CLEVELAND - What's the best cellphone service? Verizon and two smaller companies, Consumer Cellular and U.S. Cellular, earned top ratings in Consumer Reports' latest survey. But if you're trying to save money, Consumer Reports said a prepaid service can be a better option.
Two-thirds of Consumer Reports' subscribers who switched to prepaid service knocked $20 or more off what they pay a month for cell service. Prepaid services are offered from companies such as TracFone, Straight Talk, and MetroPCS.
Big cellphone providers such as Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T also offer prepaid plans. They are either pay-as-you-go or they have a monthly allocation of minutes. Some even have unlimited plans. You may pay more upfront for the phones, but you can save in the long run.
The phones offered with prepaid plans used to be just the basics. But some prepaid carriers now offer smartphones. The Galaxy S III is even available from MetroPCS, and the iPhone 5 has limited availability from Cricket Wireless, another prepaid company.
But if you don't need the absolutely latest smartphone, Consumer Reports recommends Straight Talk's prepaid plans, available through Walmart. Those surveyed were actually happier with Straight Talk than with contract service from any of the major carriers. Straight Talk has several plans, including $45 a month for unlimited talk, text and data. That's half the price of Verizon's cheapest unlimited plan.
Consumer Reports has another money-saving tip. When you're coming off a contract, if you have a phone you like, ask whether you can transfer the phone to a prepaid plan with your current carrier or a new carrier. You often can get the same service you've been getting but pay a lot less.