To help make sense of the phone plan market, we’ve broken down two of the biggest buzz words in the mobile phone world – prepaid vs postpaid. How do they differ, and which plan will give you the best value? Read on to find out more.
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The following table shows a selection of sponsored SIM Only plans on Canstar Blue’s database with links to referral partners.
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Prepaid vs. postpaid: Plans at a glance
Before we get into the details on what a prepaid plan is and what a postpaid plan is, the following tables show a range of prepaid and postpaid plans. Simply switch between the tabs to see the different plans.
Here is a selection of postpaid plans from Canstar Blue’s database with a minimum of 10GB of data, listed in order of standard cost, lowest to highest, then by data allowance, largest to smallest. Use Canstar Blue’s phone plan comparison tool to see a wide range of plans on offer from mobile providers. This table includes products with links to referral partners.
Here is a selection of prepaid plans from Canstar Blue’s database with a minimum of 10GB of data, listed in order of standard cost, lowest to highest, then by data allowance, largest to smallest. Use our comparison tool to see a wide range of plans from other providers. This table includes products with links to referral partners.
Prepaid vs postpaid plans: What’s the difference?
The biggest difference between prepaid and postpaid plans is when you pay for your plan. As the names suggest, prepaid plans are paid before you use the plan, maybe at the start of the month, while postpaid is paid after you’ve used the plan, maybe at the end of the month.
While this is the key difference between the two types of plans, there are a few more differences between postpaid vs prepaid.
Postpaid phone plans
A postpaid mobile phone plan allows you pay a fixed amount at the end of each month in exchange for a set amount of calls, texts and data to use during the billing period. The idea behind retrospective billing is that it allows users to exceed their plan’s limitations if they need to and pay for it later. This means you’re always able to use your phone, even if you’ve gone over your monthly inclusions. However, if you don’t keep on top of your usage, especially data, you might end up with a bigger bill than you expect.
One way to eliminate the ‘bill shock’ from going over your data allowance is to switch to a plan with no excess data charges, which are available from telcos including Telstra, Optus and Vodafone. These plans will let you keep using your data after you’ve used up your inclusions, but with that extra ‘unlimited’ data available at a capped speed.
Postpaid plans are typically available as month-to-month plans, however some telcos may still offer contracts, like a 12-month contract, but this is more common when you buy a postpaid plan with a new phone.
If you like the sound of a postpaid plan, there are plenty of postpaid telcos to choose from with plans ranging from cheap plans with small data inclusions and up to pricier plans with lots of data. The following table includes a selection of postpaid plans from Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of standard cost, lowest to highest, then by data allowance, largest to smallest. Use our phone plan comparison tool to see a wider range of plans from other providers. This table includes products with links to referral partners.
Prepaid phone plans
A prepaid mobile phone plan is a plan where you pay the provider a certain amount of money upfront, which is then converted into mobile credit which you can then use on calls, texts, mobile data or a combination of all three, depending on the plan. Some prepaid plans come with a set amount of call time and messages, others come with unlimited calls and SMS, and some include pay-as-you-go (PAYG) rates, where you’re charged only for what use on a per minute, per message, or per megabyte basis.
Prepaid plans with unlimited talk and text are now the most common, leaving data inclusions as the main point of difference between plans and how much you’ll pay. Often prepaid plans appeal to users who prefer to pay for their service upfront, and not run the risk of incurring any extra charges or bill shock at the end of the month. One downside is that if you use your inclusions before your expiry period is up (usually 28 or 30 days), you’ll need to recharge to keep using your plan. If you’re constantly using up your inclusions before they expire, you could end up spending more each year than if you were on a more expensive plan or a postpaid plan.
If prepaid sounds like the right option for you, there are plenty of plans and prepaid providers to choose from. If you’re willing to spend more than $30, you can generally get access to well over 10GB of data. The following table includes a selection of prepaid plans from Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of standard cost, lowest to highest, then by data allowance, largest to smallest. Use our mobile phone plan comparison tool to see a wider range of plans from other providers. This table includes products with links to referral partners.
What are subscription plans?
A third type of plan has entered the Australian market in the form of ‘subscription’ style plans. These plans are typically closest to a prepaid plan where you pre-pay upfront, but the ‘subscription’ part is that the plan will automatically renew each month or however long the plan period is. Felix mobile offers prepaid ‘subscription’ plans, with three plans to choose from, including its most expensive plan with unlimited data (capped at speeds of 20Mbps).
Telstra also offers a subscription plan of sorts in the form of its Upfront plans. These plans are technically still considered postpaid plans with monthly bills (which you can buy either as SIM-only or bundled with a new phone) and are different to Telstra’s selection of prepaid plans.
Instead of paying for your monthly bill at the end of the billing cycle, you’ll pay upfront with Telstra’s AutoPay, with your plan fees taken from your nominated bank account, credit or debit card. Telstra claims that this payment method means you won’t need to worry about late payment fees and it takes the stress out of remembering to pay your bill. However, for some people, being charged for your plan upfront might impact on budgeting and it essentially negates some of the positives of a postpaid phone plan, as you technically pre-pay for your plan.
What are the pros and cons of postpaid vs prepaid?
Postpaid pros and cons
- Call, text or go use data whenever you want and you’re charged for it later — useful in an emergency if you go over your inclusions
- Portpaid plans with no excess data charges avoids bill shock if you use up your data inclusions
- Plans are billed monthly, so you’ll only pay 12 times per year, whereas prepaid plans may need to be recharged 13 or more times per year
- Convenience of auto-renewing every time, meaning there is no manual recharging required
- If you choose to buy a new phone bundled with a postpaid plan, splitting the cost of the device over 12, 24 or 36 months could be easier than buying outright
- If you exceed your plan’s inclusions, especially data, you may receive a bigger bill than you anticipated
- Plans with excess data charges can be costly as you’ll usually be charged about $10 per additional 1GB of data
- Postpaid plans can require a more effort to cancel and you might need to pay an early exit fee
- Some postpaid providers may require a credit check before sign up, especially if you’re getting a new phone bundled with your plan
- You’ll need to manually pay your phone bill each month unless you set up direct debit
Prepaid pros and cons
- Prepaid plans are simple ‘get what you pay for’ type plans, in that after your call credit or data is gone, that’s it, no surprise charges
- Often a good option for kids, especially to keep their data usage in check
- Simple to set up — SIM card packs can be purchased in retail stores and supermarkets and are quick to set up, especially if you’re using a new number
- Plans are available in a range of expiry periods — from short-term plans over seven days or so, to long-expiry plans such as six months or 365 days
- Pay-as-you-go style prepaid plans are great if you don’t use your phone much and just want to pay for what you use
- If you’ve used up your inclusions before the expiry resets, such as data, you could be without access to your plan when you need to use it
- While you can recharge earlier, or add on extra inclusions, such as a data pack, it can cost you more if you do this regularly
- Prepaid plans (apart from short or long-term plans) usually run on a 28 or 30 day expiry period, so you might recharge your plan more frequently than 12 times per year, which could cost you more overall
- You may need to manually recharge your plan each time you need it or set up auto recharge on sign up
- The cheapest prepaid plans might be short term plans, which won’t be so cheap if you have to recharge every week
What if I want a new phone?
If you want to pick up a new phone with a phone plan, you can technically get a new handset from telcos bundled with both prepaid and postpaid plans.
The most common way of buying a new phone from telco is the ‘phone on a plan’ option. This is typically a postpaid phone plan bundled with a new device. You’ll pay for your phone over 12, 24 or 36 months (depending on the telco) and your phone repayments are split into monthly instalments over the contract length. You’ll then pick your choice of postpaid plan to bundle with the device, with each monthly bill including the device payments and your phone plan fees. Depending on the phone and plan you choose, these plans can easily cost over $100 each month.
Technically you can pick up a phone with a prepaid plan from several telcos. However, you’ll pay for this device upfront and then need to bundle it with one of the telco’s prepaid phone plans. There usually aren’t as many choices of prepaid phones, so unless you like the convenience of purchasing a phone and a plan from the one provider, you might be better off buying a new phone outright from a retailer and then bundling with your choice of SIM-only prepaid plan.
Which is better value – prepaid or postpaid?
There has traditionally been a perception that postpaid plans offer superior value to their prepaid counterparts, but is this really the case?
As the tables on this page show, it’s pretty much neck-and-neck. Prepaid plans offer a lot more value for money than they used to, however postpaid plans might offer more perks. Most prepaid and postpaid plans also include unlimited standard national calls and SMS, so data and other extras are often where you might see the biggest difference.
If you like the flexibility of a no lock-in, you might be torn between the flexibility and value included. You could always try the telco out for a month and then switch to a contract if you’re happy with the service. Either way, prepaid or postpaid plans both offer some standout value if you look hard enough.
Should I choose prepaid or postpaid?
The mobile service you should choose depends on how you use your phone, or just your personal preference for one type over the other. If you’re a fairly light user who doesn’t require much data, a cheap prepaid plan with a long expiry period could be the way to go. However, there are also some very cheap postpaid plans with small data inclusions, so if you’re a light user, there are choices.
Ultimately it comes down to your preference. Do you want to pay for your phone service upfront, and run the risk of having no credit when you run out? Or would you prefer to have an endless supply of calls, messages and data, but run the risk of being charged extra? Maybe your decision will be completely swayed by whichever type of plan offers the best value for money for your needs.
Whichever way you decide to go, just be sure to compare a wide range of offers to find the best plan for your specific needs and preferences.
FAQs about postpaid and prepaid plans
- Understand your data usage and how much mobile data you need
- Which mobile network do you want to use? There are three networks in Australia owned by Telstra, Optus and Vodafone/TPG
- How much will you be charged for excess data (if you have a postpaid plan), or for recharging (if you have a prepaid plan)
- If you’re between phones, think about whether you need one of the big name smartphones and you want it on a plan, or could save by choosing a cheap phone and bundling with a SIM-only plan
When it comes to phone plans for kids, prepaid plans are typically a better option. This helps to eliminate any bill shock if your child goes over their inclusions and puts the responsibility on them to monitor their data usage — if they use up their allowance before the plan resets, they’ll be without data (unless you recharge the plan or purchase a data add on).
If you’re looking for a cheap SIM-only plan, there are plenty of affordable prepaid and postpaid options out there. Although you’ll want to make sure the prepaid plan is on a 28 or 30-day expiry period and not a short-term plan, which could be more expensive to recharge.
Choosing the best phone plan for seniors depends on how you use your phone. If you want a plan with only a small amount of data, there are prepaid and postpaid plans that come with smaller data inclusions and cheaper costs. So, it might come down to whether you want to prepay for your plan or if you prefer to pay a monthly bill.
If you want to set and forget your phone plan, some prepaid providers offer long-term prepaid plans, such as 365-day prepaid plans. This means you pay for your plan upfront (which can be expensive) but you’ll have all your plan’s inclusions to use as you need — but you’ll need to keep on top of your usage and ration your data over the plan’s length to avoid recharging early.
You can easily transfer your current mobile number — often referred to as porting your phone number — even if you’re switching between prepaid and postpaid plans. Porting your phone number simply transfers your mobile number from one telco to another, no matter which phone plan type you’re switching from and switching to. You’ll need to notify your new provider that you wish to keep your current number when you sign up. To find out more, check out our guide on how to port and transfer your mobile phone number.
One of the easiest ways to tell if your plan is prepaid or postpaid might be based on which provider your plan is with. Providers like Amaysim, ALDI Mobile, Boost and TPG, only offer prepaid plans, while providers like Moose Mobile, Southern Phone, Dodo and Belong only offer postpaid plans. Some telcos, like Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and Everyday Mobile, offer both prepaid and postpaid plans.
Consider when you pay for your plan — do you pay at the start of the billing cycle, or after you’ve used it? If you have auto recharge on your plan, it’s most likely a prepaid plan, whereas a postpaid plan will mean you get a bill each month. You can also look at your current bill (if you have one) or log in to your account online or through the provider’s app, to see what the plan’s name is and whether it matches up to any plan on the telco’s website. If you’re still unsure, you can get in touch with your telco to find out more.
SIM cards are what you need to access your phone plan’s call, text and data inclusions, so a SIM card can be prepaid or postpaid. Many of the SIM cards you see in supermarkets and other retail stores tend to be prepaid, as they’re easier to set up, but you can also find SIM cards for postpaid plans in stores and supermarkets.
Your SIM card is attached to your current phone plan and telco, so if you’re looking to switch a prepaid plan to a postpaid plan with another provider, you will need a new SIM card from your new postpaid provider.
If your prepaid plan is with a provider that also offers postpaid plans and you just want to switch over, you may be able to switch to a postpaid plan through your account or via the telco’s app. This can be done without the need for a new SIM, but it’s best to get in touch with your provider first. Switching from a postpaid plan to a prepaid plan with the same provider might be more complicated, and you might need a new SIM card and to pay any early termination fees if applicable.