, you’ll choose your carrier at signup and then you’re locked in for the duration of your service. Once again, there are limited and unlimited options, and it’s easy to bring a phone along thanks to the network choices.

Tracfone

Tracfone is one of the oldest and best-known MVNOs on the market, and its staying power speaks volumes. You can choose from a number of plans with limited or unlimited talk, text, and data. Add-ons are another great way to flesh out your service for an added cost.

What phones can you use?

iPhone SE 2020 White Rear Camera Apple Logo

As far as prepaid phones go, AT&T is limited compared to Verizon and T-Mobile. The carrier offers just 11 devices, with the highlight among them being Apple’s iPhone SE. All of the options are very affordable, with the iPhone 7 coming in at $199. Many others, like the LG Phoenix 5 and Samsung Galaxy A01, cost less than $75 if you sign up for the $65 prepaid plan.

Read more: Best AT&T prepaid phones

AT&T is a GSM carrier just like T-Mobile, so you’ll have to be careful if you plan to bring a device. You may have a bit of trouble grabbing a Verizon or Sprint device, but it really comes down to band support. Check out the table below for the specific bands you’ll need.

FrequencyBandNetwork Supported
1900MHz22G
3G
4G LTE
1700/2100MHz4
66
3G and 4G LTE
4G LTE
850MHz53G
4G LTE
700MHz12
17
4G LTE

For a list of some of the best unlocked phones, you’ll want to head to our best Android phones or best cheap Android phones guide.